This Hauntingly Beautiful Instrument Makes Music Out Of Waves In The Adriatic Sea

The world is full of wonders, and they go beyond the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, and Machu Picchu. Case in point: Nestled in Zadar, on Croatia's western embankment, is a public art installation-meets-musical instrument that boggles the mind and soothes the ears.

The Sea Organ, which was built by the native Croatian artist Nikola Bašić, per Culture Trip, consists of 35 pipes and a resonating cavity molded into sweeping white steps along the waterfront. Finished in 2005, according to Atlas Obscura, the Sea Organ plays as the waves of the Adriatic Sea wash over it. It produces a hauntingly beautiful sound that can be compared to whale calls, whistling, or wind chimes.

The instrument stretches 230 feet long and plays different chords all the time. Because every wave is different, the Sea Organ produces a unique melody for every audience who hears it, as House Beautiful points out. It was created at the behest of a local commission that wanted to find a way to welcome passengers on cruise ships arriving at Zadar's new waterfront terminal in the center of the city, per Culture Trip.

An instrument governed by the tides

Bašić was born and raised in Murter, just outside Zadar, according to Culture Trip. When the Zadar commission launched a contest to design a piece of art that would draw tourists, particularly those from cruise ships, Bašić entered the contest and won for his design incorporating Zadar's seaside beauty.

The artist consulted with professionals in both sea hydraulics and organ pipe design to create an instrument that is governed by the tides. He enclosed the instrument's pipes in austere, aesthetically-pleasing steps descending down into the sea, per Culture Trip.

Here's how the instrument works: There are thin channels connecting all the pipes, and there are five pipes in each step. When the waves wash against the steps, the water forces air through the pipes, making the eerie yet beautiful sound that has attracted tourists and locals alike, according to House Beautiful. It's a triumph of both art and engineering that sets Zadar apart from other seaside towns across the world.

Sea Organ inspires Greeting to the Sun

The Sea Organ opened to the public on the same day as Zadar's cruise ship terminal, in April of that year. While locals were leery at first, per Culture Trip, they soon warmed to the installation, as the instrument brought in tourism dollars.

Municipal officials were so impressed that they commissioned Bašić to create another piece of public art. This one, which Bašić titled "Greeting to the Sun," mixes renewable energy with words from Zadar's 1290 astronomical calendar to illuminate Zadar's waterfront.

Essentially, "Greeting to the Sun" is a giant circle of glass panels installed in the cement, according to Culture Trip. Beneath the glass are cells that generate electricity and light up the circle when the dawn's rays hit them. As the day progresses, the cells generate more and more electricity, and by sunset, they've illuminated the entire waterfront. Bašić added names from Zadar's astronomical calendar around the perimeter of the glass circle to tie the city's past to its future. All told, the artist's works are an innovative addition to Zadar's landscape that prove environmental consciousness can go hand-in-hand with artistic élan.