Croatia conjures up images of turquoise waters, idyllic islands, pristine landscapes, Neo-Gothic architecture, and forbidden fortresses. Its capital city, Zagreb, is a charming metropolis; its cobblestone streets lined with cafés. The city’s spectacular cathedrals and museums are intrinsic to its character: spunky yet serene. The well-known Museum of Broken Relationships, with its outlandish mementos depicting failed relationships, may be the city’s quirkiest attraction, but just a few blocks away is a mind-boggling sensory adventure.
The Museum of Illusions, inspired by the science behind optical illusions, is a visual roller-coaster. Tucked away in a by-lane close to Zagreb’s central square, the two-storeyed museum is a kaleidoscope of colours and a cacophony of sound that leaves visitors dazed, confused, and enlightened. It opened in June 2015 and has over 70 interactive exhibits, each of which tests the limits of perception and warps the mind. How can you explain your friend shrinking in front of your eyes, or seeing your partner’s head on a tray, while their body is invisible?
Flocks of noisy children scurry around excitedly, while adults try to make sense of the maze of puzzles surrounding them. “It’s like magic,” an 11-year old shrieks in the Anti-Gravity Room, where balls start rolling upwards towards the ceiling. He tries to balance himself, before realising that gravity doesn’t exist in here. He slides downwards, the world spinning around him. His friends, on the other hand, are literally head over heels in the Reverse Room next door, where everything appears upside down. Objects seem to float or fly, creating the illusion of levitation. At the Mirror Room, parallel mirrors show visitors infinite space receding into the distance in a small room. Watching my reflection scattered on an endless spectrum is oddly satisfying.
It’s hard to resist taking pictures of every illusion that is spread across the two floors, from rotating rings to fading portraits, disappearing dots, and overlapping spirals and grids. The quintessential horror scene of a head on a platter is neatly brought to life by an illusion with a mirror. As I try to come to terms with my vanishing torso, inside the Ames Room, people grow or shrink in size, depending on where they are standing. This distorted room twists the general perception of scale, turning people into giants and dwarves. The Museum of Illusions feels like an epic Alice in Wonderland adventure.
The museum also has a number of wooden puzzles, dilemma games, knots, tricks and didactic games. Games from this “fitness centre for the brain,” as they like to call themselves, are also available at the museum’s souvenir shop. No matter how old you are, the Museum of Illusions is like a window to an enchanted world.
Museum of Illusions is in the heart of the city, close to Zagreb’s central square (muzejiluzija.com; Ilica 72; open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; entry adults HRK 40/Rs410, children 5-15 HRK25/Rs255).