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Contributions to humanity

Contributions to humanity... to help explain some of the national pride we Croats have (hey, who doesn’t like to brag a bit?)!

Rudjer Bošković, an 18th century astronomer and mathematician from Dubrovnik, was one of the first scientists of continental Europe to accept Newton’s gravitational theory. He elaborated the first geometric procedure for determining the equator of a rotating planet. A pioneer in geodesy, he measured a meridian arc between Rome and Rimini and, interestingly, attempted to lead an expedition to California to observe the movement of the planet Venus from there.

For millions of women all over the world, the Croats solved the tricky problem of choosing a gift for boyfriends, husbands and fathers: they introduced the necktie, a habit quickly adopted by the fashionable French after the Thirty Years War. The French word for necktie, “cravate” (“Krawatte” in German), clearly indicates its origin, which is “a la Croate” (you may want to remember this little bit of trivia, it’s asked on quiz shows).

Faust VrančićMany details from the life of eccentric loner Nikola Tesla remain shrouded in mystery but modern civilization would not be possible without his many inventions in the field of electricity and communications. The most important among them was the discovery of the rotating magnetic field, the basis of practically all alternating current motors, the prime movers of the modern industry. The world’s very first hydro-electric plant, built at Niagara Falls, used his invention. As early as the end of the 19th century, Tesla invented a teleautomatic boat guided by remote control, discovered terrestrial stationary waves, a special coil used in radio communications, high frequency currents and made many practical innovations. Very appropriately, the unit of magnetic induction was named Tesla after him.

Tesla, born in the province of Lika, also made himself famous and respected for his statement that: “I am equally proud of my Serbian roots and of my Croatian homeland.”

According to legend, Icarus was a pioneer of flying but it was a Croat, Faust Vrančić, who in the early 17th century elaborated the principle of a parachute (homo volans) in a scientific manner. Regrettably, as in so many other cases, this noble idea was often misused for military purposes!

Lavoslav RužičkaYou’d most probably have to be a chemist to really be impressed by Lavoslav Ružička’s research in the field of insecticides and terpenes, or by the fact that he revolutionized the chemistry of ringed molecules. But whether you’re male or female, your life is greatly affected by the sex hormone testosterone (which he investigated and synthesized). Similarly, he carried out research into the composition of perfumes (Now we know somebody by name whom we men have to thank for quick gifts and women have to thank to help them smell so good!)

Well, both cases are somehow linked to the 1939 Nobel Prize. And Ružička’s assistant and successor to the same chair in Zürich, Vladimir Prelog, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1975 for his work in stereochemistry.

Ivo Andrić, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1961 was born a Croat in Travnik, Bosnia (some claim he was the illegitimate child of a Franciscan monk) and in his mature years moved to Belgrade and became a member of the political establishment.

Together with A. Just, Zagreb university professor Franjo Hanaman introduced the wolfram-filament with a working temperature of about 2500° C; the first of the two critical steps in making the Edison electric light bulb suitable for use in everyday life.

The town and the island of Korčula have yet to produce hard evidence that Marco Polo, the first European who made himself a favourite of the Mongol ruler of the medieval Chinese Empire, was indeed born in their midst. They challenge those who disagree to provide proof to the contrary. The debate continues (remember Columbus?)

Even after the dawn of the computer era, many a drawing is still made using a Croatian invention, a mechanical pencil with a sliding graphite stick, patented by S. Penkala, who also, incidentally, constructed the first Croatian two-seater airplane.Slavoljub Penkala

It is quite natural for somebody from a nation of sailors and fishermen, like Mario Puretić from the island of Brač, to have invented a very simple and yet very efficient system, the “Puretić Power Block” for hauling fishing nets, a device that has revolutionized the fishing industry. As a matter of fact, a ship with his power block is depicted on the Canadian five-dollar bill.

Should Croats still be proud of that invention or should they have started feeling guilty for the depletion of fishing areas?

The word ‘dirigible’ (airship) is usually associated with the name of Graf Zeppelin and Friedrichshafen, but in actual fact, Graf Zeppelin bought his first design from David Schwartz from Zagreb.

Despite the development of DNA testing, fingerprinting remains one of the most valuable tools in tracking down criminals. Well, Josip Vučetić, a Croat, was the one who discovered something that was always under the very nose of so many policemen.

In the 14th century, nearly fifty years before its rival, Venice, the city state of Dubrovnik (Dubrovačka Republika) was the first state to introduce the institution of quarantine, strictly imposed on all visitors.

Peace-loving Croats are not convinced that the nation should be proud of the fact that the first torpedo was made in Rijeka in 1866 according to a design made by naval officer Ivan Vukić-Lupis. Originally it was intended to be used from the shore and the launching ramp is still in Rijeka. To counterbalance this, Leo Sternbach, born nearly a century ago in Croatia, invented the tranquilizer Valium – one of the world’s most prescribed medicines (for the stressed out “housewife”).

...and some titbits

  • Without the oak pylons from Dalmatia, Venice would sink.
  • Without the spotted dog of the same origin (Dalmatia), how could have the famous movie have touched the hearts of millions of children and what would American fire fighters do?

Dalmatians

  • The wall erected to protect the town Stone and the peninsula Pelješac from the Ottoman attacks is the second largest in the world, surpassed only by the Great Wall of China.
  • The cathedral of St. Dujam, built within the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian in Split, is the oldest cathedral in Europe. Incidentally, the construction of the palace itself strictly observes the sun’s movements at that latitude, so that the dates of important festivals and also the time of the day are accurately marked.
  • Speaking of calendars, some of the images on the late Neolithic pottery (Vučedol culture) excavated at  the town of Vinkovci constitute the oldest calendar found on European soil.
  • In the 16th century, Pavao Skalić of Zagreb was the first to employ the word ‘encyclopedia’ in its present meaning.
  • Oak wood from Slavonia, the region between the Danube and Sava rivers, lends its special flavour to European drinks such as cognac and whisky.
  • One of the richest finds of the Neanderthal era was unearthed less than an hour’s drive from Zagreb, near the town of Krapina.
  • Knowledgeable tourists will bring back Croatian souvenirs such as lavender oil, umbrellas with traditional, colourful patterns on them from Šestine, lace and/or a few kilos of sea salt from the island of Pag. The salt is highly valued for its magnesium content and has been produced there since Roman times.
  • Real connoisseurs will bring back hand-made lace, made of specially-worked agave fibre, from the Benedictine monastery in the town of Hvar, or sophisticated items of jewellery called morčići from the elegant jewellers in the town of Rijeka.
  • In the 15th century Benedikt Kotruljić, who served at the Aragon court in Naples, wrote the first European book about trade and bookkeeping. It was printed, in Italian, some one hundred years later, which is still pretty fast compared with its Croatian translation – five centuries after it was written (1989)!
  • Possibly the first purpose-built public theatre in continental Europe was opened in the city of Hvar in 1612.
  • The first film was shown in Croatia in 1896, a year after the process was invented by the Lumiere brothers.
  • Genetic investigations indicate that the Californian “zinfandel” grape originates from Croatia
  • The restless explorers, brothers Seljan served the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II and explored the jungles of the Amazon, whereas Dragutin Lerman was a member of Stanley’s expedition and was appointed Commissaire Général of the Belgian government in Congo.
  • The city of Dubrovnik (Dubrovačka Republika) traded with India and the Americas and afforded asylum to King Richard I of England. (Also, well, no point in denying it, Dubrovnik sent its men-of-war to Spain for the abortive invasion of England in the 16th century).
  • In the 18th century, the law of the Dubrovačka Republika stated that only the Roman Catholic faith could have a place of worship in the city; the only exception being a synagogue.
  • The same city was possibly the first in Europe to introduce the Liber statutorum legislation, regulating the work of pharmacies in the 13th century.
  • The world oldest sailors’ association, the ITF, was founded in 1896; the sailors’ Brotherhood of St. Nicolas in Kostrena (near Rijeka), a traditional source of the finest sea captains, was founded thirty years earlier. You think that’s old? Well, then, how about the “Bokeljska mornarica” sailors’ association of Boka Kotorska (now in Montenegro) established in 809?
  • A stone carver from Dalmatia named Marin founded San Marino, a city state in Italy, the very first republic in Europe. Too small? Well, how about this, then: a Croat by the name of Dzauhar, administrator and commander at the court of the Fatimids in what is now Tunisia, conquered Egypt in 969 and founded the city of El Kahira (Cairo) Big enough? Too big?
  • One of Zagreb’s landmarks and prestigious exhibition area, Umjetnički paviljon (Art Pavilion) was first built for the (Hungarian) Millenium Exhibition in Budapest in 1896, its iron structure moved and (in a slightly larger version) set up at its present site, Zrinjevac Park, three years later.
  • Matija Zmajević, a Croat from the bay of Boka Kotorska was the admiral of the Russian navy at the time of Peter I the Great.
  • The third-oldest oil refinery in Europe began production in Rijeka in 1883.
  • A few years ago, a Croatian pharmaceutical company developed (and launched worldwide) a medicine called Sumamed (azithromycin), one of the most efficient antibiotics of our times.
  • Germans standing to attention to their national anthem might not realise that they are in fact listening to a re-arrangement of a Croatian love song from Burgenland, modified by J. Haydn.

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How to survive in and even enjoy Croatia - a guide for smart foreigners © Jakov Buljan, 2006
Illustrations: Dubravko Mataković     Language editor: Francesca Brizi