The first 100 years

Observatory at Popov Tower – a century in the service of astronomy

Tatjana, Kren, prof

At the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries, when the Observatory of Croatian Natural History Society on Popov Tower was founded, Zagreb became a modern political, cultural and economic center of Croatia, especially its north-western parts, which was increasingly linked to European flows. Together with the development of industrialization, Zagreb achieved a significant rise in the process of creating a modern civil society. It was the headquarters of the main political parties, most famous political figures, writers, artists, scientists, journalists. Newspapers and other mass media and scientific literature, influenced the formation of public opinion. Every seventh resident of Zagreb was a student of an elementary or secondary school, or a student at the University.

The establishment of the Observatory and the first decade of activity

Until the 19th century and the development of modern astronomy, Croatians had in their history a large number of well-known scientists and philosophers who have studied astronomy and achieved valuable results, from Hermann the Dalmatian from the 12th century, through Ivana Vitez of Sredna (15th century.) , Franjo Petris (16th c.) and Ruder Boskovic (18th c.).
In 1885, a university professor Spiridion Brusina, together with his colleague and friend Djuro Pilar and several other colleagues, founded in Zagreb The Croatian science  society, the first society of natural science in Croatia and generally in the Slavic south. It was founded on the Assembly which was held on December 27th 1885 at the National Museum in Demetrova street number 1 in Zagreb’s Upper Town, where Brusina was elected as the first president. The society has brought together scientists, but also lay people of different occupations who were interested in science. Regular members were from different Croatian cities, but among them were also members outside Croatia: Vienna, Arad, Budapest, Sarajevo, Prague, Milanovac and Belgrade.
The first years of the Croatian science society had two sections: a geographical and a ornithology section, and astronomy was present in the actions of individual members of society. Society member Dr. Oton Kucera, was a writer of very popular astronomical books – Our sky. Oton Kucera was the initiator of the founding of The Observatory and its first governor until 1913.
In 1902 he established a private astronomical section, with a goal to establish The Observatory for scientific and professional work and popularization of astronomy. The Society has established a Committee of the Croatian Natural Society for organizing The Natural science astronomical Observatory in Zagreb and addressed the people, the city and the government, seeking financial support for the purchase of the main telescope and the renovation of the Observatory. The chairman was the president of the Society, dr. Dragutin Gorjanović and members were: Dr. Oton Kucera, dr. Francis Spevec, famous Croatian author Ljubo Babic – Ksaver Sandor Gjalski, dr. Antun Heinz and Francis Sandor. The committee fairly quickly managed to fully realize almost all the tasks: to find funds for the first investment donation from the City Council and contributions from citizens, get a better main binocular (Reinfeld and Hertel company from Munich, made in 1901, with aperture of 6.4 inches or 162.6 mm), find a suitable place to accommodate The Observatory (old city defense tower from the 13th century Popov Tower (Priest’s or Bishop’s tower)) and from the city officials to obtain a place (on February 2, 1903, the city Assembly adopted a decision for Popov Tower to be assigned to the Society, for the purposes of the observatory), make a movable dome for binoculars and it was taken into account that the construction of the observatory must be carried out according to strict scientific requirements.
In the early 1905, the Observatory has received a photographic camera, the astronomical clock and micrometer, and collaborated with several European observatories. Two observatories in Germany offered their scientific cooperation. During those years some observations were carried out in The Observatory, the staff observed the sunspots and the solar eclipse, but the scientific results were very limited, and it was the same in following years, although the Observatory had more instruments. The negative contributing factor was also the failed attempt to establish The Department of Astronomy at the University of Zagreb in 1906. In 1909. there was an another attempt to build a new observatory, exclusively for scientific research, in Prozorje near Dugo Selo, which failed. Contrary to the insufficient scientific work, activities for promoting  astronomy were very successful. The Observatory was visited by numerous citizens and school groups from Zagreb and other parts of the Croatia. Max Wolf, the director of the Heidelberg Observatory, in agreement with the discoverer of the planeteoid 589, Augustus Kopf, discovered in 1906, the name Croatia, in honor of the opening of The Croatian Observatory in Zagreb.