Almost one million tourists visit Croatia’s historic capital annually, attracted by its medieval churches, sprawling palaces and extensive gastronomic delights. This ideal cultural combination, coupled with one of the world’s most famous Christmas markets, makes Zagreb a popular destination for local and international travellers alike. However, most tourists leave without discovering one of the city’s most fascinating art installations hiding in plain sight – its Grounded Solar System, the brainchild of two separate artists and an intriguing treasure hunt for visitors of all ages.
In a classic case of art imitating life, the planets in this solar system would not exist without the sun. It all began in 1971, when Croatian academic and artist Ivan Kožarić’s sculpture, Prizemljeno Sunce (Grounded Sun), was first displayed outside the Croatian National Theatre. This location did not prove to be popular, with residents less than enamoured with a piece of abstract art that was deemed to be more of a traffic hazard than a worthwhile tourist attraction. The sun was therefore moved a number of times, finally settling in its current location at 1B Bogovićeva Street in 1994.
Prizemljeno Sunce is hard to miss, cast in bronze and with a broad 2 metre diameter. Its size and location make it an ideal target for local graffiti artists eager to declare their tags in public. Although it has been cleaned numerous times, it never remains pristine for long. Surprisingly, the artist himself did not have a problem with this, believing that art is for the people and should be without pretensions. He died in 2020 at the impressive age of 100 but his legacy lives on through this and many other famous works of art.
Somewhat confusingly, there is a large orange spherical sculpture close to the original site of the Grounded Sun but this has nothing to do with Kožarić’s installation; rather, it is part of the Academy of Music, built in a modern style in 2015. Together with a huge shiny needle, the two sculptures are purported to represent male and female force in balance.
photography by: Kožarić/ Wikimedia Commons
Over 30 years after the creation of Prizemljeno Sunce, another Croatian artist, Davor Preis, had a novel idea to use Kožarić’s sun as the centrepiece for his own art installation; a series of nine models of the known planets built in the scale 1:680,000,000 to the actual solar system. In 2004, the year the sculptures were created, Pluto had not yet been demoted to its current status of “dwarf planet” so it was included as part of Preis’ Nine Views (Devet Pogleda). Each model consists of a scaled stainless-steel sphere and a plaque outlining the planet’s name, diameter and average distance from the sun.
Not only are Preis’ models built to scale, they are also placed at proportionate distances to the Grounded Sun, meaning that while Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are close to the city centre, the remaining planets are placed at distances ranging from 1.2km (Jupiter) to 5.8km (Neptune) away, so it can be difficult to find them all without independent transport. Pluto was initially located 7.7km away but it has since been stolen, perhaps coinciding with its aforementioned demotion.
For unknown reasons, Preis never really publicised his handiwork, meaning that the installation was initially largely unknown amongst locals and tourists alike. However, a small group of students from the Croatian Physics Society were intrigued by the subject matter and its precise proportions and the first efforts to find all nine planets are noted in a web forum in November 2004. The locations of all nine objects are now known and documented online but this doesn’t necessarily make them easy to find – given their scale and unobtrusive materials, some of them are no more than the size of a standard doorbell and can be difficult to spot immediately. Earth itself stands at only 1.9cm across so it takes a keen eye to find it perched above eye level on Varšavska Street. Nine Views therefore remains a largely unexplored treasure hunt, awaiting curious explorers keen to see a different side to this vibrant city.
photography by: Ex13/ Wikimedia Commons
photography by: Speedy Gonsales / Wikimedia Commons
photography by: Ex13 and Speedy Gonsales/ Wikimedia Commons
The locations of the planets and their relative distance from the Grounded Sun are as follows: Mercury – 3 Margaretska Street – 75m; Venus – 3 Ban Josip Jelačić Square – 141m; Earth – 9 Varšavska Street – 194m; Mars – 21 Tkalčićeva Street – 295m; Jupiter – 71 Voćarska Street – 1,176m; Saturn – 1 Račićeva Street – 1,851m; Uranus – 9 Siget – 3,718m; Neptune – Kozari 17 – 5,834m; Pluto – Bologna Alley (underpass) – 7,659m, though now only the plaque remains.
photography by: OpenStreetMap