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četvrtak, 23. siječnja 2014.

Marijan Matijević: Croatian Strongman "Hero From Lika" (Junak Iz Like)

So who the hell was Marijan Matijević anyway?...Well, only the strongest man in the world in his time. More commonly and affectionately known as the "Hero from Lika". (Junak iz Like)  Firstly, the Lika region of Croatia (pronounced "Lee-ka") history goes very far back and it plays a large part in early Croatian history as well, it was actually one of the first areas recorded  as being settled and ruled by the arriving Croats about 1500 years ago. (It is recorded in the 10th century foreign policy manual book De Administrando Imperio by the Byzantine emperorConstantine VII that among the twelve noble Croatian tribes that had a right to choose the Croat King in the Middle Agres, the Gusići tribe was from Lika, sort of like one of the American founding 13 colonies as an analogy). Lika is also very well known for it's mountainous beauty, waterfalls and waterways, natural parksbears and other animals, fishing, superlative foods, magnificent cheeses and wines, but also for Croatia's most famous strongman that probably most have never heard of. (Unfortunately it's also known for the numerous Serb and Serb Chetnik atrocities against Croatian and Non-Serb women and children over the last century). Some more background info about the Croatia's "Hero from Lika".....

 Lika-Krbava County Coat of Arms when the Croatian crown lands were a part of the Habsburg Monarchy.

During the turn of the last century, there were a number of self professed "Strongmen" coming out of the woodwork, in Europe and on this side of the pond. Some of them had much more exposure than others, so basically this post is to show that Croatia can be included in that list as well. During the late 1800's and early 1900's there were no televisions and not all that much was filmed or even photographed, besides the later movies and some political events. If he would have been born later, or at least came from more well known places like Rome, Berlin, Vienna or London, then many more people would have heard of him. Nevertheless, his feats and accomplishes have been recorded around the world, not just locally. (They were not permanently archived by the later Yugoslav authorities however, because he made it a point to express his Croatian background, after he died many written works about him were destroyed by the communist authorities). He also did not join any army during the war and refused privileges, gifts and even a special pension and a vehicle offered from Tito (If he would perform for the new communist party and under the banner of his new slogans)  He was given a suit uniform by Tito to wear for propaganda photographs, but Marijan always made sure to cover the front of the suit with the medals he won from his wrestling competitions and tours around the world. There is books and material in Croatia now though where one can find out more, as well as photos and documents in some of the countries he traveled to)

(For a few more interesting and historical background tidbits, like I said the Lika region of Croatia (pronounced "Lee-ka") is very historical, sources recorded how the Bijelo Hrvati (meaning White Croats) originally migrated from White Croatia to ancient Dalmatia, Pannonia and Illyricum including Lika in the 6th-7th century (White Croatia corresponding to areas north of the Danube, Bavaria, in and around the Carpathians, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland and to Belarus/Western Ukraine, with Great Croatia being another term used in the sources interestingly..."Great Croatia, also called 'White'..."). After the settlement of the Croats, Lika then became a part of the Kingdom of Croatia in 925, when Duke Tomislav of the Croats received the crown and became the first official King of Croatia. And directly attested in the 10th-century East Roman Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus' official foreign policy manual book "De Administrando Imperio", a few chapters dedicated to Croats and the organization of their early state, describes how their Ban (pronounced like "Bahn" and meaning a Viceroy/Governor of the Croatian King) "has under his rule Krbava, Lika and Gacka").

Maps with the Lika region of Croatia located in the 9th and 17th century.

The amazing thing also, is that these kinds of feats of strength from those days were not tainted with any kind of health supplements, muscle and mass growth concoctions, super enriched vitamins, drugs or steroids. (Which may be a good thing, because I read somewhere that "roids" make your dick and balls shrink and effect things performance-wise also, as well as trigger psychotic episodes and violent moodiness on top of other things too). There are numerous feats and shows of strength recorded and attributed to him which justify him also being called the "Hercules with the golden heart" at times as well. The "Croatian Samson" and "Lika Samson" were some other epithets used. He was not gigantic or particularly very tall or massive in girth which would immediately present him as extremely strong to the average person, yet his recorded shows of strength speak otherwise. He was magically much stronger than those who did look like those descriptions and were far bigger. Below is some more info...........

Official poster from his U.S. tour in 1913.


Earlier this month, on the 10th of January to be precise, the 136th anniversary since the birth of Marijan Matijević was celebrated. Who was Marijan Matijević?, none other the strongest man in the world in his time..

Matijević was born in 1878 in Duboki Dol (Gračac) in the Lika region of Croatia and became the world’s best Greco-Roman wrestler of his era, winning countless medals and titles. Nicknamed the ‘Lika Samson’, Matijević had extraordinary strength and also won many awards for his incredible displays of power, in his mouth he could lift 430 kgs, with his arms 600 kgs, and 1,130 kgs on his back. He wrestled against many of the great wrestlers of his time and beat them all. Matijević was raised in the mountainous region of Lika and was exposed to heavy, physical work from a young age.

Matijević got into the sport of wrestling while working in Berlin, where he would attend various competitions. He first made his name when he accepted a challenge to take on a famous German wrestler of the time. Marijan needed seven minutes to shock the crowd as he beat his more known opponent, earning him 500 golden marks in the process.

Matijević had an illustrious career traveling the globe, where apart from wrestling he would entertain people by displays of strength such as tearing up packs of cards, bending coins with his fingers, hammering nails into wood with his hands, breaking apart chains, smashing large stones with his fist, wrapping iron bars into knotted ties and tearing apart metal pots like cardboard.

He was able to hold above his head with his hands a wooden floor and on it an Orchestra of 5-6 members who would then play a tune." In New York he pulled two attached tugboats by a rope and he even once held back a plane trying to take off. There are photos in the U.S. of 2 horses assisted by 20 people trying to break apart his hands held in a grip, and many other feats. Watch more about the great man in the clip below.

World’s Strongest Man – Born 136 Years Ago in Croatia

Outstanding Croatian wrestler ("Junak iz Like" - Hero from Lika) was Marijan Matijević (1878-1951). Matijević traveled throughout the world to exhibit his extraordinary physical power (bending metal rods, stone breaking), including China and Japan. He is known to have surpassed Primo Carnera from Italy. He is buried in the town of Županja near the Danube river in northeastern Croatia.

 The cane he was known to carry with him, weighing 12.5 kg. (28 lbs). He was known to twirl it around between just 2 fingers. It can be seen in person at the Vinkovci Town Museum.

He is known for his numerous humanitarian public performances. Matijević was enormously popular, which can be seen from thousands of articles published throughout the world in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabian, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese and other languages. During a tour in the USA, when he was once mistakenly introduced as an "Austrian athlete", he hastened to correct the announcer: "Dear gentlemen, I am not Austrian, I am Croatian, born in proud Lika...".  (The Croatian lands at that time were a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire). He was again mistakenly introduced as the Bosnian strongman after winning a competition and a show of strength in Istanbul, Turkey. In 1929, during a tour in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, he started more often to wear the traditional Croatian regional headwear, the Lika cap. "No, I am Croat! Io soy Croato! he would say in case they wrongly introduced him as Austrian, German or French.

A traditional Lika cap ("Lička kapa", a cap worn by local Croatian irregular soldier Hajduks and Uskoks against Muslim Ottoman Turkish raids in the 16th century, a historic symbol of bravery and resistance to foreign occupation and eastern invaders) seen on a Croatian bear (Hrvatski Medvjed), The Lika region of Croatia (pronounced "Lee-ka") is also known for it's long history of bears.

The "Lika cap" (Pronounced "Lee-ka") is also part of the Croatian national folk costumes from the Lika region.

A local traditional folk song about the natural beauty and history of the Lika region including the traditional  Lika cap. 

Among plenty of his decorations and medals let us mention that the last Turkish sultan Abdul Hamid V decorated him in person in Ankara with the medal of the Great Turkish Star in 1904 as the winner of the World championship in wrestling in Constantinople, a prestigious event that was attended by the strongest athletes from around the world.

It is often said that he was born there,.."where rust is shining and the heroes are springing up." Tunnels and factories were his school, and pickaxe, axe and saw were his pen and pencil. He was known to eat enough for six men, at times 4 kg. of meat, 6 litres of milk and 3 loaves of bread, and although he could carry a stone weighing 600 kilograms, (1323 lbs), he never exceeded a personal weight of 100 kg. (220 lbs). The world could not explain his physical features and strength, only doctors could partly explain the mystery of his magical power. X-rays later showed that the "Hero from Lika" didn't have just typical ordinary bones. They found that the muscles in his arms, chest and neck, had more than twice the normal bone tissue.

 Marijan Matijević traveled the world well into his later years and showing his feats of strength to the public. Pictured below in South Africa (Wearing his "Lika cap") and an image of the Great Turkish Star from 1904 as the winner of the World Championship in Wrestling in Constantinople.

Although he could carry stones weighing 600 kg. (1323 lbs), he was not once known to have exceeded the weight of 100 kg. (220 lbs), yet he was much stronger than others who were bigger and taller, something in his genes is the best explanation, combined with Croatian food and physical work from an early age. It was important to him for the world to see how powerful he was than how for much money he could make. Most of the money he received he sent to Croatia, the Red Cross, hospitals and to help poor children. He decided to keep for himself only how much he neededHe married Irena Kohn, of Jewish background after coming back to Croatia from performance tours across Europe and the U.S. in 1915, eventually having 8 children, but 2 died young. He personally never joined an army during the war himself, although one son after hearing about large scale Serb Chetnik atrocities against women and children and Partizan killing sprees, had decided to join the Croatian Domobrans (Home National Guard) and went on to become an officer. After the war an older son was drafted into the new communist partizan army. Marijan was known for putting on local performance displays soon after again. None of his children inherited his physical strength or uncanny abilities however.

Image from 1899 at the age of 21, holding in his teeth the combined weight of 4 barrels filled with 50 litres of water. (441 lbs)

His physical condition and strength was innate, yet he still persistently exercised daily until the very end. In advanced age (he died at the age of 74) he still would perform occasionally for friends. In Županja, a year before his death, he could still pull heavily weighted wagons. When he was once asked if he could still do the feats as when he was a young man, he said he could no longer pound nails into a board with his fist, but he could still hold back a pair of pulling horses. Seven days before his death, he wanted to put on a strength exhibition in Županja, he asked around the town if anyone wanted to wrestle him, and that if they win, he will give him all of his 40 plus medals and awards he earned while traveling the world. Not one opponent could be found willing to take up his offer. Shortly after he caught pneumonia from a wet shirt after an exhibition which contributed to his death. On his grave tombstone in Županja is written "Junak iz Like". (Hero of Lika)

From the "Lika Marijan Matijević Association".

A Lika region athletic society.

 Just a few of the over 40 medals and awards he won from around the world from competitions and for his displays of strength.


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