Every year, just before lent, a carnival takes over the streets of one of the largest towns in Croatia, the coastal town of Rijeka. The history of this great carnival dates all the way back to the 15th century
. In order to maintain public order, a legal document from 1449 strictly bans covering the face with a mask (with the exception of guests of the masked ball in Kastel) - if you did not obey, you were risking a severe punishment. You are probably wondering why this was so strict. Even centuries ago, the people of Rijeka felt free to publicly express their unhappiness with the government while wearing masks - as if no one knew who they were.
However, 1982 was a special year when speaking of the Rijeka Carnival
- for the first time 3 carnival groups (Lako cemo, Pehinarski festari and Halubje Bellringers) did a walk under masks. The walk grew larger and larger with each year and soon it turned into a carnival. The residents of Rijeka are especially proud when the carnival is compared to the famous ones in Venice and in Rio de Janeiro - which happens more often than one might think!
The locals will often say that the carnival created some sort of a “fifth season
” in the town - there is no spring or winter, the entire town simply lives and breathes the carnival. The first year there were only 3 groups under masks, today there are more than a hundred. No one expected the carnival to grow this big during the last couple of decades, however, here we are - thousands of visitors come to Rijeka to look at or participate at the carnival, and thousands more watch it on their TV-s at home.
The 2019 carnival began last month, on the 17th of January, the day we remember St. Anthony the Great
. On the next day, the traditional Rijeka Carnival Queen pageant
took place, as well as the handover of the city key
to the master of the carnival. The role of the queen is to be the charming spokeswoman of all masked groups participating in the carnival. These two events are considered the official opening of the carnival in Rijeka.
Just like every carnival, the children are the ones enjoying this masked madness the most. On the 16th of February, the children´s carnival parade
floods the streets of Rijeka´s Korzo. What´s not to like when you´re surrounded by characters from fairytales and legends?
Another one-of-a-kind event is the masked Paris-Bakar rally,
taking place on the 23rd of February. The race is a parody of the famous Paris-Dakar rally, however, all of the participants (drivers, judges etc) are wearing masks. The cars are no exception, each one has its own unique story.
The highlight of the carnival is the International carnival parade
- in 2019 the parade will take place on the 3rd of March. Thousands of masks, as well as visitors, make this event truly special. Express your creativity, be original and you may even win a prize in one of the competitions - the only limit is your imagination!
The carnival march is divided into stages where the hosts present every group. The march is led by the mayor, the queen and Mestar Toni. Traditionally, the last group are Halubajski zvoncari, and when they pass, the march is over.
However, this does not mean that the carnival is over - 3 days later you can watch an event called “burning of the Pust
”. Who/what is Pust? A pupet, usually named after a politician or some other public figure, who is blamed for most of the bad things that happened in the preceding year. The burning of the Pust marks a new beginning and a better year to come.
During the carnival on each corner you will also find exhibitions, concerts and similar cultural events to make the carnival complete. Rijeka Carnival´s long history resulted with the town being accepted as a full member of the Federation of European Carnival Cities (FECC) in 1995. The carnival was also added to the list of the 500 most important events in Europe and the Sunday Times declared it as one of the most exotic world events.
If you prefer winter over summer and are staying in one of our wonderful villas in Kvarner,
make sure to visit this unique event and experience Rijeka´s fifth season!