The people and the story
The people behind the project:
A GINGERBREAD SWEETHEART
The licitarsko srce, the popular gingerbread souvenir, is all about the motley scenery of a traditional Croatian country fair – with its bright red colour, floral patterns and pieces of mirrored glass glittering in the sunlight. Handcrafted by placing gingerbread dough in old wooden casts and painstakingly decorating it with colourful ornaments, a licitarsko srce was, and still is, a special gift for somebody very special. As first love is always remembered, so is this little charming keepsake: a true Croatian sweetheart.
A HERITAGE HAT
On the busy, ancient cobbled streets of Šibenik something stands out from the crowd: like the coloristic accent on an abstract painting, there is a bright orange spot. It’s a man wearing a picturesque hat: the šibenska kapa. This original accessory, worn only by men, has a long history: some say it belongs to a tradition of the Iapodi tribe who populated the area before the arrival of the Croats. It’s decorated with two rows of ornaments sewn with black thread – spiral coils, symbols of the everlasting circle of life that also survived in the form of folk dances like a whirling kolo. Its unique look and history gave the šibenska kapa a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
To an eye accustomed to the Latin script, glagolitic symbols look amazingly strange – they have an almost architectonic quality to them, just like miniature plans of medieval Croatian churches: small white walled buildings scattered around the countryside of southern Croatia. Or, they can remind us of some ancient letter full of hidden messages from Antiquity, like those carved into the Baška tablet, the monument at the very heart of Croatian identity. Today, the glagolitic script is experiencing a true revival in Croatia and tells us modern stories in the ancient voices of our ancestors.
While in Dalmatia, you can’t escape the omnipresent fishing net. It’s practically everywhere – on a stone wall of an old konoba, on countless souvenirs, even in the lyrics of beautiful, melancholic klapa songs. And while a regular tourist doesn’t take any further notice of this simple mundane object, the true Dalmatian knows that fishing with an old, tangled net somehow resembles life itself: sometimes your net is full… and sometimes you catch only the moonlight that shimmers on the sea.
Rural life is tough, and you can feel that toughness while looking at the architecture of old Croatian village houses: everything is subordinate to its function. Yet, if you look closer, small wonders begin to emerge – a beautiful diamond shaped pattern of bricks on the wall… or a tiny decoration made from thin wooden slats. And then, you see those same ornaments on luxuriant folk costumes shining in all their glory. No matter how tough life was for a Croatian peasant, he never lost the eye for beauty.
A ROUND PLETER
This vibrant ornament successfully unites two opposite symbols: the square and the circle, rich with archetypical meaning. The oldest examples in Croatian art can be found in the interior decorations of early Christian churches. Over the course of time, the round pleter become part of the abundantly rich ornaments found on Croatian national folk costumes; today it is mostly seen sewn in gold and silver thread, on ceremonial uniforms and emblems of the Croatian Army.
A THIRTEEN SECOND BATTLE
On a scorchingly hot summer day of the first Sunday in August, there is only one topic of all the conversations in the town of Sinj in the Dalmatian mainland. The Alka. Honouring the epic struggle against Turkish conquerors 300 years ago, the knights of today bet their honour and all their skill on one task – hitting the centre of a ring made of forged iron with their lance. When the tournament begins, silence settles over the audience: all attention is drawn to the knight, the stallion and the ring. In less than thirteen seconds, the knight has to face his destiny. He charges, aims and hits the centre; a firing of a cannon is heard, and the celebration starts. The symbolic battle is won, again.
THE SILENT RIVERS
For more than half a century, meanders have been slowly and solemnly flowing on the wall paintings of the famous Croatian painter Julije Knifer. Art and geometry are rarely married with greater success than on the works of this great master. Reduced to the extreme, his black and white rivers are exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries – the only rivers in Croatia that rise up and also flow around the world. Silent, skilfully balanced and meticulously crafted, Knifer’s meanders invite us to embark on an unforgettable journey through Croatian art.
A PLETER PATTERN
Pleter is an ancient symbol associated with the floral world and, as art historians say, with waves and the flowing of water. It’s hardly a surprise then why the early Croats, coming from a part of the world known for its great and mighty rivers, wholeheartedly accepted this symbol. Moreover, converting to Christianity, they carved this ornament on their monuments such as the cross on the baptismal font of Višeslav, interweaving their ancient, pagan beliefs with the new – just like the ribbons on the pleter itself.
Lace from Croatian island of Pag is a thing tough and delicate at the same time, just like a spider’s web. Sometimes called white gold, it’s made from a particularly strong thread and demands, as lace masters say, clean hands and a lot of patience. That’s why the first Pag laces were made by Benedictine nuns in the 15th century. Looking at the lace from Pag, that little woven microcosm, you can almost feel the tranquillity of hot summer days and hear the murmur of women, spinning stories while some new masterpiece slowly emerges under their diligent hands.
A C(R)OAT OF ARMS
The oldest representation of the Croatian coat of arms is a fresco painting from 1495, made on a porch wall of a house in Innsbruck, but its roots are hidden further back in the mists of time. The stern rhythm of red and white squares, some believe, tells a story of Croatia’s turbulent history: a red square for a year at war, a white one for a year of peace. Today, the only battle that is waged under the red and white colours is one on the football field, where players and supporters alike proudly wear their recognisable chequered shirts. It’s true: whenever you see this repeated pattern, you can tell it’s connected with all things unmistakably Croatian!