The enchanting lanterns in Zagreb’s Upper Town are more than 150 years old and are still hand-lit by two lamplighters
Did you know that Zagreb is one of the three European cities that still have functional gas lights? 214 of them, to be exact.
You can see them on almost every corner in the Upper Town and, in addition to having a function – lighting the streets, they offer an insight into what it was like walking the streets of Zagreb a century ago. There’s just something awfully poetic and romantic about them – so much so that Vjekoslav Majer wrote a poem about one of them, called “Plinska lanterna na Griču” (A Gas Lantern at Grič).
The first gas lanterns appeared in the city on October 31, 1863 – a total of 364 in the Upper Town, Kaptol and Opatovina. There were 30,000 people living in Zagreb at the time and some of them were shocked by this modern invention. “Rasvjeta plinom” (Gas Lighting System) in the “Pozor” newspaper announced the new lights and the citizens were thrilled, albeit slightly scared – some of them thought that the gas is poisonous, while others commented that the glaring light made it look like it was day and that it was to blinding to look at.
The romantic lights of the gas lanterns have been lighting the streets of Upper Town continuously ever since, the only exception being a short period during WWII when there were airstrikes and it was too risky to spend 2-3 hours turning the lanterns on and switching them off in the morning.
Mr Josip Kufner has been working as a lamplighter for more than 20 years. The pilot flame is always on and all it takes for the lamp to turn on is release enough gas from the tank by pulling a lever on the lamplighting stick. Every lantern has its number and Mr Kufner and his colleague, Saša Alavanja, know exactly where each number is located. They also have their uniforms, but they only wear them on special occasions. Most days, they look like this:
Two days ago I saw Mr Kufner with my own eyes for the first time as he was lighting the lamps and, let me tell you, I could barely take a photo because he was doing it so fast!
We hope that these glowing sentry posts will be guarding the streets of the Upper Town for years to come.