It’s always so fascinating to discover a new culture, but uncovering the rich culture of Croatia is a whole new ball game. Croatian society today has been influenced by the country’s many invaders through history and therefore, their cultures and traditions vary as much as the country’s breathtaking landscapes. Wherever you travel to in Croatia, you’ll be introduced to many sub-cultures and experience a few quirky traditions that draw from medieval roots.
The country is united but their regions each have their own story to tell. This is reflected in the country’s flag which has a checkered coat of arms crowned with the symbols of five important regions; Croatia, Dubrovnik, Dalmatia, Istria, and Slavonia. Due to the country’s history of various conquests, the Croats are a particularly patriotic bunch who put a lot of effort into conserving their folklore customs, with dance, song and costumes keeping things alive and entertaining. Predominantly Roman Catholic, the church probably plays the largest role in national identity whether you actively practice the religion or not; ancient belfries are the highlighted landmarks that tower out of every town or village in Croatia. The language also plays a major role in national identity and a hot topic for comedy are the dialects of the country which usually can be pinpointed by an individual’s use of the word “what”; što from Dalmatia, kaj from Zagorje, ća from Istria.
Let’s travel the Croatian landscapes to uncover their cultures and traditions.
The Rolling Hills of Zagorje
In the northwest of Croatia near Zagreb is the region of Zagorje. As you drive along this idyllic fairytale landscape, you will encounter the world’s finest concentration of medieval castles and fortifications; you just need a knight and a princess and the plot is complete. These rolling hills were a preferred retreat amongst the nobility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire so the enchanted castles are built in true Viennese fashion, the language has adopted many Germanic words, and their štrukli cheese pastry is a must-try.
The Flatlands of Slavonia
The golden plains of northeast Croatia make up Slavonia, bordered by three grand rivers. Slavonia puts a lot of emphasis on its folklore traditions, and any rural feast must include tamburica and Bećarac, a humoristic chant played with a mandolin-type instrument, most likely introduced by the Turks during the Ottoman invasions. For a taste of Slavonia, try their spicy kulen sausage or a freshwater fish paprikash, both flavored with paprika, Hungary’s national spice.
The Red Soil of Istria
The Istrian Peninsula is often referred to as little Tuscany and for good reason. The landscapes resemble its neighbors but the Italian influence plays a far bigger role than that; the street signs are bilingual, they have their very own fuži pasta, and towns like Rovinj (Rovigno in Italian) screams with Venetian grandeur.
The Shimmering Adriatic Coastline and Islands
With over 1,200 gems floating in the Adriatic, there are a heap of cultural discoveries along the entire Croatian stretch. What you will uncover are humble island traditions such as the moreška sword dance with roots from Spain, klapa a cappella songs, and a lavender festival in an abandoned village, to name a few.
The Mysterious Dalmatian Hinterland
Beyond the tourism buzz of the coastline, travel over the mountains to Dalmatia’s hinterland. Here you will discover traditions untouched by commercial tourism such as alka in Sinj, an equestrian competition where horsemen have to poke a lance into a metal ring at full gallop, or ojkanje, a rather specific voice-shaking folk song.
These are just some of many cultures and traditions you will encounter on your voyage through Croatia. Have you experienced any of these traditions? Or are there others you’d like to share with us?