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Funicular

Over the years, Zagreb funicular has become a symbol of Zagreb. Two blue wagons definitely make it among the top attractions of this city. Many superlatives apply to them: the oldest one, the shortest, the safest one… What precisely am I referring to, and how on Earth is it possible for a granny to celebrate 120th birthday in such a good shape? 

This cable car has been transporting citizens of Zagreb and their guests between lower and upper towns for over a century. The upper station is located on the Strossmayer promenade, just beneath the Lotrscak tower. The lower station is located in Tomiceva Street. In the past, the name of that street was Bregovita, which could be freely translated as the hilly street. With just one look at the slope with 50 percent inclination, it’s easy to conclude where that name came from. Before the funicular was constructed, this street had been connecting two parts of the city by broad wooden stairway.

The funicular was a single businessman’s investment. Mr. Klein came to the idea of building a cable car on this very spot. He based his project on detailed preparations and analysis – he had been monitoring the pedestrian traffic between lower and upper towns by calculating the number of passers-by on different streets connecting the two areas. As he had predicted, the calculations confirmed Bregovita St to be to most frequent connection and therefore he decided to build a funicular right there. 

The construction license was issued in just two days. That doesn’t mean there weren’t those who opposed the idea. Quite contrary, there were many who thought it was an oversized, unnecessary project that might severely violate the features of the city. That’s not strange at all, considering that in those days, the only vehicles to be seen on the streets of Zagreb were horse carriages.

The construction didn’t quite go as planned, and the complications escalated with complete failure of the first test run. However, that was also its last accident, which makes the Zagreb funicular one of the safest public passenger vehicles ever.

That was the last big accident, but it wasn’t the last trouble with the old funicular. It had officially begun to operate in 1890, but only three years later was it actually opened for public. The funicular rides weren’t always as comfortable as today. Powered by a steam engine, it often happened to be out of service due to technical difficulties. Among others, there was a continuous problem with wooden cog wheels manufactured in Hungary that weren’t as easy to get as they were to wear off. There were also times when passengers had to literally push the stuck wagons to make it move on.  That gave the funicular its funny nickname Zapinjaca, a word that mocks its habit to get stuck, and it also rimes with Croatian word for funicular – Uspinjaca.

During its first years, the wagons were divided in three. The front parts with better views were sort of a first class – reserved for distinguished citizens only, with the middle part for the common people.

On its 40th birthday, as stipulated in the agreement between the city of Zagreb and Mr. Klein, the funicular was taken over by the City, or more precisely by its company ZET which takes care of the city trams. The steam power was soon replaced by electric one. Some 40 years ago, the cable car went through major reconstruction. The wagons, the whole cable drive and its structure were carefully restored with as few modifications as possible. It has therefore kept most of its appearance and original technical characteristics and this is why it makes part of the city’s cultural heritage. The original parts are being kept in Zagreb Technical Museum.

When it comes to those superlatives I mentioned earlier, I already explained why it’s considered to be the safest public transportation vehicle. We also consider it the oldest public vehicle in Zagreb, for she was here a year before the horse-drawn tram, and the first private motor car was not yet to come for several years. The tracks are only 66m meters long and it’s therefore the world’s shortest public cable car. It’s not the fastest one, that’s for sure. Even a common chicken is as much as three times faster than our dear funicular.

Among all the records that two blue wagons hold, we just might add the attribute of the most charming symbol of Zagreb. Maybe you won’t agree at first, but many of my co-citizens definitely would. Why else would they continue to preserve that plane old Zapinjaca.  Today, we don’t have to fear of getting stuck and having to push the cabins.  Instead, I suggest you to follow the tradition of taking the best seats. You will then be able to experience the ride the same way city’s noblemen once used to, enjoying the amazing view. 

Enjoy your ride!

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