Kvarner newsletter / no 21

Bell-ringers' pageant in the Kastav area now listed among the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Bell-ringers ("zvončari") from the Kastav area, the indispensable masked participants of the traditional pageant and symbols of the famous Rijeka International Carnival, are one of up to seven intangible cultural assets from Croatia that have now been added to UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage.

UNESCO's intergovernmental commission has recently decided to extend its list of intangible cultural heritage with seven cultural assets from Croatia. One of them is the traditional pageant of the bell-ringers form the Kastav area. During the carnival, regardless of weather conditions, large groups of bell-ringers make a tour of the local villages according to the route that was established long time ago. This tradition is one of the latest Croatian intangible cultural assets that has now been protected by UNESCO.
Bell-ringers, zvončari, are indispensable part of the famous Rijeka International Carnival – their impressive performance is a first-class attraction for the visitors. They are always one of the loudest groups in the parade, because their bells are much louder than other noises that spread across Rijeka during the carnival period.
Just like the ringing, their appearance is quite impressive too, even frightening: they are clothed in sheepskin throws, with large bells around their waists. On the heads they wear stylised masks – weird animal heads with horns and red tongues hanging out. Dressed in white trousers and sailor T-shirts, they hold stylised maces in their hands.
This custom dates back to ancient times – the legend says that with their frightening appearance they used to chase Tatars and Turks away. This is why these keepers of folklore tradition and local identity of the Kastav area are such valuable for ethnologists and a great attraction for visitors.