By Sona Rao
Zagreb is a place with stories waiting to be heard. Zagreb’s stories are written in its graffiti-covered walls, towering stone cathedrals, and most importantly for travelers, its numerous museums. The culture here in the capital of Croatia is a montage of Eastern European and Balkan art, music, and literature, and the museums capture the stories. Zagreb may have traditional history and art museums scattered around the city, but it also houses some of the most innovative museums in the world. Some originate in Zagreb, while others cannot be found anywhere else. Five museums need to be visited to discover the stories Zagreb has to offer.
Dražen Petrović Memorial. The most emblematic of Zagreb’s museums, the Dražen Petrović Memorial serves as a commemoration of the late international basketball legend and Croatian native, Dražen Petrović, whose career started when he was 12 years old on a team as a shooting guard in former Yugoslavia. Throughout his career, he was a disruptive force in the basketball world, playing for elite teams in Spain and eventually in the NBA for New Jersey and Portland, surpassing records by players like Michael Jordan. At the pinnacle of his career, Petrović tragically died in a car accident. For Croatia, Petrović was an icon and his success fueled the long-burning fire of Croatian nationalism. However, his fame was not limited to Croatia. Anja Katović, a curator at the museum, says, “He did not have borders. People from all over the world come to see this museum. It is something about his hard work, personality and strong morals.” She adds that travelers who do not come to the museum will “miss out on a great memory of the region.” His story is woven into the heart of Croatia, and is a part of history that cannot be forgotten. Find more information at: http://www.drazenpetrovic.net/home/.
Museum of Broken Relationships. The Museum of Broken Relationships started a global phenomenon. Two Zagreb natives, inspired by their heartbreaks, built a museum that would allow people to tell the stories of their past relationships. The collection takes seemingly arbitrary objects, remnants of past relationships, and displays them on glossy white counters spread sparsely around the room. Quotes sit beside each item to bring the objects to life. In one corner sits an old watch that symbolized a relationship that ran out of time. In another is a bundle of barbed wire representing a girl’s relationship with her father that she never had. Written on a blank wall is a single quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that reads, “There is properly no history, only biography.” The stories in this gallery are universal and timeless. While it originally only collected works from Croats, the Museum of Broken Relationships collects pieces from all over Europe and started branches around the world. Find more information at: https://brokenships.com/en/visit.
Naïve Art Museum. Zagreb’s Museum of Naïve Art is the birthplace of the concept of naïve art. The museum was founded in 1940 as a solo exhibition for self-taught artist Ivan Generalić, a self-taught Croatian artist, who was discovered at the age of 16 and became world-renowned for his art. His exhibition became so famous that he invited other self-taught Croatian artists to display their work. Svjetlana Sumpor, a curator at the museum, says, “The government of the former Yugoslavia would endorse Generalić’s exhibitions because officials had a high respect for art and education.” Naïve art, or art by self-taught artists, became an international phenomenon, and people from all over the world would submit outsider work to Zagreb and eventually to branches around the world. Travelers should visit this museum because outsider art tells stories from a different perspective. Find more information at: http://www.hmnu.hr/en/info/4/15.
Museum of Arts and Crafts. The Museum of Arts and Crafts may look like the average art museum; however, it has a grand finale that rivals that of any other museum in Zagreb. The building’s top floor houses dozens of ornate clocks of all shapes and sizes made centuries ago. Some have patterns engraved in wood while others are decorated with gold. Together, the clocks create a symphony of ticks, chimes, and melodies that reverberate throughout the room. The room of clocks in the Museum of Arts and Crafts is truly a step back in time that makes the museum a singularly unique experience. Find more information at: http://www.muo.hr.
Museum of Torture. The Museum of Torture does not have glass display cases or mahogany tables to display artifacts. In fact, visitors are encouraged to interact with items on display! This museum is not for the fainthearted. Its relics are primarily ancient torture instruments, usually made of metal, used to punish criminals, sinners and women accused of witchcraft in the Balkans. The exhibit houses heavy whips, eerie masks of shame and branding irons. The museum is more than a showcase of artifacts – it is an experience. As soon as guests open the door, they are immediately captured into an abyss. Every inch of the interior is painted black. Dim lights and candles cast shadows behind iron weapons, as if guests are reliving a nightmare that was once real. With uneasy steps, passerby’s read the cringe-worthy stories of Eastern European torture practices that bring the tools to life. While it is not the only one of its kind globally, the Zagreb Torture Museum is unique because it is one of the few that truly captures the civilization of Eastern European antiquity.
Stories can be told in an infinite number of ways. These museums tell the story of Zagreb and Eastern Europe in ways that other museums cannot recreate. They offer experiences that are original, memorable, and turn the pages of a great history.