Horses and Nurses on Rijeka's Carnival
Women dressed as nurses smile during Carnival grand parade in Croatia's Adriatic town of Rijeka.(AFP/Denis Lovrovic)
Participants surround a giant horse during Carnival grand parade in Croatia's Adriatic town of Rijeka.(AFP/Denis Lovrovic)
Croatia's carnival city holds colourful masked parade
RIJEKA, Croatia (AFP)
Sunday February 06, 2005
The annual carnival in the Croatian coastal town of Rijeka reached its dazzling climax with a colourful parade of thousands of masked revellers along its main promenade. Some 100,000 visitors from Croatia and abroad flocked to watch the parade, the highlight of the month-long festival, kick off at around noon (1100 GMT), in bright winter sunshine and despite a bitterly cold wind.
"Rijeka's carnival is a mix of a modern European carnival and local folk tradition, with contemporary masks marching alongside bell-ringers from nearby villages," Anton Skrobonja, who headed up the parade, told AFP.
The frightening looking bell-ringers, or Zvoncari, dressed in animal skins are believed to summon back the spring and scare away evil forces. The event is closer in feel to the world-famous carnival in Rio de Janeiro than to the Venice Carnival, across the Adriatic Sea from Rijeka, said Skrobonja, fitted out with a blue suit and 18th-century top hat.
"Venice Carnival is more static, the figures mostly stand in one place and people walk around them, while in Rijeka the public watches a parade of masks along the city's promenade," said the parade's leader, nicknamed "Master Toni".
Since its launch in 1982, the Rijeka carnival has grown into one of Europe's biggest. On Sunday some 10,000 masked paraders marched in 140 groups, including ones from Bosnia , Hungary , Italy, Macedonia , Slovakia and Slovenia .
President Stipe Mesic also briefly attended the seven-hour event. Unlike in Venice, which is dominated by traditional baroque masks, the teams participating in the Rijeka carnival spend months dreaming up original new creations for each edition of the carnival.
On display on the Rijeka promenade were masks representing the four seasons, a dazzling array of flowers, animals and even cannibals.
A tribute to a rich tradition of parades which flourished under the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Rijeka carnival has also become an opportunity for satirical comment on current political and social affairs.
Thus, on Sunday, a mask depicting President Mesic rode astride a blue dragon with yellow stars, representing the European Union which Croatia wants to join -- shown with the face of the pro-European Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.
In front of the dragon marched masks representing cave people, a satiric reference to the way Croatians feel they are perceived by the EU. The parade was to end with the burning of an effigy embodying all the misfortune that has befallen Rijeka's citizens in the past year, before the mayor reclaims the city keys from the carnival master ahead of Mardi Gras.
Despite its originality, the Rijeka's carnival remains underexploited as a tourist magnet. "The carnival's significance for tourism will grow, but for now even our travel agencies advertise trips to Venice for carnival instead of focusing on Rijeka," Skobronja said.