Destinations of the month: Rijeka and Samobor Carnivals

In the mid January, in many parts of Croatia, holiday decorations give way to carnival ribbons, marking the beginning of the craziest month of the year. 

A short history of carnival parades

Different regions may have different terms for their customs, but all are continuing a centuries long tradition of breaking social norms, criticizing those in power and ritually ”burning” everything bad that happened in the previous year, most often in the form of a puppet which represents an embodiment of evil. Experts explain this custom as burning down ”the king”. Some trace this tradition to the Roman times when celebrations in honor of the god Saturn took place every year at the end of December. It was a time of feasting, role reversals, free speech, gift-giving, eating and drinking. There is also a belief that these kind of ceremonies have magical powers which would help folks get rid of evil forces, ghosts and harsh winter. Making a loud noise and shedding an ash was part of the ritual, a tradition that stuck with people till present times. 

Samobor masks - Best Croatia Tours
Children parade in Samobor


From censure to debauchery

Croatia’s most famous carnival is the carnival in Rijeka, first mentioned in the 15th century. Since it challenged the ruling class and public order, in 1449 a City Council came with a provision which stated that the ones who cover their faces with a mask will be punished by cutting of a hand, financial compensation and prison. Those who were in power really didn’t want to be criticized! But the people’s stubbornness prevailed which only points out to the constant need of change – of power, of nature and our everyday roles. Today, Rijeka’s carnival is one of the biggest ones in Europe. People disguise themselves and for a short time – they free themselves from everyday obligations. Although it’s hard to present the exact numbers, there are approximately 10.000 participants and 100.000 people enjoying it every year. 

Rijeka's carnival parade- Best Croatia Tours
Masked dance in Rijeka, ©

Dancing in the streets

Some will say that people of Rijeka created ”fifth season” – the period of year when carnival becomes a way of life. Preparations, concerts, exhibitions, shows and parties are everywhere around the town. Special protocols and events are followed each year. The carnival starts with the election of the carnival Queen and the town key handover. A carnival Queen is a female representative chosen because of her wit, dancing and singing skills and can be of every age. She will be a spokeswoman and will participate in all formal presentations during the festivities. The Mayor hands over the town key to the Carnival Master. In this moment the carnival takes over the town – it’s time for the carnival parade, the most important part of the event. People put some serious effort into dressing up so it’s incredibly fun just to watch differently masked groups presenting themselves one after another. Music blasting out from the speakers, singing, dancing, laughter and noise are everywhere!

Rijeka's carnival parade - Best Croatia Tours
Streets of Rijeka during the carnival, ©

Warding off the evil

Each year costumes change but a specific group of masked men – ”Zvončari” – are always present. According to the legend, ”Zvončari” scared away Tatars or Turks when they tried to invade the region. Another explanation of their dress-up is that mask and bells are in use of scaring off evil spirits and invoking spring, a belief dating since prehistoric times. Today, they are guardians of folk tradition which was recognized by UNESCO and added on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. Carnival’s official end is marked by burning down a puppet named Pust. Indeed, an event so pompous, unique and humorous it is added on the list of Top 500 European Events.

Zvončari - oldest carnival masks - Best Croatia Tours
Zvončari performing, ©


Free Carnival Republic

An hour away from Zagreb, at this time period, a small town of Samobor declares Free Carnival Republic. The town gets under control of the few key protagonists – Sraka (magpie), prince Fašnik (prince Carnival), Sudec (judge) and Fiškal (lawyer). Prince Fašnik rules the town until his luck will take a turn much alike the one of Pust in Rijeka – he will be blamed for everything bad that has happened since the last Fašnik (carnival). The trial begins and he gets showered with accusations of his wrong-doings – a perfect opportunity to humorously point out all the things that are to criticise. A whole thing culminates with burning off his doll so the people are sure they will enter a new year’s cycle without the last years problems.

Samobor Carnival - Best Croatia Tours
Judge, magpie, lawyer and Prince taking over the carnival

Edible happiness

This year, it will be 194 year in a row that this manifestation takes place which makes Samobor’s carnival one of the oldest carnivals in Croatia. Excessiveness in food and drinks is also a big part of the festivities. Most famous carnival delicacies are doughnuts which can be bought on almost every corner of the town. Since the time before Lent should be spent hedonically, the food people consume should be that way too – heavy and sweet, made out of groceries that were once luxurious and rare. You can feel as a part of something big and lavish even if your just observing this hilarious atmosphere. But although entertainment is dominant feature of today’s carnivals, an attempt to give an overview of current social events is still present, which is the most evident in the town of Samobor.

Samobor delicacies - Best Croatia Tours
Doughnuts – a tasty symbol of Samobor’s carnival

Come party with us!

If you’re intrigued and you’d like to experience a carnival magic and thus be a part of big carnival party of Rijeka or Samobor town, contact us at: – extraordinary time is guaranteed.  

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