Old sanatorium stands on mountain as reminder of tragic love story

Built in 1909, the Brestovac Sanatorium was the first of its kind in the Balkans. It served as an important health and social institution and was equipped with state-of-the-art appliances.

Brestovac was a large complex and consisted of several buildings, though today just one is usually photographed and visited.  9,193 patients stayed at the Brestovac Sanatorium between 1909 and 1934.

It had a bakery, library, cinema, shop, bowling alley, volleyball courts, the first x-ray machine in Croatia, and a radio station. Positioned on the stunning Medvednica Mountain elevated 846 meters above sea level, it provided a peaceful and quiet spot where patients could relax and recuperate. But the beautiful landscape was not the only thing that led to the creation of this sanatorium. It was, in fact,love that inspired the facility.

Renowned local doctor and journalist Milivoj Dežman (1873-1940) was both the founder and a driving force behind the creation of the sanatorium.

Milivoj Dežman

Dežman was madly in love with a famous Croatian actress of the time called Ljerka Šram, who was also known as Lady Šram (1874-1913). She was a gorgeous actress with a divine voice and was adored by the whole city. The pair had known each other since they were children but lost touch over the years in spite of a pact they had made to write each other letters. While Dežman was away studying in the Austrian city of Graz, Šram’s career took off and she became a regular performer on the Zagreb theatrical circuit. Even Emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria was amazed by the talented actress.

Love with a Lady

It was during one of these performances that Dežman once more laid eyes on his childhood friend and instantly fell in love with her. But by then Šram had already married. Šram did not reciprocate Dežman’s love, but he didn’t give up. He did everything he could to get closer to Šram,becoming a theater critic and even writing a few plays for her to star in.

Lady Šram

Šram’s marriage didn’t last long. Her husband left her after he was accused of embezzlement and suddenly she was alone with her child, so she sought comfort with her old friend, Dežman. It seemed that everything finally fell into place. He worked, she acted, they loved each other, and he did not mind that people mocked him for raising another man’s child.

Brestovac Sanatorium

But luck wasn’t on this couple’s side. Lady Šram got sick, and Dežman turned his medical career upside down and ended up devoring himself to care for people infected with tuberculosis.

He even convinced city authorities that a sanatorium for sick workers was needed. Given that there was no cure for tuberculosis at that time, the primary function of the sanatorium when it opened was to provide a place where those with the deadly disease could rest and breathe in the freshest air possible before the inevitable happened. Dežman dedicated his life to finding a cure for tuberculosis.

Sadly, on one cold morning in November 1913, he found his beloved Ljerka covered in blood and not breathing. He panicked and did everything he could to keep her alive, but it was no use.

Lady Šram had choked to death on her own blood. Even though death was not a rare sight in Brestovac, this death deeply affected Dežman. He never recovered from losing his beloved Ljerka. This sad story is just one in a series of grisly deaths in Brestovac. Many patients, just like Šram, suffocated from bloody coughs in their rooms.

©Ivana Horvatek / Blaga & misterije / Brestovac

After her death, there were a number of rumors about ghosts covered in blood roaming the hospital. Even some of the patients were disturbed by that notion, claiming that Lady Šram was visiting them at night and praying for their recovery. There were also stories that the sanatorium was built with underground tunnels and catacombs. Catacombs and tunnels were a place of quarantine for those terminally ill, and also ended up being their final resting place.

©Ivana Horvatek / Blaga & misterije / Brestovac

The sanitarium was used as a military hospital in both of the World Wars, but by 1968, the facility had fallen into disrepair and has been abandoned ever since. Looting, vandalism, and natural wear and tear have all taken their toll, and today you can only wander around the ground level, as the staircases have collapsed.

Brestovac Sanatorium

Nowadays, this mysterious site has become an accessible playground for urban explorers, adventure seekers, and paintball enthusiasts.

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