Croatian Culture: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Croatian Culture: UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

Croatian Culture: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in Croatia

I made the decision to start to learn more about my new home country from before I moved to Croatia. And every time I start researching I get so fascinated by what I find. Unknown to many people, Croatia has a rich history and culture. Proof of that can be found in the items which are found on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. A list which was established to ensure better protection of the important cultural heritages around the globe.

The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List is made up of intangible heritage elements that are in need of urgent safeguarding. The UNESCO committee has so far inscribed over 35 elements globally. The list is comprised from all over the world and I was delighted to find that Croatia’s rich culture has 14 cultural masterpieces on the list. All in addition to the 7 sites inscribed on the World Heritage List.  That’s more than any other country in Europe (excluding Spain which also hold 14). Go Croatia!

Croatian intangible cultural heritage items 

Safeguarding the time honoured traditions are of great importance for Croatian Culture. Those inscribed on the UNESCO list are:

1. Ojkanje Singing

Ojkanje Singing is the traditional singing from the Dalmatian hinterland in Croatia. Included on the list in 2010, this singing is performed by at least two people who sing using a very distinct voice-shaking technique created by the throat.

I first heard this singing in Sinj a few months ago and was captivated listening to the artists. Each song lasts as long as the lead singer can hold his or her breath. Song themes range from social issues, politics as well as love – not much different to today’s music really. The survival of the Ojkanje singing is in part due to local groups who perform at festivals and the tradition being passed down to younger generations.

2. Lacemaking in Croatia

Lacemaking in Croatia began during the Renaissance period when it spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Lace was originally used to make ecclesiastical garments or ornaments for clothing and tablecloths. Recognized as an important part of the Croatian culture it was inscribed by UNESCO to the list in 2009.

Lace-making traditions are a deep part of the Croatian Culture and lace has increased in popularity over the years thanks to some unique patterns and designs. The process of lace-making involves embellishing a spider web pattern with geometrical motifs and is often taught by an older woman who offers a 12-month long course to learn the complicated techniques.

Those who are interested to learn about lace may want to visit the wonderful International Lace Festival is celebrated in Lepoglava in northern Croatia or on the Adriatic Island of Hvar where lace is made by using aloe leaves exclusively created by the Benedictine nuns. Or, the International Lace festival on Pag Island, which is now in it’s 6th year and include a lace making workshop.

For a very long time,  lace has been created by rural women as a source of income, and you can still find women in villages creating masterpieces which are for sale.

Croatian Culture - Lacemaking-in-Croatia-(Hvar) - Travel Croatia

Croatian Culture: Lacemaking. Photo Credit Croatian Tourist Board

3. Sinjska Alka. A knights’ Tournament in Sinj

Beginning in 1715, the town of Sinj holds a unique annual equestrian event. Held on the first Sunday of August the event consists of an equestrian competition where suited horsemen, knights gallop at full speed, armed with a lance to attempt to secure a metal ring called the ‘Alka’ which is suspended several metres of the ground. We were invited to this Croatian Culture spectacular this year, and can’t wait to visit again next year.

The knights who are selected from the local Alka club are supported by the entire community for this event. Preparations for the event, as well as restoration of the equipment, clothing and accessories, are all carried out by proud locals.

The Sinjiska Alka is one of the only remaining examples of medieval competitions that were regularly held in Croatia up until the 19th century. Inscribed on the UNESCO’s list in 2010, the Alka competition has become an important part of the local history.

Croatian Culture The-Sinjska-Alka-a-knights’-tournament-in-Sinj

The Alka. Photo Credit Croatian Tourist Board

4. Following the cross on the Island of Hvar

In 2009, the procession which takes place on Hvar Island prior to Easter each year was entered onto the list. Known as the Procession Za Krizen in Croatian, following the cross is a massive event on the Croatian culture calendar.

The 500-year-old tradition begins simultaneously at 1opm on Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) in six villages; Vrbanj, Pitve, Svirce, Virsnik, Jelsa and Vrboska on the Island of Hvar. Lead by the barefoot cross bearers, the processions continue to 7am where the cross bearers and following members of the community return to their respective starting points.

Members of the procession are chosen approximately 20 years in advance by form of registration. The cross bearer, who carries the 18kg cross is followed by two friends and those carrying candles and lanterns as well as five choral singers.

5. Zvončar: Annual Carnival Bell Ringers’ Pageant from Kastav

This Croatian custom which is practiced in the Kastav region of northwest Croatia was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009. Beginning on January 17 through to Ash Wednesday groups of between 2-10 men march from village to village dressed in sheepskin throws turned inside-out & bells, after which the ringers were named.

Often fuelled by wine the bell ringers are from Bregi, Brgud, Halubje, Mučići, Mune, Rukavac, Zvoneća, Žejane, Frlanija, Vlahov Breg, Korensko. Sounds from the bell are made by various motions of their bodies, which requires skill and much physical endurance. Began as a way to invite growth and fertility at the end of winter for the upcoming spring, the marchers create such extraordinary music as well as a bond throughout the villages by which they pass.

Croatian Culture: Bell Ringers Kastav

Croatian Culture in fancy dress. Photo Credit – Croatian Tourist Board

6. Nijemo Kolo. Silent Circle Dance of the Dalmatian Hinterland

The Nijemo Kolo is a silent dance which originated from the Dalmatian hinterland in Southern Croatia. Included on the UNESCO list in 2011, the dance is performed in a closed circle with men leading their female counterparts in quick and unplanned steps. Unlike most dancing, the Kolo is performed without any music.

Although the spontaneous performances of the Kolo can still be found, today you’ll find most of the Nijemo Kolo dancers performing at local shows, international festivals, and carnivals with a routine. Villagers have recently added choreography to keep distinction between each village and as a way to protect the tradition.

Croatian Culture TZ Nijemo Kolo, silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland - Travel Croatia

Croatian Culture: Silent circle dance. Photo Credit Croatian Tourist Board

7. Traditional Manufacturing of Children’s Wooden Toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje

The technique of manufacturing wooden toys began across different communities in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region, north of Croatia a century ago. The marvellous toys include whistles, cars, spinning dancers, small doll furniture, flapping birds, and jumping horses.

Sold in fairs and markets across the country the wooden creations have become popular with both locals and tourists. You can even find the wooden pieces of art being exported internationally.

Made by men in each village using dried willow, lime, beech and maple wood, the toys are decorated with bright coloured paint by local women. The toy manufacturing became protected by the UNSESO list in 2009, with the techniques being passed from one generation to the next.

Croatian Culture TZ Traditional Manufacturing of Children’s Wooden Toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje

Croatian Culture: Children’s Wooden Toys. Photo Credit Croatian Tourist Board

8. Becarac Singing and Playing from Eastern Croatia

Becarac is a humorous type of folk song. Possessing a powerful voice, the singer performs at village parties in eastern Croatia; Slavonia, Srijem, and Baranja. Through song, the singers not only convey the community’s values but also enables singers to express their own thoughts and feelings. Added to UNESCO’s list in 2011, the performances lasts as long as the creativity and energy of the singers can last. 

9. Festivity of Saint Blaise, the Patron of Dubrovnik

This is one of Dubrovnik’s most important events and was inscribed in 2009 as one Eastern Europe’s examples of cultural heritage by UNESCO. It was added to the list because of its uniqueness, importance to culture, and endurance over the years. This festival honors the city’s patron saint and has continued for a thousand years in Dubrovnik. The festival combines a celebration of St. Blaise through a ritual of blessings and prayers for the coming year, and a parade of traditional songs and dances. The festival which attracts both locals and international tourists showcases folk costumes and traditional foods. 

Croatian Culture TZ  Festivity of St. Blaise, Patron Saint of Dubrovnik

Croatian Culture: St. Blaise. Photo Credit – Croatian Tourist Boardist Board

10. Gingerbread Making from Northern Croatia

In the middle Ages, gingerbread cakes made in wooden moulds were produced by many European monasteries, this craftsmanship reached a different level in Northern Croatia. The gingerbread in Croatia, called Licitars, were included on the list in 2010. 

The process of making licitars requires great skill. A standard recipe of sugar, flour, water, and baking powder is used for all, but the gingerbread is shaped, baked, dried, painted, and decorated with edible colours in a never ending amount of varieties. Today gingerbread has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Croatian identity, especially in Zagreb.

Croatian Culture_Gingerbread_Licitar Hearts_ Travel Croatia

Croatian Culture: Licitar Herats

11. Spring Procession of Ljelje/Kraljice (Queens) from Gorjani

Performed in spring by the young girls from Gorjani, located in Slavonia northeast Croatia the sweet young girls sing from house-to-house in a procession. Included onto the UNESCO list in 2009, the original reasons for this procession is largely unknown, now the local villagers view it as a wonderful showcase of the Croatian culture and of the beauty and elegance of their children. 

12. Klapa Multipart Singing of Dalmatia, Southern Croatia

This multipart traditional singing is performed in Dalmatia in Southern Croatia. Each singing group is lead by the first tenor, followed by several tenori, bartoni, and basi voices. Joining the list in 2012, the topics of the songs usually evolve around life, the local environment, and of course love. 

13. Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet of Croatia was included onto the UNESCO list in 2013. UNESCO describe this inclusion onto the list as being important as  it involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. While not unique to Croatia, the Mediterranean diet is unique and an important part of the Croatian culture. 

Croatian Culture TZ Two-part Singing and Playing in the Istrian Scale

Croatian Culture: Two-part Singing. Photo Credit Croatian Tourist Board

14. Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale

This complex style of singing and playing of folk music. The style is characterized by vigorous, partly nasal singing and the sounds from musical instruments.

For more in depth reading on each one, visit the UNESCO website, where they have great photos and videos that are truly fascinating.

Have you ever experienced any of these important Croatian culture festivals, music or products on the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list?

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  1. says

    I haven’t experienced any of these, but there are some similarities here in Bulgaria. The Carnival of Bell Ringers’ Pageant, for instance, looks like our Kukeri tradition. Men dress up in scary costumes and chase away the evil spirits.

    Interesting Intangible Cultural Heritage in Croatia. I’m really interested in cultural heritage lately and this is just precious :) Thanks and greetings from Bulgaria!

    • says

      Greetings back at you Maria. When I stumbled upon this list I was fascinated stayed up late reading all about them. I aim to try get to see / experience as many as possible. I hope you can do the same from Bulgaria.

  2. says

    I can’t believe I never knew about the intangible cultural heritage list – what an awesome idea. And way to go Croatia – I’m jealous that you live in the middle of all that!

  3. says

    Who knew that there was such a thing as an intangible heritage? I actually had to google the word, SJ. An untouchable, invisible and abstract heritage sounds almost like an oxymoron, but considering that singing, dancing, weaving and even baking can be part of a cultural heritage, it actually makes sense. To be honest, the singing is probably my least favorite part, but the spider web resembling lace-making and the knights tournament would certainly be something I would like to check out when next time in Croatia… :)

  4. says

    I love learning about cultures from different places around the world. Thank you for sharing about Croatian culture! (I love those little toys.) I’m a botanist, but I focus on the cultural importance and uses of plants so learning about the wood to make those toys was really interesting!

  5. says

    I think the Gingerbread Cakes was one of the first things I read about in Chasing the Donkey. Those cakes and the lace are things I would want to bring home with me if I were to visit Croatia. That Sinjska Alksa would also be so fascinating to watch. I am amazed that the waiting list to be part of that procession with the cross is 20 years long. It must be quite an honor to partake in it.

  6. says

    I really hope flights to Croatia are within our budget when we look to book a Europe trip for next spring. I am constantly reading your blog for more ideas and insights into exploring Croatia!

    • says

      In spring all of the cheaper airlines start to fly again, so you should be able to get a bargain. Wait till after mid May and the coastal towns all open back up again.

  7. says

    Amazing, it makes me wish to visit Croatia to explore its culture! Didn’t know that there was a UNESCO list for intangible cultural heritage… so interesting, I’ll check it! Thanks for sharing!

  8. says

    SJ – As a kid I wanted to become an anthropologist. I’ve always been interested in the unique customs and traditions. I’m glad UNESCO is recognizing them. However, as I try to delve into a culture I often find it very hard to find these events. Any hints? For example, I’d love to fly down for the bell ringing processions. Is there a calendar of events or website that will list where to go? Great article!

    • says

      It’s never too late to become one my love! I can’t find any information on when exactly it takes place. But as it gets closer to the time I’d be delighted to ask the local tourist board for you and get the information if you wanted to try to fly over.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing these cultural aspects of Croatia! I love hearing about different cultures, and I am so interested in the cultures of Europe. It’s such a small continent, and while many of the cultures have their similarities, they are all distinct. Lovely photos!

  10. says

    Wow, that lace is amazing! This post makes me want to come back there and stay for months so I could experience some of this for myself. You better a room for “travel crashers” in that dream house. 😉 Haha

  11. says

    What an incredible list of the magnificent cultural offering of Croatia. When I go on vacation as much as I love to explore nature and the physical beauty of a spot, one of my real passions is the “intangible” culture. I did not know about the singing for example and would love lvoe to attend an event to hear it in person.

    There is so much of Croatia that can be discovered

    Thank you for hosting the linkup !

  12. says

    What a great idea for a post. I love the lace – simply because I’m sure I’d never have the patience or skill to do it myself.

  13. says

    Amazing post. Often we focus on what’s tangible and forget this kind of immaterial wealth. I remember visiting Romania and being amazed at a kind of traditional singing called ‘sezatoare’, and since then I’ve tried to discover immaterial traditions everywhere I go.

  14. says

    This was all very interesting and fascinating! I didn’t even know there was such a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage items. Now, I want to find more about it. The lace is fascinating and I loved watching those videos of music. Now, I know two of my souvenirs when I get to Croatia – lace and gingerbread cookies.

    • says

      I had no idea either about this list until I moved to Croatia. Take a look at the list, you’ll be surprised what is on there. And yes, you’ll find loads of lovely lace here in Croatia.