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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Over 100,000 People Enjoyed The 2011 'Rijeka Carnival' (Riječki Karneval)

Official 'Rijeka Karneval' website:

The 2011 Edition of the popular 'Rijeka Carnival' (Coatian: Riječki Karneval) recently came to an end, and it was another successful conclusion to Rijeka's 600 year old carnival tradition. I've been to Rijeka a few times, however always during another part of the year so I haven't had a chance to partake of and experience the festivities yet. I posted previously about last years carnival which you can check out here HERE. The carnival season in Croatia is a great time for one and all, and Rijeka's Carnival is the most popular one. There are a bunch of events to attend, from masquerade balls, music, and the childrens carnival, to parties, concerts, exhibitions and even snowboarding. (And great food, musn't forget the food)  Contrary to many peoples misconceptions around here, Croatians don't just sit around milking cows. Rijeka became a full member of the Federation of European Carnival Cities (FCCC) in 1995 and the Rijeka Carnival is also on the list of the 500 most important events in Europe - Top 500 European Events. You can check out the links to see more photos and vidoes from this year's event as well as from previous years of the 'Riječki Karneval', at the Rijeka Carnival official website at:


The Rijeka Carnival is held each year before Lent in Rijeka, Croatia. It is one of the biggest carnivals in Croatia. In 2008 it celebrated its official 25th anniversary


About a century ago Rijeka lived its carnival life more intensively than any other town in this part of Europe. Carnival parades were organized as well as carnival balls with the presence of Austrian and Hungarian aristocrats, Russian princesses, German barons, earls and countesses from all over Europe. The rebirth of the Rijeka Carnival started in 1982. It had only three performer groups in its parade and it was neither famous nor popular. The groups were "Lako ćemo", "Pehinarski feštari" and "Halubajski zvončari". All three groups have participated in the carnival each time since the beginning. The largest event happened in 2001 with 144 groups participating. Because of the restrictions that have been made regarding the number of participants in each group, the 2008 carnival had only 99 groups. Nonetheless, 150,000 visitors attended it.

Every year there are numerous events preceding the carnival itself. First the mayor of Rijeka gives the symbolic key of the city to Meštar Toni, who is "the maestro" of the carnival, and he becomes the mayor of the city during the carnival, although this is only figuratively. Same day, there is an election of the carnival queen. As all the cities around Rijeka have their own events during the carnival time, Queen and Meštar Toni are attending most of them.

Also, every year the Carnival charity ball is held in the Governor's palace in Rijeka. It is attended by politicians, people from sport and media life, as well as a number of ambassadors.

The weekend before the main event there are two other events held. One is Rally Paris - Bakar. (after the Dakar rally). The start is a part of Rijeka called Paris after the restaurant located there, and the end is in city of Bakar, located about 20 km south east. All of the participants of the rally wear masks, and the cars are mostly modified old cars. The other event is the children's carnival, held, like the main one, on Rijeka`s main walkway Korzo. The groups that participate are mostly from kindergartens and elementary schools, including groups from other parts of Croatia and neighboring countries.

The main carnival march is held on the last Sunday before the Ash Wednesday. It usually starts at noon. In the front there are the real mayor of Rijeka, the carnival Queen and Meštar Toni. The route of the march has several stages where the hosts present every group, and the main stage is situated in front of the city hall. The mayor, the queen and Meštar Toni stand in front of this stage and they greet all the groups coming afterward. The queen leaves this position only when the group, which she is originally from, pass the route of the carnival. Spectators usually gather to see the march all along its route. If the weather is good, up to 100,000 spectators may attend the carnival. Traditionally, the last group are Halubajski zvončari, and when they pass the march is over. Depending on the number of participants, this usually happens between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

A scene from the annual Carnival Snowboard Session that also takes place. The competition itself lasts one day and into the evening, when thousands of spectators are able to watch some twenty top-notch snowboarders from Croatia and throughout Europe compete for prize money. It's a unique location literally just meters away from the sea and finishes with live concerts and festivities. The event has become a regular feature during the Rijeka Carnival. More information at and

A scene from the choosing of the children's Prince and Princess.

A short but cool highlight video of some images from this years 'Rijeka Carnival'.

Of course, the march does not mark the end of the carnival. On the same evening, there is an event called the burning of the Pust. Pust is a puppet, that has some satiric name, very often after some politician, and he is blamed for all the bad things that happened in the preceding year. This event is held in Rijeka harbor, and before he is taken to the sea, a reading of charges is held, where a spokesman reads all of his sins. Afterwards, a boat takes the Pust to the sea and it is burned there. This tradition is held in all places around Rijeka, but it is held on Tuesday or Wednesday after the carnival.

In the last few years there are several parties held on various locations in Rijeka, some starting day before the carnival, and end in the night after the carnival. The most known is a carnival party held on Korzo, where various DJs perform.

Lots of music entertainment.

The choosing of the Karneval Queen.

All kinds of zany jester costumes.

Lots of pirates.

There's pom-poms.

Even the children get their very own official costumed parade and events.

The City of Rijeka carnival festivities have origins from the Middle Ages and are a particular blend of European middle-class carnivals with elements of old Croatian folklore and mythology. Official website:

The rise in the industrialization economy of especially the port city of Rijeka and surrounding region created the basis for the newer Rijeka Carnival that we see today. Up till then the Central European Lenten Carnival season festivities revolved mainly around the main Masked Ball attended by the various nobles and guests, and the first floats of the parade were few. Above an image of one of the first floats from 1892. (The float reads "Vatrogastvo u godinu 2000" which in Croatian means "Firefighting in the year 2000")

Here's an interesting map related to the topic, a map of the Croatian lands dedicated to Petar Zrinski, who was the Ban (pronounced like "Bahn" meaning Viceroy/Prince & Governor) of Croatia during the 17th century, and showing the location of Rijeka and nearby area. The map was created at the workshop of Joannes Blaeu in Amsterdam as an addition to the work by Croatian historian Ivan Lučić, (Latin: Johannes Lucius) "De Regno Dalmatiae et Croatiae libri sex", Amsterdam, 1666. (On the Kingdom of Dalmatia and Croatia in six books) Blaeu had included the map in Atlas Maior in 1667, and dedicated it to the Croatian Ban Petar Zrinski. At the bottom of the map in the middle it reads..."To the most illustrious and noble Lord, Prince Peter of Zrin, the Ban of the united Kingdom of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia, (Triune Kingdom) hereditary Ban of the Littoral, hereditary captain of the Legrad fortress and Medimurje peninsula, master and hereditary Prince of Lika, Odorje, Krbava, Omis, Klis, Skradin, Ostrovica, Bribir etc.., Master of Kostajnica and the sliver mine at Gvozdansko, councillor and chamberlain to his anointed imperial majesty, master Ioannes Blaeu dedicates this map". The map highlights the Croatian lands including its regional divisions and the location of the fort town of Rijeka and surrounding area during the time of Peter Zrinski. Image:

The popular Zvončari (Bell Ringers) are a tradition that goes back to even pagan times in antiquity. Germany's leading indie Art & Fashion KALTBLUT Magazine included them in a cool photoshoot, see photo-of-day-into-wild-photoshoot.

The average reader will probably notice the Rijeka Carnival turbaned Moorish character on many banners and as costumed characters these days, which is also a little known history but interesting too. Numerous stories, folk songs and legends have been handed down and sung over the centuries which eventually led to the trendy Rijeka Carnival character we see today. The most heard and prevalent legend is from the centuries of the Muslim jihads into Europe and was described by the renowned Rijeka archaeologist and art historian, Radmila Matejčić. It dates back to the 16th century when the attacking Ottoman Muslims imported African Moorish slaves, and soon the Ottoman Moorish troops from their base in Sanjak of Smederevo were advancing across large parts of Europe, even finding a route to potentially threaten the very city of Rijeka. Eventually it was learned that the Ottoman led Moor troops were attempting to set up a camp at Grobnik Field and prepare an attack on Rijeka also. The people of the city were afraid because the Croatian soldiers were already defending at other fronts and battlefields and especially because they already knew about the rapes and cruelty of the Moorish warriors. So the women and children of the city prayed to the heavens, and soon it came to be that a heroic Zrinski nobleman killed the Ottoman pasha leader with an arrow in the temple, while the rest of the invading army were killed by rocks which came tumbling down from heaven. All that remained was a single, white turban atop a large boulder, so Zrinski picked it up and then brought it to the women of Rijeka. To commemorate the miraculous turn of events and victory over the invaders, they then created the Morcic ornament, a Moorish character with a white turban on it's head. Later in Baroque times various folk jewelry, earrings, bracelets, pins and ornaments were made by Rijeka goldsmiths as reminders from those dangerous times, eventually finding their way to Venice as well as to the Habsburg royal court and even becoming an ornamental luxury jewelry for Mariana of Austria and her royal court and acquaintances. For this reason later some sailors and fishermen in the area occasionally used the shiny cheap decorated talismans as lucky charms for similar protection of their boats from misfortune. Today the cretinous looking kitschy, painted shiny blackmoor ornaments can be seen in jewellery stores or at trinket stands as souvenirs for visitors during the Rijeka Carnival. 

Masquerade balls, floats and more costumed parades.

Croatian carnival guide


Carnival in Croatia is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent, the main events are usually during February. It is also known as Maškare or Karneval and takes place in various cities across the country. 

Croatian Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party. The culmination of every carnival celebration is a mock trial to an effigy called Fašnik or Pust, that represents the evil-doers and negative energy in general. After the trial Fašnik is usually sentenced to burn or hang and his execution represents a new and healthy beginning.

Both universal Carnival traditions and local traditions are practiced during this festival in Croatia. One of the most famous authentic Croatian carnival costume are Zvončari (the bellmen). They are traditionally dressed in white trousers, striped sailor shirts and wear a sheepskin throw. It is believed that they scare away the evil spirits with ringing their bells.

Rijeka is known as the Carnival Capital of Croatia, but Carnival festivities can be enjoyed in Samobor, Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Split, Kastav and elsewhere in Croatia. There are also summer carnivals. One of the most famous is the Senj Summer Carnival - the first was in 1968 and the tradition remained. Many other towns in the surroundings also organise Summer Carnivals (Mali Lošinj, Pag, Novi Vinodolski, Fužine, etc.)

Every year the Baroque to 19th century era themed Carnival charity ball is held in the Governor's palace in Rijeka. It is attended by politicians, people from sport and media life, as well as a number of ambassadors. There is the first official evidence of a carnival tradition in this region in a prohibition document from 1449 – a provision of the City Council that prohibits the covering of the face with a mask (with the exception of guests of the masked ball in Kaštel Trsat), which at that time was severely punished. Over the later centuries the masquerade balls became more popular and frequently attended by Croatian aristocrats, princesses, barons, earls and countesses and nobles from other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, other parts of Central Europe and even Russian princes were known to have attended also. The weeks of colorful showcases, refined taste and dazzling creativity revive the spirit of traditional medieval carnivals which were celebrated both in the streets and in noble palaces. It recalls the historical and allegorical spectacle of the festivities, which were held in Rijeka and the Croatian crown lands during the Middle Ages, similar to the Czech Carnevale Praha/Prague Carnival masked balls and events.

Wider view of more balloons.

RIJEKA CARNIVAL (January 21 - March 31)

Rijeka has a six-century-old Carnival tradition reaching all the way back to Venetian and Austro-Hungarian times. The rebirth of modern Rijeka Carnival began in 1982. Today, with over 20,000 participants and over 600,000 domestic and foreign visitors it is by far the biggest Carnival in Croatia and, arguably, 3rd largest in the whole world.

Every year there are numerous events preceding the carnival itself. First the mayor hands over the town keys to the Master of the Carnival, at the same day the Rijeka Carnival Queen Pageant is held. There are many concerts, exhibitions, shows, masquerades and parties being held until the final culmination - the huge masked parade held on last Sunday of Carnival with many international participants. A similar procession for children takes place on the previous day.

Also, every year the charity Carnival ball is held in the Governor's palace in Rijeka. It is attended by politicians, people from sport and media life, as well as number of ambassadors and consuls accredited in Republic of Croatia.

Detailed program of Rijeka Carnival

SAMOBOR CARNIVAL (February 26 - March 6)

While Rijeka is best-known for its large-scale Carnival celebrations, Samobor is known for the local flavor of its festivities. Samobor Carnival traditon is 185 years old. During the Carnival not only the people change their looks , but also the bars, restaurants and the streets. Since 1974 ceremonial trial is held, in which the Prince of Carnival (Fašnik) is tried and found guilty for all evils. After his incineration there is a big celebration and the visitors can ease their suffering over this „tragic" event with famous Samobor doughnuts (krafne) and custard slices (kremšnite). Children's masked parade is taking place on March 5th .

Detailed program of Samobor carnival


Zagreb Carnival is being held from 24 February to 8 March, main festivities will be held in the tents near Bundek Lake. Among many other interesting events, an intriguing manifestation called „Live pictures„ in Zagreb City Museum will be opened on 5 and 6 March. Museum staff, dressed as famous historical figures will reenact some of the scenes from their lives.

More details at

Lisinski Concert Hall is organizing a Masked Ball on March 5th, more information at

Rijeka - the largest carnival in Croatia

Wearing sheepskin cloaks, elaborate headwear of horned masks, cattle skulls or tall hats - the men of all ages carry wooden clubs and wear huge and heavy cowbells tied around their waists that clang loudly. Their mission is to drive out evil spirits that may have gathered over the winter months and to usher in the beginning of spring, a tradition that dates back many centuries and has pagan roots from antiquity. Beng similar to the Carnevale Praha/Prague Carnival and some other Shrovetide processions in Slovenia, Austria, Bohemia Czechia and elsewhere in Central Europe, the bell ringing Zvončari were added to UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.


Did you know that the city of Rijeka on the northern coast of Croatia hosts one of the largest international carnivals in the world?

Every February the world goes carnival crazy with the lead up to Lent: Rio, Venice and also in Croatia, where the spirit of Mardi Gras is alive and kicking. The Kvarner Riviera attracts over 150,000 revellers from all over Europe. The 2011 event was the largest in its history with again over 100 floats and troupes of 'zvoncari' bell ringers coming from all over south east Europe filling the city with music, noise and festivities: the Rijecki karneval!

I had spent a couple of days on the beautiful island of Cres, off the Kvarner coast and was joining in with the preparations for the big carnival. People were busy building amazing floats, extravagant costumes and masks whilst others were rehearsing music and dance, which would fill the streets of Rijeka in the final procession on Sunday.

Pagan Bell Ringers - the Zvončari 

In villages all over the region the local young men were preparing themselves to ‘drive-out winter’. Early one morning I travelled up to the idyllic hillside village of Matulji just outside Rijeka. Here I was met by the colourfully dressed mayor and his small ‘oompah’ band. I guess they were very pleased to see me as they pressed a glass of the local brew, a heady mix of grappa and mountain herbs, locally known as 'rakija', into my hand. While this warmed my cockles he told me about the tradition of the ‘zvoncari’ which means ‘bell ringers’.

In ancient times, the evil spirits of winter were banished by these fearsome characters dressed in sheepskins, brandishing wooden clubs and bones whilst yelling and gyrating the cow bells hanging from their waists. But this hadn't really prepared me for the spectacle I was to experience later on that day.

Meeting of the Troupes with UNESCO Status

After a hearty, wholesome lunch of bread, cheese, ham and local wine I wandered into the crowds of people starting to line the streets. What was going on? Little did I realise, that Matulji was the village where the zvoncari were meeting before the big Sunday procession in Rijeka and already the square was filling with bright costumes and brass bands. Men from all over the area and indeed some coming from as far away as Poland and Slovakia as well as neighbouring Slovenia were arriving and getting into character. What a sight?

Each ‘tribe’ had a different outfit, some full sheepskin garbs with long red tongues and huge horns, some with outrageous head dresses and some even with real animal skulls over their faces. Real demonic versions of England’s own Morris Men! Once gathered together, each tribe began their exorcism of the ‘devil’ – winter.

What a Tremendous Cacophony!

Bells clanging, shouting and yelling, whips cracking and drumming all followed through the village by brass bands and a costumed children’s parade. Leading up to the final Sunday grand parade in Rijeka, these troupes carry out their traditional ritual through all the towns and settlements of the Kvarner region, sometimes without rest, whilst the local people provide them with food and copious amounts of beer and wine.

Many zvoncari begin their path as toddlers and these littl'uns sometimes tag along in their tiny versions of their fathers full costumes, very cute. In 2010, to prove how significant they are, these pagan bell ringers gained international UNESCO status so as to be protected as a part of the region’s cultural-heritage.

Carnival Introduction

This was a perfect introduction to the full carnival spirit of Rijeka. The city is steeped in history. A place where mid-European culture and the Mediterranean climate meet. All around you spy the various influences of the Venetians, Italians, Austrians and Hungarians from the architecture to the customs, a real crossroads of culture.

Throughout the carnival period other festivities take place. From classical music concerts to masked balls and everyone is involved. Tens of thousands of people converge on the city every year. Over 120 floats and groups portraying everything from the Romans to political parodies to modern day environmental issues all vibrantly decorated, partying and parading through the city.

One of my fellow spectators told me that it takes nearly six hours for all the floats to pass by, but I was enjoying the atmosphere so much that time didn't matter! I even spotted the mayor - he was having a whale of a time dressed as a huge beer barrel leading his merry brass band! He gave me the biggest grin, probably because he had drank the contents before climbing into it!

Masked Car Rally

Although the roots of carnival go back centuries this event is always evolving for the last few years it has featured the Pariz-Bakar masked car rally. No this isn’t a spelling mistake! In Rijeka there is a region known as Pariz and nearby is the town of Bakar (once a leading Croatian town) and one of the countries best known racers Tihomir Filipovic, recognising the connection after completing the famous Paris-Dakar Rally, started the trend and now up to 200 brightly painted vehicles make the tour between the two points into Rijeka for the end of party banquet.

Visit Rijeka and Venice Carnivals

It is hard to believe that the Rijeka International Carnival is probably one of the largest in Europe and yet few people in the UK have heard of it. You could easily travel to the Venice Carnevale di Venezia and then come to Rijeka and do it all over again!

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