♫ Sea Organ, Croatia

Alfred Hitchcock said that ‘Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world…applauded at every evening.’

These days as you approach the end of the seaside promenade you hear distant bellowing moans, rising out from the ocean and floating out along the wind. As you continue your way towards the setting sun, the moans become clearer. Finally you find yourself standing amongst a random, though familiarly ordered, arrangement of sweeping organ melodies and chords. It doesn’t take long to realise who or what is making the sound. The ocean laps up against the promenade. The sea and wind are the musician.

Built in to the middle of the Croatian Adriatic coast, the Sea Organ (Croatian ‘Morske orgulje‘) was designed by architect Nikola Bašić and built by Dalmatian stone carvers. After the devastation of World War II, chaotic reconstruction transformed the sea front in to a giant, unbroken concrete wall. It remained that way until 2005, when an urban renewal project transformed the coast once again.

At the end of an impressive promenade, Bašić designed a 70 metre long stair case that descends in to the Adriatic sea. Underneath the steps are 35 organ pipes built in to subterranean tunnels. A column of air, pushed in turn by the waves, blows each organ pipe. The sound emerges above ground through labiums (whistles), which play 7 chords of 5 tones each.

In the evening, thousands of young families, tourists, friends, and lovers ritually descend upon the point to watch the sun drop in to the sea, and listen to the organ.

I woke at 6am in the morning, and though it was a 10 minute walk away from the organ, it was as though I could hear it calling. We made our way down, for a morning listening session and swim. As we approached the bellowing sounds, I looked up to see two teenage boys at the very end of the promenade. One was taunting the other to dive in to the water in various acrobatic ways. The first kid would dive fearlessly in to the water without a moments hestitatioin. The other would stand at the edge, make fake run up attempts, and generally agonize over the various maneuvers. Meanwhile his friend treading water below him and calling out for him to,
‘Do it!’


We sat and listened for an hour or so, as the sea played endlessly on. It struck me as a rather perfect instrument, with the sea a perfect performer – totally devoid of ego, performance anxiety or exhaustion, pay problems, group politics, drug addictions or discipline. The audience may listen as intently as they please, or scream to their friends, without having to worry about hurting the organ’s feeling.

The Sea Organ was completed in late March 2005 and has been playing, nonstop, ever since – around 90,976 hours at the time of writing.

A trio of 70-year-old Italians came down for a morning swim. They disrobed and dropped carefully in to the sea, like gnocchi being dropped in to a pot of water, individually. They laughed and joked like old friends, and still the organ played on, undisturbed. As the sun rose higher, more people arrived, morning runners, walkers and swimmers. I took my shirt off and jumped in to the water, floating easily in the salty water. I lay back, toes up to the sky, ears submerged and listened to the oceanic artistry play on.

For a detailed description of the Sea Organ, visit Nikola Basic’s paper on his design by clicking here.