Meet famous personalities from Opatija's history
Opatija, Croatia's well-known tourist resort, in the past was a meeting point for numerous famous members of the European aristocracy. Some of them fell in love with the area and became regular visitors to Opatija's hotels and villas, and some even built their own home here. Here's a short overview of some of the most famous names connected to Opatija from the book by the renowned author Amir Muzur.
1. Friedrich Julius Schüler
Born in 1832 in Mödling near Vienna, Schüler was a successful manager who made it to the position of general director of the Südbahn-Gesellschaft (Southern Railways Company) with lightning speed. Having saved the company from going bankrupt, he established the first Austrian overseas tariffs, painlessly settled the issue of military transports to occupied Bosnia, initiated the first electric tramway in Austria (Mödling-Hinterbrühl), and demonstrated his farsightedness by building a series of luxurious facilities alongside his railway lines. This included Opatija, where he invested in building the first hotels: the Kvarner and Stephanie (Imperial), a string of villas and accompanying infrastructure. He also brought Julius Glax and other medical authorities here.
2. Julius Glax
Glax is without doubt the most noteworthy inhabitant of Opatija in the town’s history. Born in Vienna in 1846, he finished his medical studies in Innsbruck, Vienna and Graz, specialised in balneology and by his 34th birthday had already been appointed a university professor. He practised as a spa physician in Rogaška Slatina until Friedrich Schüler lured him into going to Opatija in 1883. As an initiator, and later head of the Health Resort Commission, Glax participated in solving all the key problems of the town, from the waterworks and sewage system to the clinic and cemeteries. He organised world congresses on thalassotherapy, wrote a textbook on balneology and treated many of Opatija’s most distinguished guests.
3. Theodor Billroth
In contrast to Schüler and Glax, whose names mean something only to Austria and Opatija, Billroth is a name that has entered into the history of world medicine. A surgeon of great authority who was the first to perform specific resections of the oesophagus and stomach (later named after him as Billroth I and Billroth II), Billroth also remains noteworthy for his dissertations on music. He was born in Rügen in 1829, worked in Berlin, Zürich and Vienna, and died in Opatija in 1894. During the last ten years of his life, he was a regular visitor to Opatija and, delighted with the climate, vegetation and promenades, sent letters to his acquaintances establishing himself as Opatija’s greatest promoter and friend.
4. Karl Seidl
Malevolent people say that anything of any worth in the architecture of Opatija only originated from Karl Seidl. And indeed this eclectic architect, born in 1858 in the Moravian town of Šumperk, left a distinctive impression on the Liburnian Riviera. A pupil of Zürich and Vienna (he studied under Hansen), he built the Brühl (alias Schmidt-Zabierow) and Brunitzky villas, the Evangelist church, the court building, the Town Hall, and other facilities in Volosko and Opatija at the turn of the 20th century. He also intervened in the renovation of the Hausner boarding house (the site of today’s Hotel Milienij) and the Ariston. In Ičići, he left the Tomašić villa, in Lovran the Frappart, Magnolia, Santa Maria and other villas, and possibly the villa of the Terzi family in Medveja. Combining his fascination with the Romanesque along with his respect for the autochthonous and what he came across, Seidl managed to integrate his work into the surroundings and at the same time stamped upon it his own mark. After having spent a good part of his life on Opatija’s Riviera, Seidl died in 1936 in Vienna.
5. Andrija Stanger
A lawyer from Volosko who was born in 1853, Stanger became the mayor of Opatija in 1895 and held the post until the Italians removed him in 1918. He introduced the use of the Croatian language in public services, fought for the setting-up of a hospital in the building donated by the Delmestri family (for which the Italians reaped the credit in 1919), and was also one of the founders of the small Communal General Programme Secondary School in 1909. In 1914, he caused a scandal by greeting San Giuliani, the Italian minister of Foreign Affairs, with a speech in Croatian. He died in 1934 in Volosko, where he is buried.
6. Andrija Mohorovičić
An unusual monument, representing the strata of the Earth, stands in the centre of the old part of Volosko. Through one of these layers (the Mohorovičić Discontinuity or simply the Moho), seismic waves pass at a greater velocity. This boundary, at a depth of 55 kilometres, was discovered by Andrija Mohorovičić, a geophysicist born in Volosko in 1857 in a house on the seashore where a memorial plaque has been placed in his honour. Mohorovičić studied in Prague, and taught at the Nautical School in Bakar, a secondary school in Osijek and the university in Zagreb. He was a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one of the craters on the Moon was named after him. He died in Zagreb in 1936.
7. Drago Gervais
The descendant of a French soldier who came here during Napoleon’s occupation, Drago Gervais still remains the greatest name that the literature of all of Liburnia has to offer. Born in 1904 in Opatija, a lawyer by profession, Gervais left Opatija a collection of poems in the Chakavian dialect, several plays (he was also manager of Rijeka Theatre) and short stories. Entire generations were brought up on his handful of simple structured verses, which eventually created a long line of less successful imitators. Gervais died in rather bizarre and bohemian circumstances in 1957 in Sežana, and was buried in Opatija. The least that the inhabitants of Opatija could do for him was to name the secondary school in Gorovo after him and erect a bust in front of the school.
8. Ivan Matetić Ronjgov
Another tortured soul, Matetić was born in 1880 in the village of Ronjgi near Kastav (hence his nickname). Living his entire life on the verge of poverty, Ronjgov taught singing on the top floor of today’s Vocational School and brought up generations of Opatija's youth in his uncompromising populist and Pan-Slavic style. He also composed music, collected the musical heritage of Istria and Kvarner (having walked through and listened to the music of all these regions, receiving a tape recorder as a gift only shortly before he died), and also described the so-called Istrian musical scale with its characteristic semitones. He died in Lovran in 1960. In Opatija today, save for his grave, the only token to remind us of him is his bust next to the Villa Angiolina.
9. Čedomil Plavšić
Plavšić used to come to Opatija as a boy, though in all likelihood he probably never imagined that as an adult he would play a crucial role in the history of the town. Born in 1902 in Sarajevo, he spent his youth in Zagreb, studied and finished medicine in Belgrade and specialised in internal medicine in Paris. When he already had an international reputation, he was invited to come to Opatija in 1954, where he founded the Thalassotherapia institute, the backbone of the new era of Opatija’s health tourism. Plavšić’s avant-garde ideas for the rehabilitation of patients with cardiac infarction attracted a whole series of congresses and foreign experts to Opatija, and also brought about the revival of the town’s economy. Čedomil Plavšić died in 1987 and was buried in Opatija’s cemetery.
10. Ivo Kalina
Many paintings bear the signatures of Opatija's masters: some of them spent only a period of their lives here, like Edo Murtić or Jungnickel from Klagenfurt, others lived here, like Stephanie Glax, or are still living here like Claudio Frank. By naming a street after him, the people of Opatija bestowed a mark of distinction on Ivo Kalina. Born in Zagreb in 1925, he spent his childhood in Opatija, went back to Zagreb to study at the Academy, and returned to live in Opatija in 1963. He painted abstract compositions or motifs of Volosko in oil and pastel, such as boats on the shore or the thickset nuclei of Liburnian citadels. After a bohemian lifestyle, Ivo Kalina died in 1996.