(Šenoa House)

First damage report – museum clock stopped at 6 hours and 24 minutes

As if the spread of COVID-19 wasn't enough, last Sunday, March 22, at 6:24 am local time, Zagreb was hit by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, which unfortunately took a life of a 15-year-old and left more than two dozen people injured. Two days later, with aftershocks and COVID-19 it is too early to know the exact damage to Zagreb museums but it is clear from the first inspections and photographs that the Museum Documentation Center collected from the museums that damage repair is going to be a long-term project.

The time for detailed assessment, documentation of the damage and evacuation of the objects where necessary is ahead of us, but this summary of reported damage confirms how vulnerable Zagreb museums are when it comes to seismic risk management.

The Archaeological Museum in Zagreb suffered severe damage to both the building and the museum objects. Cracks appeared on the exterior of the Vranyczany-Dobrinović Palace in Zrinjevac, constructed in 1879, the interior walls are also damaged, and floors covered with rubble from fallen ceiling plaster. Judging by the first photos our colleagues sent us, a large number of objects were damaged, and some of the display cabinets filled with shards. While the inspection of the building is ongoing, as is the securing of the objects and documenting the damage, with the coronavirus minimizing the number of staff involved, the full extent of the loss is yet to be known.

(Archealogical Museum in Zagreb)


(Archealogical Museum in Zagreb)


The Amadeo Palace in the Upper Town, home of the Croatian Museum of Natural History, also suffered extensive damage in the earthquake, especially on the first and second floors of the building. There are cracks on the ceiling and the walls, and some showcases of the permanent display known to generations of visitors are turned into rubble from exhibits and broken glass. Like most museums in Zagreb, this Museum is waiting for inspection of a structural engineer to be able to assess how endangered the remaining material is.

The Museum of Arts and Crafts, which was supposed to be celebrating 140 years, also counts damage to the artifacts: sacral sculptures, clocks, glass, design, but the collapsed part of the roof poses the biggest threat. The damage is done to the second and third floors of the Museum where the restoration workshops are, and to the objects in parts of the permanent display located there. From the main façade, which has been waiting for years to be restored, parts of the architectural sculpture collapsed. Structural engineers closed the museum.

(Museum of Arts and Crafts)

The earthquake did not spare either the Croatian History Museum housed in the Vojković-Oršić-Kulmer-Rauch Palace, which was built in 1764. As the expert services already inspected the Museum, identifying a series of structural damage to the palace, which significantly reduced the seismic capacity of the building. Museum director Matea Brstilo Rešetar said that the building is now unsafe for both staff and the entire museum holdings stored and exhibited there. After the soil calmes down, the Museum, working for 174 years in anticipation of a new building, will have to evacuate and relocate.

Services also closed the Croatian School Museum, declaring the building as unusable, according to museum director Štefka Batinić. The museum holdings did not suffer significant damage.

(Croatian School Museum)

The Ethnographic Museum mostly recorded damage inside the building, ranging from cracks on the walls to shattered glass on the display cases, and damage to some exhibits. In the depots, the ceramics, glass, and clay objects also suffered damage. Same as with the others, this Museum will only be able to make an accurate damage assessment after curators and restorers have thoroughly inspected all the items. Luckily, before the earthquake, the Museum underwent a renovation of the façade and roof, both of which, although heavily decorated with architectural sculptures, suffered no damage.

The Modern Gallery, housed in the Vraniczany's palace, was less damaged than other downtown museums, according to director Branko Franceschi's report. The damage was noted only on two sculptures, and the smaller number of sculptures in the depots. The façade looking onto the street is in good condition, while the façade in the courtyard is damaged, and the massive chimney halved and in need of urgent removal. In the building's interior, the walls cracked, and pieces of plaster fell, especially on the first floor and on the staircase. The earthquake caused damage to the decorative cornice, the tholobate, and the dome of the Oval Hall, where several bricks fell, and so did the pieces of plaster. The Modern Gallery is also waiting for an evaluation of the seismic capacity of the building.

The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters is operating in the palace of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts built back in 1880, the year of the last major earthquake. As stated by the president of the Academy Velimir Neidhardt, the 19th-century earthquake left no damage, unlike the one hitting Zagreb last Sunday and leaving many cracks on the building. The gallery halls are damaged, but according to the first information, the exhibits on the permanent display are intact.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Glyptotheque of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Medvedgradska Street that reported damage to the building and the museum holdings.


In comparison to the other museums, the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery suffered minor damage to the roof, some cracks on the walls, and the equipment. Not having any major exhibition at the moment of the impact meant that there was no devastation of objects.

Lada Ratković, director of the Mimara Museum, said that although the Museum was not as damaged as the neighboring Museum of Arts and Crafts, they too recorded cracks on the walls, plaster falling, and damage to the objects that are being assessed at the moment.

The Croatian Sports Museum, housed in the building dating from the end of the 19th century, suffered damage as well. The main concern, according to our colleagues working there, is the structural condition of the building that sustained damage to the higher floors, the staircase, and parts of the roof.

The Art Pavilion also reported damage to the façade, in the interior, the ceiling under the dome, and lateral walls.

The Šenoa House, which preserves the legacy of the Šenoa family, is severely damaged. After the great earthquake in 1880, the most famous family member, writer August, wrote as a functioning city councilor and a member of the Census Committee that "Never have I seen more horrible images, nor have felt deeper sorrow in my lifetime." According to Jasmina Reis, the roof was damaged, two chimneys fell, pulling down with them the roof tiles, and inside the museum, cracks appeared on all the walls. They are waiting for the assessment of a structural engineer.

The Prigorje Museum reported that the roof is compromised because the beams holding it moved, and judging by the photos we’ve seen, the façade cracked.

The Museum Documentation Center’s holdings, for now, appear to be undamaged, and we are still waiting for a structural engineer to inspect the building of the former Pruckner Hotel dating from 1844, and designed by the architect Bartol Felbinger.

The director of the Museums of Ivan Meštrović sent us photographs of the Meštrović Atelier that show no major damage except some cracks on the walls.

Our only 21st-century museum building, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Zagreb, which should have felt the least impact of the earthquake, experienced damage caused when the earthquake activated the fire-sprinklers, which in turn flooded the exhibition space. Water damaged the ceilings, floors, and several objects. The earthquake did not cause any damage to the works of art, but it did damage the building in several places: on the ground floor, in the shop, the basement, the staircase, and the office area. Also, additional subsidence of the southern plateau was identified.

The Typhlological Museum, located in a building dating from the second half of the 20th century, does not report any significant damage, although their walls cracked and some plaster fell. Meanwhile, the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art reports that all works of art are safe and undamaged in the earthquake.

The Nikola Tesla Technical Museum shows no signs of damage. Over recent years, the City of Zagreb had invested in the renovation of the wooden structure, which proved able to withstand the earthquake of this magnitude, said the Museum director Markita Franulić. The only bizarre consequence of the earthquake is that the clock on permanent display stopped exactly on Sunday at 6 hours and 24 minutes.

(Maja Kocijan and Iva Validžija, published originally in News from the Museum World 111, 24 March 2020; translated by Ivona Marić)

(Nikola Tesla Technical Museum)


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