The ABC of Croatia

Welcome! Discover arts, beaches, crafts and more across Croatia

By Google Arts & Culture

A is for Alka in Sinj

On the first weekend  August, the town of Sinj becomes a flurry of equestrian activity for the Sinjska Alka, a knights’ tournament that has been taking place annually for more than 300 years. The competition commemorates a 1715 victory in Sinj during the Seventh Ottoman–Venetian War, and is an occasion full of skill, splendor, and, of course, noble steeds. 

Flintlock horse pistols (kubure) and sabre (Jatagan) of alka squiresMuseum Alka of Sinj

B is for St. Blaise

Legend has it that St. Blaise (Sv. Vlaho in Croatian) was a mystic healer who retreated to a cave near modern day Armenia. Animals are said to have come to him to be healed. Blaise has become known as the patron saint of throats, candles, and the wool trade. But, maybe most importantly, he's the patron saint of the Croatian coastal town, Dubrovnik. 

Initial G: Saint Blaise by Master of the Murano GradualThe J. Paul Getty Museum

C is for Cipka

Cipka is the Croatian word for lace.  Lacemaking is a tradition dating back to the Renaissance times when it began spreading throughout the Mediterranean and continental Europe. Over the years, Croatian lace has become famous for its unique patterns and designs. There are three main lacemaking centres in Croatia: Pag, Leopglava and Hvar.


Detail of laceCroatian National Tourist Board

D is for Dubrovnik

The Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is a famous coastal city with a stunning Old Town. Imposing and beautiful in equal measure, it's a labyrinth of terracotta roofs and imperious fortress towers. 

Dubrovnik, Lovrijenac fortressCroatian National Tourist Board

E is for Edek

The edek is a horse without a rider, led in the procession of the Alka Sinj Tournament by two squires in front of the Marshal and his adjutant. It is a replacement for the Marshal’s horse, with extremely richly decorated gear. 

Edek - horse without riderMuseum Alka of Sinj

F is for Folk Costumes

Every region has a unique type of folk costume. For example, in Dalmatia, traditional costumes include women wearing richly embroidered tunics or aprons over a skirt and white blouse. Men will also don an embroidered tunic over a white shirt and dark pants. Some additions may include silver coins attached to costumes, as well as colorful sashes, belts and fringe.

Silent dance formationCroatian National Tourist Board

G is for Gorjani's procession

The spring procession of Ljelje takes place every year on Pentecost Sunday in the town of Gorjani in the northeastern Slavonia region. The young women of the town dress as queens or kings and walk house to house in procession, accompanied by singers and musicians. The history of the spring procession may relate to a story from the Croatian-Ottoman wars, when the women of Gorjani allegedly reclaimed their captured men from the Turks.

Ljelje from the backCroatian National Tourist Board

H is for Hvar Island

Another gem set within the Adriatic blue, Hvar is a summer resort spot which also boasts impressive 13th Century architecture. It is rich in history as well as sun and sea. In the busy historic center of Hvar, a unique lacemaking tradition is preserved by Benedictine nuns. Hvar agave lace, made only in this monastery, is part of a national lacemaking tradition in Croatia.

The view over HvarCroatian National Tourist Board

K is for Korčula Island

En garde! This tiny and beautiful island is maybe best known for hosting the Moreska sword dance. The sword dance is just what it sounds like—a danced, mock sword battle between an allegorical White King and Black King, both vying for the love of a princess. Both kings and their respective armies parade through town in elaborate costumes. 

Sword dance on Korčula IslandCroatian National Tourist Board

I is for Istria

Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic, and its land is shared between Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. Here, musicians on the Croatian part of the peninsula play the traditional sopila. 

Sopile closeupCroatian National Tourist Board

L is for Licitar

These jewel-like and delicious biscuits have been a traditional Croatian treat since the 1500s. The baked biscuit is covered in icing, usually bearing intricate patterning and messages. 

LicitarCroatian National Tourist Board

M is for Marija Bistrica

Pilgrims have journeyed to the town of Marija Bistrica since at least the 1600s to worship at a statue of the Black Madonna, a carved figure of the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus. From the 1800s, townspeople in the villages along the pilgrims’ paths that lead to the shrine have sold souvenirs to worshipers, in the form of small, handcrafted wooden toys and musical instruments. This is how the traditional wooden toys process started.

Wooden horses and a bird by Lovro FijanCroatian National Tourist Board

N is for Nijemo Kolo

Nijemo Kolo is a silent dance originating from the Dalmatian hinterland in southern Croatia. In 2011 it was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

Nijemo kolo as a form of ritualCroatian National Tourist Board

O is for Opanci

Opanci are the heavy leather shoes or boots of the dancers. A part of the traditional Dalmatian costume, also used for the Silent dance.

Dancers jumping from joy of the danceCroatian National Tourist Board

P is for Pag Island

Pag is a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea. It’s known for its barren, almost lunar landscape, as well as for lace production and the famous Pag cheese. 

Pag islandCroatian National Tourist Board

R is for Roženice (or Sopile)

Traditional Croatian singers are usually accompanied by musicians playing traditional woodwind instruments, most often two sopile (also called roženice), which are long wooden horns similar to oboes.

Sopile or roženiceCroatian National Tourist Board

S is for Slavonia

Since the era when Croatia was part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy, later the Austrian Empire, the tradition of breeding Lipizzan horses has formed part of the country’s history and identity, particularly in the eastern lowland region of Slavonia. 

Horses in the field from the sideCroatian National Tourist Board

T is for Tambura

The strummed and plucked tone of the Tambura is thought to have been introduced to Central Europe in the Byzantine era by the Turks. Its use was taken up by southern Slavic ethnic groups from Slavonia, which once extended beyond the modern borders of Croatia. 

Tambura toyCroatian National Tourist Board

W is for Wooden Toys!

In 2009, the traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys in the Hrvatsko Zagorje, hilly region of Croatia was inscribed to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Today, the handcrafted toys of Hrvatsko Zagorje are a beloved symbol of Croatia.

Man finishing a toy by Lovro FijanCroatian National Tourist Board

Z is for Zvončari

In the Kastav area of Croatia, the spectacular Bell Ringers’ Pageant (Zvončari) takes place in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. During the pageant — which is really a procession — male villagers from the towns around Kastav dress in sheepskin throws. The tradition likely dates back to pre-Christian rites of spring. The masks, costumes and noisy bell ringing were a way to ward off evil spirits, portend an abundant harvest and protect farm animals.

Group of bell ringers preparing to danceCroatian National Tourist Board

Now you know the ABCs, discover more with Hearts and Crafts!

Disclaimer
The cover image of this editorial feature as well as some of the artworks from this project page were created by Marina Mesar, 3OKO.

A group of LjeljeCroatian National Tourist Board

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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