In the second part of the article, we continue our path through cultural events in Croatia. This time we will visit the islands, take a peek at the inner parts of "Green Istria", discover atypical theatre forms, the highest sports water competitions, go back to medieval and ancient times, and become a part of the craziest costumed party in Croatia!
8. MOREŠKA KORČULA
Korčula is an island of unbelievably rich history, culture, and customs being carried on for generations. By a legend, it is the home of the legendary seamen Marco Polo, ancient cultural events and customs that have outgrown local shapes. One of them is the knight dance Moreška that is a part of the non-material cultural heritage protected by UNESCO.
Moreška is a traditional knight dance with swords that came to Croatia at the end of the 13 century. On Korčula it is being produced non-stop from the 15 century until today. It is a proud tradition of the Korčula island that celebrates the successful rebellion against the occupation government of the Moors. Once performed all across Europe, it can be found only on Korčuli where 9 dance groups keep the tradition alive!
Today, Moreška is a festival that lasts from June until the middle of September. The dance program is the central part of the festival where everybody is involved. By tradition, Moreška is presented on 29 of July at the festivity of Saint Todor, the guardian of the island. In the meantime, the dance is performed a couple of times a week because of great interest and is danced only by men.
First-dated documents take us back to the 17 century when there were two variants of the dance: two-sworded Moreška, and Kumpanija and Moštra with one sword. Above all, it is a drama screenplay that combines musical, textual, and choreographic elements. There are 4 main characters in Moreška: black and white king, Otmanović, and Bula. She is the only woman unarmed character and the reason for the battle between the two armies.
The introduction is a dramatic type being performed by the black king and "bula" after which the dance part starts. On it, 24 moreškanti are involved divided into 8 choreographic parts. The music section is made of 40 musicians, 40 choir members, and 30 folklore members.
In the City Museum, you can see the permanent exhibit that collects all the island's historic materials in one place, including the Moreška fragments. If you are visiting the island in June, do not forget to miss out on the celebration of the Half New Year that includes the craziest summer party on the island!
9. RAPSKA FJERA
If you like the Middle Ages, its history, and customs, then Rapska Fjera from 25 to 27 of July is the right event for you! This tradition is old almost 800 years! It is celebrated in honor of saint Chritophorus and George the Great that freed the island from occupation. Then, the fjera lasted for 14 days!
Rapska fjera is the oldest and the biggest medieval festival in Croatia. In those three days, the island is "flooded" with workshops, manufacture, and craft shops that reconstruct the life of older times.The streets ring with traditional music and dance, and visitors can enjoy the medieval delicacies and autochthonous products. Be sure to try out sulčići and Rapsku tortu (cake).
Fjera starts by gathering all the "official bodies" and members of Rapska fjera that head towards the center of the town lighted up by torches. Along the way, they stop at Župna crkva to receive the blessing and head to the Varoš. There, they are greeted by the major in the role of the prince, his deputy, public notary, and judge. After being signed up in the book of the Fjera, the shots from the cannon officially announce the start of another Rapska Fjera.
The first night is classy, the second one has a fisherman character, and the third one is a knight competition. That is also the main night when Saint Christophors day is commemorated, the protector of the island. In the end, the costume parade heads to the Duke's palace where the official flag is lowered, and the sky is painted by fireworks that announce a back to reality.
The games are being held since 1995. and are organized a couple of times a year during holidays and festivities. Fjera won the award "Blue flower" which is the biggest acknowledgment, and more than 60 culture-artistic societies from Croatia are involved in participation.
Besides the dramatic show, there are many things to see on the Rapska Fjera. On the Pijaceta, try out the wine, cheese, olive oil, rakija, figs, and buy aromatic plants and relieve the old trades and object-making. The Morska promenada celebrates fisherman way of life, rural households the agricultural history, while Katedrala is the place of gathering for painters and artists. Do not forget to try out the gastronomy offer in local restaurants that prepare exclusively medieval dishes in those 3 days!
10. KARNIVAL OF RIJEKA
There is not a person in the world that has not at least once put on a mask on his face and went "treasure" hunting for sweets. The carnival and costume tradition is as old as humanity itself. Now, it is spread across the world and so popular that February is considered the carnival month!
Carnivals are held throughout Croatia, but only one of them is famous worldwide. That is the Rijeka carnival, the most colorful, cheerful, and innovative carnival in the country. Its significance lies in the great humor implemented through irony and satire that describes society, local identity, way of life, and the culture of the town, region, and country.
Trademarks of the carnival are the so-called zvončari that ring around the town to force away evil forces and introduce the beginning of the Fest. They are protected as a part of UNESCO non-material cultural heritage. Even though the tradition dates back to the 19 century, it was only 30 years ago that it was renowned on an initiative by local enthusiasts. But, in the meantime, it has grown from a small local gathering to one of the biggest festivities in Europe with more than 100 000 visitors!
The main event is the international carnival procession that is held on the last Sunday of February. After the procession, the party starts until the morning. Rijeka Carnival is a competition of innovation and originality, and a gathering of traditional and carnival groups at the same time. On it, the traditional and modern is connected where on the foundations of old values and customs new carnivals are born.
Besides the identity, culture, arts, and social role, Carnival is a review, critic, and irony on the everyday actualities. Because of it, masks every year receive great public attention and are a theme of the day for weeks. Besides that, they are a cause of media talk the next day. That is why it is not surprising that masking was forbidden once upon a time! But, essentially, those are just funny local tales that make fun of everyday life and are fun and laugh which is the only goal of the Carnival. And the Rijeka one has become famous because it connects the gentleman's city festival with the one being founded on mythology, folklore, and ancient customs.
Program for all with guaranteed fun, laughter, and socializing
Besides the procession, the festival is filled with rich content and program. For the youngest, there is the Children's Festival procession that transforms Rijeka into a fairytale city. Movie, novel, series, fairytale characters make the little ones laughing and carry on the spirit of carnival on the generations yet to come.
The most interesting part of the festival is the competitive one. Above all. that is the choice of the queen of the festival for the prestige title "Golden Cape". The mask that was chosen becomes the trademark of the carnival that year. Besides that, group scenic appearance if being chosen. Afterward, the mayor of Rijeka symbolically gives away the keys of the city to the Carnival Meštar, and for the next month, Rijeka becomes an epicenter of a crazy party!
The thing that will make you laugh is the "Paris-Bakar" Rally that is a parody of the most famous rally in the world. All the competitors and vehicles are costumed and drive through the city in the funniest race you will ever see. Also, Rijeka Carnival is the only one that offers snow joys right next to the sea. For something completely different, visit the Carnival Snowboarding Session and enjoy the craziest stunts and moves and the best after-party.
In the end, everybody needs to wind off and have fun. That is why Rijeka Carnival Party was organized following the Berlin Love Parade example. It celebrates multiculturality and freedom through fun, music, and company. Become a part of the craziest parade and remember "Krepat, ma ne molat" which is a festival moto that defies social norms and ironically describes the everyday surrounding.
At the festival every year there are more than 100 groups and 10 000 participants take part in it. Hundreds of thousands follow the live coverage, and even more by digital platforms. That is why Rijeka became a part of the European festival cities union in 1995. as a top cultural event.
Because of its popularity, Carnival is nicknamed the "Fifth time of the year" because once month a year, Rijeka becomes the main fun place where the rules are unique compared to the rest of the world. So, dare to come and follow the festival motto "Become yourself" "Be what you want to be", and become a part of the funniest masked story in Croatia!
11. MARATHON LAĐA
Once a fertile area that fed 10 000 people, the area of the river Neretva is today a hidden tourist pearl. One of the events that helped in its international recognition is the Lađa Marathon. It is held on the last Saturday of August. In 23 years, it has become the main cultural manifestation of the area.
The Marathon is an amateur sporting race of traditional vessel boats on a 22,5 kilometers route. 400 rowers participate in the race down Neretva from Metković, across Opuzen, all the way to Ploče. It is considered the biggest maritime sporting event visited by 50 000 visitors every year!
A real spectacle begins already on the start when 33 "lađas" turn the quiet river into a wild fast stream wild the crowd cheers in jubilance. Tempo rarely slows down and most importantly, everybody has the same lađa, so skills and ability are vital for winning. The crew is made of 10 rowers, a drummer, and a steersman. In Opuzen it is allowed to make up to 6 substitutions. All the lađas are wooden and created traditionally. All of them, have the same amount of ribs.
Competition rules are rigorous: besides lađas, vessel and steer have to be wooden, rowers with feet in the water, the drummer is in the middle, and there have to be 10 vessels in the water at all times. At the start, only rowers from that area could participate, but thanks to the event's popularity Marathon lađa is today an international event. For a quality race, the maximum number of lađas has to be 33. Only the fastest can be a part of the competition, and the winner receive golden medals and the bronze shield of duke Domagoj.
Lađa Marathon began in 1998. as an idea of a few sports enthusiasts and history lovers. In the meantime, it has become a TV spectacle followed on an international level, and even a documentary was filmed after it and recieved international popularity and fame.
Although a sports competition, the Lađa Marathon symbolizes the history and a way of life in these areas. Lađas were places where people were born and died and were once the only communication canale to the outside world. And that is why this event has a cultural and identity significance.
12. PRSTENAC RACE
Our biggest peninsula, the "Green Istria", hides many interesting things in its picturesque villages and places. One of them is Barban, a little village of great history and rich culture and natural beauties. But, in the last week of August, this place becomes the center part of all manifestations thanks to the Prstenac race.
It is a knight horseman game like the Sinjska Alka. It originates from the end of the 17 century, but modern ages remember it being held for the last half of the century. On the field, long 150 meters the Barban knights are competing that have 12 seconds to hit the "prstenac" with their spear. Three races are held, and the winner is the one who has the most points. In case of a tie, a fourth race is being organized, or the so-called "pripretavanje".
Unlike the Alka, prstenac is divided into 4 little circles. A hit in "srida" is 3 points, the upper part is 2 points, underneath it is a point, and the side fields carry on half of the point. The program lasts for three days, and the race is the central event being held on the last day. The first day is the ceremonial part, the second one is the qualifying race called trka na viticu, and the third one is the main race itself.
All born in Istria between the age of 18 and 60 can participate in the race. After every race, the rider has to stop in front of the judge with a spear driven through prstenac for points confirmation. Besides that, style, quickness, and agility are being evaluated. The rider and the horseman are decorated in traditional costumes from that time, and the spear is specially decorated.
The Prstenac race is a great bait for the audience and media. That is why it is expected to be enlisted in the non-material cultural heritage category as soon as possible. With it, it is expected a larger audience than the current 10 000 that pass through this small place in those 3 days.
That the race has a great local significance is concluded in the fact that there is a permanent exhibition and an educative-interpretation center in Barban. There you will get to meet the history, tradition, and culture of the place to become the Barban knight just for a moment thanks to 3D reality!
13. SVETVINČENAT FESTIVAL OF DANCE AND NON-VERBAL THEATRE
If you love dancing, theatre, and untypical artistic forms then the Festival of dance and non-verbal theatre in Svetvinčenat is for you. Organized from the Zagreb Ensemble, it represents a unique cultural manifestation that gathers artists and all art-lovers in one place. At the festival, you can see classic and contemporary dances, physical theatre, mimics, circus acts, street performances, and educative seminars and workshops.
Even though it is not originally a local festival, there is a great collaboration between the organizers and the locals making this cultural event a starting point of all culture-tourist happenings in Svetvinčenat. Thanks to the Festival, Svetvinčenat got its cultural center, and a tourist office, and the place was established as a somewhat dance and theatre center. It is held from 2000. and up untill today, it has hosted more than 150 dance groups that have performed 190 artworks.
The main goals of the festival are presentations of domestic and foreign pieces, encouraging international collaboration, creativity, critical way of thinking, and artistic freedom and creation. So, the festival is considered a place where ideas, educations, are projects are being exchanged, and new friendships are being made to improve the dance and theatre world.
Education, presentation, and creation are the motto of the festival that has the goal of establishing the Mediterranean dance center. It should ensure a bigger international significance of the festival, but also create new platforms to be avant-garde of the artistic world.
Besides the festival, Svetvinčenat is known for its medieval festival being held for 10 years in a row in the most famous localities of the town. It lasts for three days and includes around 100 costumed participants that try to illustrate old times, customs, and traditions as originally as possible. Camps, catapults, and fireballs will surely be the most interesting part for the youngest.
On Sajmište discover the old arts and crafts and try out the traditional gastronomy offer. Visit the medieval games, the knight's tournament, the fire weapon program, the night fire program, the attack on the castle, and many more.
Workshops for children, a mini zoo, demonstrations of weapon handling are guaranteed fun for all ages this August. So, make sure to visit Svetvinčenat on your way to the blue Adriatic!
14. PROCESSION UNDER THE CROSS HVAR
One of the oldest cultural events of great significance for the local community is Procession under the Cross on the Hvar island. It is a sacral-religious procession that attracts with its intimate, mystical, and extraordinary atmosphere because of its importance for the locals.
This event is a reflection of the island's identity and multi-centuries customs being transposed by stories and tales of older family members. It is really hard to describe the atmosphere on it. It is held for more than 500 years and is recognized and protected by UNESCO in 2009. This expression of faith, piety and old customs is performed on the night between Big Thursday and Big Friday in the week before Easter.
The procession consists of 6 smaller processions that start at the same time from 6 different places. The journey is 20 kilometers long and passes through all other places. They are moving in a clockwise direction and during their 8-hour journey, the processions can"t meet since it is considered a sign of bad luck. Along the way, ancient poems and pastorals are being performed, and an especially moving moment is when the crossbearer runs into the church carrying an 18 kg cross at the end of the road.
To be the crossbearer in the procession is the biggest honor that is sometimes waited up to 20 years. Participants of the procession are the torc (candles) carriers, cantadurs, batistrade, and locals. They are all dressed in white tunics, and it is particularly striking the performance of Gospin Plač, a pastorale from the 15. century.
Although a cultural event, Procession under the Cross is a tradition, and not folklore, so respect the rules of behavior if you plan to relieve it. But, one thing is for sure: it will not leave you indifferent. It is a unique event that arouses special emotions and is impressive no matter if you are religious or not.
In the mystical surrounding, torches above the island light up the night, while the old archaic songs by cantadures create the perfect surrounding to this manifestation. It has survived wars, natural catastrophes, and all other negative events and tragedies in its original shape up until today.
You as well can become a part of this 500-year-old spiritual journey to connect with Hvar island in a way you could not even comprehend you could ever would!
A rich culture created on the foundations of history, art, ancient customs, and traditions
Even though we have covered as many events as there is, the impression is there is much, much more to be said and explained. If you like classic culture and tradition, visit the manifestations like Split summer, the festival of lace in Lepoglava, the Marulić's days, Vinkovačke jeseni, Samoborski carnival, Visualie in Pula, Children festival in Šibenik, Marunada, and the Folklore festival in Zagreb.
For lovers of the "seventh art" and the "boards that mean life", you can visit the Pula and Motovun film festival in the heart of Istra, Summer nights of EXIT theatre, and Ulysess theatre on Brijuni with the latest and most prestige screenplays. Museum night, as well as the theatre night, are extra fun events that attract thousands of visitors. All of you who love to read books and searching for the perfect rarities between them, you will find your common ground on Interliber in Zagreb.
As a true tourist destination, Croatia is the center of a world-known party scene. Tisno is home to various festivals such as the Garden, Love International, and Suncebeat, in Split the Ultra Music Festival is held, EXIT in Umag, SONUS on Zrće in Novalja with a rich program. For a more peaceful atmosphere, InMusic and Večeri na Griču in Zagreb, Ferragosto Jam of Orahovica, Queenvention in Zadar are the "real deal" to choose this year.
Besides real culture, Croatia can be proud of its top sports achievements that are today a part of the countries tradition and folklore. Wings for Life, Hanžeković memorial, Velebit Ultra Trails, Biograd Boat Show, Rally Santa Domenica, and ATP Umag are the biggest happenings.
Of course, from this list,many events and manifestations are missing. If this isn't enough, take a look at the list of UNESCO-protected localities and see the historical monuments, city center, local parks, botanical gardens, and the ZOO to enjoy a thousand years old history and culture that is carried on for generations in Croatia!