Croatian Culture: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage In Croatia
I decided to start to learn more about my new home country 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 located on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. A list which was established to ensure better protection of the critical cultural heritage 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 of 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 ten sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. That’s more than any other country in Europe (excluding Spain which also holds 14). Go Croatia!
Croatian Intangible Cultural Heritage Items
Safeguarding the time-honored 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 from 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 used initially to make ecclesiastical garments or ornaments for clothing and tablecloths. Recognized as an essential 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 beautiful 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 its 6th year and includes 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.
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 meters 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.
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 7 am 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 the 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 in January 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.
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 the distinction between each village and as a way to protect the tradition.
7. Traditional Manufacturing Of Children’S Wooden Toys In Hrvatsko Zagorje
The technique of wooden manufacturing toys began across different communities in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region, north of Croatia a century ago. The marvelous 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 colored paint by local women. The toy manufacturing became protected by the UNESCO list in 2009, with the techniques being passed from one generation to the next.
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 of 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 showcase folk costumes and traditional foods.
10. Gingerbread Making From Northern Croatia
In the Middle Ages, gingerbread cakes made in wooden molds 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 colors in a never-ending amount of varieties.
Today gingerbread has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Croatian identity, especially in Zagreb.
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 revolve 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 describes 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.
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 genuinely fascinating.
Have you ever experienced any of these important Croatian culture festivals, music or products on the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list?