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Zagreb's Noonday 'Chime'
Croatia's capital marks noon with a blast
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2008-02-24 15:51 (KST)   

Croatian capital of Zagreb in the early morning.
©2008 D.Weber

The Croatian capital of Zagreb has an interesting way in which it marks the noon hour. Other cities may mark the hours including noon with chimes, tolling bells or melodies, but Zagreb is rather unique in announcing the noon hour with an ear-shattering burst from an artillery cannon.

One of Zagreb's ubiquitous street cars.
©2008 D.Weber

Car and Tram pass each other by on a Zagreb street.
©2008 D.Weber

I arrived in Zagreb one early morning before sunrise. The city was already stirring as its streetcars rumbled along packed with passengers. I took a crowded one to the city center from the bus station. I was sweating because I didn't have a ticket and I didn't know where to get one. Fortunately, no undercover tram police were there to spring any surprise inspections.

©2008 D.Weber

In one of Zagreb's major centers, I found a statue of a fierce-looking fellow on an equally fierce-looking horse dominating the square. This was the famous Croatian general and governor Josip Jelacic, who led an unsuccessful attempt to win Croatia independence from Hungary in the 19th century. Yugoslavian President Tito had the statue mothballed because its presence was too much of a magnet for Croatian nationalism. When Croatia severed the knot with Yugoslavia, Jelacic was yanked back out so that he could continue to scowl eternally at the pigeons resting on his sword arm.

Governor General Josip Jelacic - an early leader for Slavic autonomy.
©2008 D.Weber

Zagreb's origins go back to the 11th century when it was actually two towns in very close proximity to each other: Kaptol and Gradec. For several centuries a rivalry existed between the two that could hardly be described as friendly. The church-dominated Kaptol once excommunicated Gradec. Gradec unfazed then pillaged and razed Kaptol. Gradec apparently took its version of the old saying to heart that "words will never hurt me, but sticks and stones will hurt you."

Zagreb's cathedral in the predawn hours.
©2008 D.Weber

©2008 D.Weber

It took the Turks to get the two towns to bury their respective hatchets in the symbolic ground and not in the physical body parts of their citizens. From the 15th century onward, the Ottoman Turks had begun their conquests of Eastern Europe. One by one they gobbled up various Croatian cities until practically Kaptol and Gradec were the only cities not conquered. Out of necessity, the two old rivals grudgingly decided to merge and become Zagreb.

Zagreb has its fair share of graffiti.
©2008 D.Weber

©2008 D.Weber

Zagreb became the capital of Croatian territories out of default since so many other towns had been devastated by the Ottomans. It wasn't until the 19th century that Zagreb prospered and could truly take on the mantle of a capital city. Zagreb became more than a governmental capital, though. It became one of the major focal points for a growing movement for Slavic autonomy and recognition within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Stone Gate with shrine to a 17th-century Virgin Mary painting that miraculously survived a fire centuries ago.
©2008 D.Weber

©2008 D.Weber

After WWI, the Austro-Hungarian yoke was at last lifted but a long and bumpy road was ahead for Zagreb. Occupied by the Nazis, used as the capital of a brief but murderous Nazi-allied regime and attacked by Serbian rockets in a presidential assassination attempt, Zagreb has weathered some rough times.

Museum exhibit showing the effects of the war with Serbia.
©2008 D.Weber

In the Upper Town area of former Kaptol is the 13th-century Lotrscak Tower, where every day at noon a cannon is fired off to mark the noon hour. When I originally heard of this, I had assumed the cannon was a 19th-century relic. I was expecting a mild rolling boom like you get with fireworks but instead I was nearly rocked off my feet by the concussion of the blast.

Lotrscak Tower, where everyday at noon a cannon is fired off.
©2008 D.Weber

Inside Lotrscak Tower.
©2008 D.Weber

I was positioned directly below the tower right before noon. With me were several travelers and a group of schoolchildren. I could see the slender barrel of the cannon from one of the tower's few windows. From its size, I feared I would get even less of a blast. However when noon struck, the cannon exploded shattering the air and sending a shockwave through my body. That was a hell of a lot of bang for such a small barrel and for what I thought would be some old cannon.

Zagreb's noonday chime.
©2008 D.Weber

I went into the tower to discover the source of that frightful noise. I found that the slender barrel from the window was attached not to some museum-like relic of bygone ages but to a substantial piece of field artillery whose type had been used in WWII. It was a 75mm mountain howitzer! The term cannon just doesn't really do the piece justice and it certainly takes unknowing onlookers by surprise. It made me wonder if the need arose, whether Lotrscak Tower become an artillery point at a moment's notice.

Enjoying the view of Zagreb from Lotrscak Tower.
©2008 D.Weber

©2008 D.Weber

The current noonday "chime" is a gift from the United States given during the 1980s. Only those with a military background and artillery experience can fire it. So if you find yourself under the Lotrscak Tower around the noon hour, be prepared to stick your fingers in your ears.

©2008 D.Weber
©2008 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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