In the port city of Rijeka
Across the world, Carnival is a weeks-long festival leading up to the Catholic period of Lent, the 46 days of fasting and reflection prior to Easter. In the port city of Rijeka on the northernmost corner of the Kvarner gulf in Croatia, the annual Rijeka Carnival is one of Europe’s largest Carnival festivities.
Masks at carnivalCroatian National Tourist Board
The Rijeka Carnival always begins on January 17, the feast day of St. Anthony the Great.
Its end date varies from year to year depending on the date of Easter but may be as early as February 4 or as late as March 10.
Different masks at the carnivalCroatian National Tourist Board
The Rijeka Carnival is marked by a full schedule of colorful parades, parties, masked balls and rituals, whose frequency and intensity increase as Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, draws near.
Carnival festivities are such an important event in Rijeka that the period from New Year’s Day until the end of Carnival is known in the city as the “fifth season.”
Masked at carnivalCroatian National Tourist Board
Although the event has been officially organized only since 1982, the origins of the Rijeka Carnival are far older.
Dance like an EgyptianCroatian National Tourist Board
The tradition has its roots in pre-Christian fertility and harvest rites tied to the spring solstice. In the early Middle Ages, when Christianity firmly took hold in Eastern Europe, the festival became a pre-Lenten one.
Storks flying maskCroatian National Tourist Board
In the late 19th century, when Kvarner and the rest of the Croatian littoral were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Carnival of Rijeka drew royalty from across Europe to its masked balls — it became one of the most popular Carnival events on the continent.
As European royal houses faded from prominence from WWI onward, the Rijeka Carnival lost its prestige. Carnival celebrations were suppressed under Yugoslavian leader Tito but revived after his death in 1980.
ACDC MaskCroatian National Tourist Board
Today, the Carnival of Rijeka attracts as many as 150,000 spectators and more than costumed 10,000 participants to the International Carnival Parade, which takes place the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Dragons at the carnivalCroatian National Tourist Board
The festivities kick off on January 17 with the sounding of the horns of St. Anthony and the raising of the Carnival flag.
Wood Fairy maskCroatian National Tourist Board
Several days later, the mayor of Rijeka hands the keys to the city over to Meštar Toni, the Master of the Carnival, symbolically putting him in command. A Carnival King and Queen are elected the same day, and a parade and masked ball take place.
Flower maskCroatian National Tourist Board
Masked Balls All Along the Streets
In subsequent days, a series of private and public masked balls and parties are held, and a festive atmosphere pervades the streets of Rijeka, particularly along the Korzo, Rijeka’s main promenade.
In early February, the Children’s Carnival Parade features at least 5000 costumed children, many of them wearing masquerade costumes handed down through generations.
Clown and magiciansCroatian National Tourist Board
The biggest event of Rijeka Carnival, and that which draws the largest crowd, is the International Carnival Parade on the weekend before Ash Wednesday.
Masked people posingCroatian National Tourist Board
Elaborate floats, fantastic costumes and musicians, dancers and performers from around the world participate in the spectacular procession, which is typically five hours’ long.
Here Come the Zvončari!
It’s at the end of this parade that the Zvončari, the Carnival bell-ringers from the nearby Kastav region make their appearance. Their haunting ritual dancing, cacophonous bell-ringing and often frightening animal-skin headdresses are a highlight of the parade.
Masks at nightCroatian National Tourist Board
After the parade, revelers line the Korzo for an all-night party, with bands, open-air bars and food stalls.
Recent additions to the Rijeka Carnival calendar of events include a DJ concert, a snowboarding competition and a road rally.
Carnival dancing peopleCroatian National Tourist Board
The festivities culminate on Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, with the burning of Pust.
An allegorical puppet that represents all the bad things that happened in the past year, Pust is put to trial, condemned, then taken by boat into Rijeka harbor and burned.
The End to the Festivities
After this, the keys to the city are returned to the mayor, the Carnival flag comes down and the more sober period of Lent begins.