It’s Time For Croatia to Claim its Nikola Tesla Heritage

Paul Bradbury

nikola tesla heritage

April the 17th, 2024 –  With the electric car revolution gathering pace, it is time for Croatia to take advantage of its Nikola Tesla heritage.

Croatia welcomes 75% of its tourists by car. 

The number of electric cars on the world’s roads increased 54% last year to about 3.1 million, a number expected to rise to 125 by 2030, according to a recent report

It doesn’t take a genius of the stature of Nikola Tesla to conclude that a tourist country which offers the very best facilities and attractions to electric car users in the future will have a competitive advantage. And if that country happened to be home to the birthplace of Nikola Tesla himself, what a branding and tourism opportunity!

Let’s deal first with the elephant in the room to keep the trolls happy. Was Tesla a Serb or a Croat? A question which keeps hundreds of people busy online, when they clearly have nothing better to do. Tesla was an ethnic Serb, born  in a village called Smiljan in the Austrian Empire, in the region of the vassal kingdom of Croatia, which is located in the modern Croatia. As such, both Serbia and Croatia can claim Tesla heritage, and the difference so far is that one of them is doing this rather well, while the other has only fleeting moments of celebrating the great man. 

Although Tesla only visited Belgrade once, you would not think so as you fly into Nikola Tesla Belgrade Airport, celebrate National Science Day on his birthday of July 10, or a host of other examples tying Tesla to his Serbian heritage. Well done Serbia.

You certainly don’t get the same impression as you fly into the Franjo Tudjman Zagreb Airport, or anywhere else in Croatia. The original birthplace of Nikola Tesla in a village called Smiljan is a pretty and quiet place, and one would expect a memorial centre befitting of his genius, something hailed as one of the great attractions of the country. Instead, there is simply his rebuilt house (twice blown up by the Croats in 1942 and 1992), the church and a very small exhibition centre and short movie about Tesla and his life. Bring your own lunch. The very average official website is in Croatian only, unless you care to click on the Google Translate button provided.

Visiting Smiljan as a regular tourist is one experience, visiting it as a committed Tesla driver, firmly into the electric vehicle revolution is quite another. I have now been on the Nikola Tesla EV Rally for three years, one of Croatia’s most impressive and least supported tourism events, bringing electric vehicle enthusiasts from 31 countries on a week-long rally through Croatia’s national parks, islands and historic cities, offering the finest cultural, gourmet and accommodation options which Croatia has to offer. A rally whose participants have included the mother of Elon Musk, Mr. Modern Tesla himself, Mate Rimac and the owner of the first Concept One, which took part in the entire rally in 2016.

A visit to Smiljan is always included in the itinerary – indeed the rally organisers donated a charging station to Smiljan as a symbolic thank you to Tesla – and it is one of the most eagerly awaited parts of the rally. Speaking to first-time arrivals, on the rally, the chance to visit the birthplace of the man who made all this possible is exciting indeed, something on a par with a Manchester United fan going on a tour of the Theatre of Dreams at Old Trafford – a fabulous fan experience that has fans driving long distances for a memorable day. 

It is safe to say that a visit to Smiljan does not quite leave the same Theatre of Dreams experience. 

As Croatia talks about 12-month tourism and attracting more tourism to continental Croatia, an intelligent new approach to Smiljan and the heritage of Nikola Tesla could produce one of the great tourist attractions of Croatia, as well as an education centre to inspire the younger generation.

One of the key components of the rally each year is education about e-mobility for those who are interested. The sight of 50 Teslas on Croatian roads attracts considerable interest, no more so than in Smiljan, where the biggest visitors are busloads of schoolchildren. 

As those 75% of tourists coming to Croatia each year by car gradually become electric car drivers, and as the benefits of Tesla’s genius will be felt more on Europe’s roads, why not build an attraction that will do justice to his remarkable life, while also creating a Theatre of Dreams as a tourist experience, educational experience and – if we want to truly dream – a centre of excellence and research? For all those schoolchildren coming to Smiljan, why not fire their imagination with what can be achieved by one remarkable mind in rural Croatia? And for those tourists who have converted to e-mobility, why not give them the Theatre of Dreams tourism experience which will have them heading straight for Smiljan?

Welcome to Croatia’s Electric Highway and the Birthplace of Nikola Tesla. See you in Smiljan. 

Croatia, a symbol of e-mobility excellence and innovation. The brand is there like a huge unopened present under the Christmas tree. 

Currently, there is not even a cafe at Tesla’s birthplace, just a kiosk selling snacks. There are those who would like to change that, and I know of at least one project which is keen to build a Nikola Tesla hotel and conference centre, with an interactive exhibition hall based on the great man’s inventions. I spoke to the artist behind the Nikola Tesla: Mind from the Future exhibition, which is currently touring the globe, to ask if she was open to the final resting place of the exhibition coming to Smiljan. She is. 

Tesla is finally coming of age, and Croatia is in pole position to capitalise on the future for its tourism, education and as a symbol of sustainable tourism and innovation. All it takes is a few creative minds and committed people (they exist already), finance which can be found, and official vision. If one can find the latter, then Croatia has a great future as one of the centres of the e-revolution. 


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