We all know Croatia has a lot to offer. There’s the Plitvice Lakes of course. The magnificent city of Zagreb. There’s even the incredible remains of Diocletian’s Palace to the very south of the country.
But what about the people of Croatia? There are plenty of incredible figures to make the Mediterranean nation feel proud. From tennis aces, to inventors, to even up-and-coming poker sensations; the country has produced some fine exports. We take a look at some of the most well know figures to come off the streets of Croatia and make a big contribution to the world.
There are few people who have left a mark on the world like Nikola Tesla. In fact it’s a little hard to know where to begin with the man. He worked with Thomas Edison, was a key figure in Niagara Falls creating energy for locals, was a pioneer in x-ray photography, and even had a huge part in the design of the modern alternating current (A/C).
He was the original ‘mad scientist’ with an air of showmanship in his inventions, and continually broke boundaries when it came to almost any invention of the time.
Born in Smiljan, a small village in the mountainous region of Lika, it wasn’t long before the big city was calling. After some important work in his home nation, he moved to Prague and then Budapest before Thomas Edison came calling and he landed in New York City.
He dabbled in radio waves, and built up around 300 patents for his inventions across the planet. Despite this, he was never awarded a Nobel Prize.
Despite being one of the most successful Americans in the history of world championship racing, Mario Andretti’s roots lie much closer to Croatia with the legend growing up in Motovun, the village which once belonged to Italy and was known as Istria.
The 75-year-old has had a long history in motorsport and has competed in NASCAR, IndyCar, and even Formula 1, and is to this date he is the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and a Formula One Championship, where he saw off big names including Niki Lauda, James Hunt, and Ronnie Peterson.
It was in stock car racing where he began his career however, before making the switch to NASCAR where he competed in 14 Sprint Cup events. From there he sampled plenty of other formats, and even became a veteran of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, competing in the race for almost 35 years.
His last event came in 2000; six years after he’d already retired from racing, and in the same year he was named Driver of the Century by the Associated Press.
He’ll be forever remembered as one of the greatest drivers of all time, with many trying to emulate him, and most failing.
Unlike Andretti and Tesla, you might not be aware of Hana Soljan, but the 29-year-old is making quite the name for herself on the poker circuit, and is becoming quite the ambassador for women in the sport.
She organised the first ladies’ tournament in Croatia, and has even become quite the face on Croatian TV, hosting Sweat the Hand in a bid to spread her passion for the game in her homeland.
She has over $50,000 in live earnings and has boosted the game in Croatia significantly, as well as become a key figure in helping the ladies format to grow.
In 2010, she founded the first female poker team in Europe, and even created a Croatian female league.
Today she’s a regular on the EUREKA Poker Tour, and like any sport, seeing a Croatian succeed has spawned a new wave of players in the country. Look at poker now in Croatia, and in fact the ladies game from before she started to today, and you’ll see what a significant part she has played in the growth of the poker community.
Another sports star who has had quite the impact on the country is former footballer and Croatia manager Slaven Bilic.
Wearing his nation’s shirt, he helped Croatia take third place at the 1998 World Cup before swapping the red and white checkers for a suit, promoting the likes of Eduardo, Luka Modric, and Vedran Corluka, and leading the side to the Euro 2008 and 2012 Championships, giving a good account of themselves in both before he departed from his managerial role after six years.
He was praised heavily in the revival of the national side and has since gone on to manage Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas, where he manages to this day.
This season the man hailing from Split has taken the Turkish side to the last 16 of the Europa League, and is in the middle of a three-way tussle for the Super Lig title with Fenerbahce and Galatasaray.
Eastern Europe is synonymous with classical music, with the likes of Ivan Zajc, Vatroslav Lisinski, and Dora Pejacevic all hailing from the country. More recently it’s been the turn of 2Cellos comprising of classically trained Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser. Except they do things a little differently.
Re-arranging well known rock and pop songs, the band have shot to fame with their cello rock appearing on TV shows across the world covering bands like U2, Guns N’ Roses, and AC/DC, not to mention playing with Elton John.
They released their third album this year, with Thunderstruck being covered alongside hits by Muse, Wings, and Radiohead.
The pair met at a master class in Croatia and like many acts today rose to fame via YouTube after uploading a cover of Smooth Criminal to the site.
They’ve brought classical music crashing into the modern-day, so it’s no surprise they’ve been performing to arenas right across the globe.
Perhaps Croatia’s most famous sporting son, Goran Ivanisevic was, like Bilic, born in Split and continued its proud sporting traditions through the 1990s, regularly reaching the latter rounds of Grand Slams and lifting the Wimbledon Championships in 2001, beating Pat Rafter in a thrilling encounter.
Not only that, but he’s represented his country at the highest level too, competing in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, picking up two bronze medals in the Singles and Doubles events alongside Goran Prpic.
Today he’s still adding to Croatia’s success on the tennis court, coaching Marin Cilic, the 26-year-old who’s so far listed an Australian Open semi-final and a US Open victory (a victory which saw him get his own stamp!), which Ivanisevic played a big part in.