Hidden Star of Zagreb
If you ever walk around the quiet alleys of the Upper Town on a starry night and notice the open entrance of Opatička street No. 22, why not step inside? You might feel you’re doing something wrong, entering a dark atrium like that. But go on, go deeper into the passage, until you reach a glass door. Is it open? If it is, feel free to go inside, and continue all the way to the top of the wooden stairway. While you’re making your way up, try to be aware that you are as close to Zagreb’s most distant history as it gets. You are within the medieval fortification system.
Popov toranj (Priest’s Tower), home to the Zagreb Observatory, is among best preserved parts of the medieval walls
The closer you get to the top, the more it will feel like you shouldn’t really be there. It could be embarrassing if someone shouts at you with a threatening voice: Hey, what do you think you’re doing here?
Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen. You are more than welcome to be there. Once you think you reached the top, you will find another narrower and darker stairway. Well, aren't you on your way up? Go on, straight to the top!
Finally, you reach the rooftop. You might have thought you were going to lose your breath because of all those stairs... But you know now what breathtaking means.
The night view of the Jurjevska street, and the Zagreb mountain in the north
It is hard to describe the serene feeling once you get to the top, welcomed by the fresh night breeze and the best night view of the city. I sometimes come up just to take a moment. Then I look around for a while, thrilled as if this was my first time there. There are some other people there after all. It’s not as empty as it seemed on the way up. From the darkness, you can hear an occasional sigh: Wow!, Oh my God, Look at that!, Oh, that’s the cathedral!, Look at the mountain, so clear!
And that’s not even what you came for. We came for some stargazing, haven't we?
Unfortunately, the main telescope has been damaged in the 2020 earthquake and hasn’t been repaired since. Don't worry, there is a mobile telescope available, and with the help of the super-informative staff, you will know exactly what you’re looking at, on the immense starry dome above you.
For instance, I used to be one of those people who simply didn’t understand what they were looking at. I’ve always loved staring at the night skies, but it took me a few summers only to figure out the Big Dipper on my own. That was about it. With their help, I can now recognize a lot of iconic stars and their constellations with confidence.
The Zagreb Observatory organizes all sorts of educational programs (mostly in Croatian). All of this, including the visit, is completely free of charge. There is, however, a cute piggy bank inside, and you can leave a small contribution if you wish, no pressure at all. Especially if you feel grateful for the whole experience, as I always feel. They sell amazing posters, too, at incredibly affordable prices.
If you take a good look at this photo, you will spot a black Observatory’s dome on top of the tower.
I can't believe I wrote the entire post, and I haven’t even touched on the very history of the Observatory, or astronomy in Zagreb. That was my original plan, as it makes an impressive story. As it turns out, I will have to leave that to you. On your way up, you will spot a lot of informative posters and you will be able to learn so much (a great excuse to take a break from the neverending stairs).
The Zagreb Observatory has been the office to many curious scientists. The histories of the institution, and its medieval home are impressive. Still, what I love about it the most, is the fact that it’s still slightly off the beaten track. Such an overwhelming place still feels like an unexpected discovery.
Learn more about the Observatory’s work and check if they’re open at the time of your Zagreb trip on their official website zvjezdarnica.hr.
You could easily pass the entrance to the Observatory without even noticing it (between the building with false windows and the small bust on the wall in Opatička street).
Header image credit: Iva Silla
Author: Iva Silla