Croatia is not just a beautiful country that welcomes French holidaymakers with open arms in the summer. Croatia has many little stories and anecdotes to tell alongside the big story in the school books.
Croatians and coffee
It’s hard to walk around Croatia without coming across a coffee shop. And for good reason, with over 5kg of coffee consumed per capita every year, Croatians are particularly fond of this black, fragrant beverage. In total, more than 22,500 tons of coffee are drunk every year, and more than 2.25 million hours are spent enjoying it.
Whether it’s with friends, at a business meeting or at the end of a meal, it’s hard to escape the coffee ritual in Croatia.
Zadar and the Maraschino
One of the locally produced spirits is maraschino, a clear 25° liqueur made from sour cherries called marascas.
In his novel Un début dans la vie (1842), Honoré de Balzac refers to Zadar as “the town where maraschino is made”, a liqueur that became famous throughout Europe in the 19th century.
The biggest truffle in the world is Croatian
The weight and exceptional dimensions (19.5 cm long, 12.4 cm wide and 13.5 cm high) of this white truffle (Eutuberaceae tuber) have earned its discoverer, Giancarlo Zigante, a place in the famous Guinness Book of Records.
With this distinction, Istria has further consolidated the reputation of its famous truffles…
An innovative vault for Sibenik Cathedral
For a long time, the Gothic-Renaissance cathedral of Saint James in Sibenik was home to an architectural feat: a stone vault built without any framework or mortar.
Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2000, this structure was designed to hold without any joints. Finely-cut stone slabs, which fit into the double arches using a mechanism of grooves and small tongues, hold the structure together. Jurac Dalmatinac, a major Croatian architect of the 15th century, was responsible for this construction.
The airship comes from Croatia
Count Von Zeppelin is famous for his airships. What is less well known is that the German manufacturer of flying machines bought the plans (and the brilliant concept) from the widow of a certain David Schwartz.
This inventor from the town of Zagreb was a pioneer in armature flying machines, and it was his designs that first flew in Berlin and St Petersburg just before the start of the 20th century. It was on 3 November 1897 that the inventor achieved the feat of flying the very first balloon with a metal frame over Berlin. The landing, however, was far less glorious. No matter, the history of airships was entering a new era.
Dubrovnik Cathedral and Richard the Lionheart
King Richard I of England (known as Richard the Lionheart) spent little time in his homeland and did not even know the language.
During the Third Crusade, to which the king was deeply committed, he was said to have returned home with difficulty following a tragic incident at sea in the Adriatic in 1192. A storm not far from the island of Lokrum forced him to make a forced stopover on Croatian soil.
Taking refuge for a time in Dubrovnik, Richard the Lionheart gave money to the local people to rebuild a ruined Romanesque church: the resulting religious edifice is today’s Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary.
The Non-Aligned Declaration was signed in Croatia
On 19 July 1956 Sukarno, Tito, Nasser and Nehru met to oppose the Cold War. Not wishing to join either of the 2 camps (America on the one hand and the USSR on the other), the three protagonists decided to go their own way and invite other nations who did not feel concerned by the conflict to join them. This political stance, aimed at rejecting the bipolarisation of the world and submitting to the obligation to “choose sides”, was immortalised in a document signed by the three of them and entitled the Declaration of the Non-Aligned Movement.
This document was co-signed on the main island of the Brijuni archipelago, Veliki Brijun.
Today, the Non-Aligned Movement is an international organisation of more than 120 states.
The oldest jewels in the world are Croatian
They date back 130,000 years to the time of Neanderthal man. What are they? They are the Krapina jewels, a handful of eagle talons discovered in 1899.
It was Croatian palaeontologist Kramberger who extracted them from their earthen coffin at the Krapina excavation site, among the remains of more than 80 individuals.
Recently studied in greater detail, the 8 eagle’s claws that were of interest to the scientists had indeed been worked by human hands. The researchers identified traces of polishing, abrasion and cutting. Belonging to necklaces or bracelets, the remains overturn what was known about art in prehistory: dated to 130,000 BC, these pieces of jewellery are now the oldest in the world.
The jewellery also reinforces the idea that Neanderthals were endowed with advanced abilities, in particular the capacity for abstraction. It’s a good opportunity to take a fresh look at those who are still considered by many to be less than intelligent sub-humans.
The heart-shaped island
It is one of the most famous pebble islands in the world. Located in the Pasman Channel between the island of the same name and the mainland just 200m away, Galešnjak is one of only 3 heart-shaped islands in the world. And it’s the only one whose contours are not altered by the tides.
With a surface area of 0.132km2 and 2 hills rising 36m above sea level, the islet has earned the nickname “Lovers Island”.
Rediscovered by the general public thanks to Google Earth in the 2000s, Galešnjak has been known since the 12th century, and its shape was set down on paper by Napoleon I’s cartographer in 1806.
The island is private and covered in low vegetation. There is nothing of interest here apart from its distinctive shape.
The Istrian goat is an endangered species. It’s a wonder that it features on the country’s flag!
In Croatia, the goat is historically known as the “poor man’s cow”. A robust and undemanding animal, the goat was appreciated by the less well-off peasants, and in rural areas most families owned one.
Banned on several occasions in the country’s history up until the time of Tito, the goat has more recently suffered from competition from tourism.
That’s why, since 2010, a programme to rehabilitate this species of goat has been underway, with the aim of increasing the number from a few dozen to around 1,000 by 2030. The Istrian goat is now back in the spotlight. An integral part of local culture, the products of goat rearing are now being promoted by the tourist industry.
A country split in two
If you follow the Dalmatian coastline from north to south, there’s a little piece of land less than 8km long that doesn’t belong to Croatia. Located in the very south of the country, just before arriving in Dubrovnik, the town of Neum is part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is their only access to the sea.
So, to get to Dubrovnik by road, you have to cross 2 borders in less than 10km. To alleviate this problem, a bridge between the mainland and the Ston peninsula was built in 2021. This bridge is a bone of contention between the 2 countries.
The oldest cheeses are Croatian
In Croatia, archaeologists have identified traces of cheese-making dating back 7,200 years at Danilo Bitinj and Pokrovnik, not far from Sibenik. This makes Croatia the oldest cheese producer in the Mediterranean, more than 2,000 years ahead of any other known site.
Archaeologists have found remains of fermented milk in an earthenware vessel. The mastery of food storage through milk processing and pottery contributed to the development of local populations in the Neolithic period.
The Dalmatians are giants
A study carried out in 2001 by a French specialist has confirmed what the inhabitants of Dalmatia (southern Croatia) have known for a long time: Dalmatians are the tallest people in Europe, ahead of the Dutch, with an average height of 1.85 metres! In the hinterland of Split, up to one in forty young Dalmatians is 2 metres or more… By comparison, this proportion is 1 in 330 among their German and Nordic counterparts (average height 1.80 m), and 1 in 10,000 among the French (average height 1.76 m).
But not all Dalmatians are in the same boat. The average height is 182 cm in Dubrovnik, 183 cm in Zadar, 185 cm in Split and 185.5 cm in Sibenik, Imotski and Sinj. But in the Dinaric hinterland, in Drnis, the average height is a staggering 188 cm for men and 174 cm for women!
It was also his extraordinary height – 2m 37 – that earned Grgo Kusic (1892-1918), the tallest Croat of all time, a native of Grabovac near Omis, a place in Emperor Franz Joseph’s Imperial Guard in Vienna. The greatest soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, he was also one of the greatest human beings in history.
Hemingway loved Croatia… and especially a Croatian woman
The author of the Lost Generation left his mark on literature from the 1920s to the 1950s. But who knows that Ernest Hemingway’s muse was a young Croatian woman whom he met in 1948 during a trip to Venice, the city of lovers?
Adriana Ivancich (sometimes referred to as Ivancic) captured the writer’s heart. From this platonic love affair with the beautiful 19-year-old aristocrat, the author created the character of Contessa Renata, in the 1950 book Beyond the River and Under the Trees. Curiously enough, the author explains in the preface to his book that any connection with real events or characters is purely fictitious… The story, in fact, tells of the love affair of a soldier who looks a lot like Major General Langham with a young Venetian noblewoman who is not even 20 years old. And the initial cover is nothing more than a photo of young Adriana.
The tie is Croatian
The tie worn by these gentlemen comes from Croatia. Between 1600 and 1650, Louis XIII’s regiment of Croatian hussars wore a thin strip of white cloth tied around their necks. These cavalrymen wore this distinctive emblem, which was made with particular care. A little later, in 1666, Louis XIV renamed the regiment the “Royal Tie”.
Versailles and all its entourage of courtiers quickly made the tie a fetish accessory (so useless but so essential for social success). Over the years, the accessory was democratised, conquering first the wealthy Parisians and then the whole of Europe.
The word cravat is derived from the original word Hrvat, which is pronounced cravat and simply means Croatian.
The parachute is of Croatian origin
Faust Vrancic (or Fausto Veranzio) was born in the port of Sibenik in 1551. When he grew up, he became bishop of Venice (Sibenik, which was then called Sebenico, was not yet Croatian), and was also an accomplished scholar.
Among his studies, Fast Vrancic worked on sails and air resistance. In 1595 he self-published a collection of 49 plates: the Machinae Novae. The pages of this rare manuscript depict more than fifty inventions. Among them is a machine called homo volans, the world’s first representation of a parachutist in full flight.
Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, Faust Vrancic went much further on the subject and it was more than 150 years later that the first flight tests were carried out by Frenchmen.
Croatian maritime innovations
The village of Motovun was home to an inventor who did not go down in history. He was the naval engineer and forester Joseph Ressel, who invented the ship’s propeller 9 years before the patent was registered in England. Built in wood in 1826 on the principle of Archimedes’ screw and its spiral, the invention is now used on all the world’s motorboats. Initial tests were very encouraging, and the performance was very respectable. Powered by a crank and then by a motor (the ship sailed at a speed of 6 knots with a 6 hp motor), the tests were cut short because the motor was too unreliable.
Still in Croatia, but this time on the coast at Rijeka, it was Giovanni Biagio Luppis who designed the most feared modern marine weapon: the torpedo. The son of a wealthy shipowner and officer in the Austrian navy, he worked with the mayor of Rijeka to design a new defensive weapon. In 1866, the first prototype and trials began off the coast of the Croatian shipyards. The product soon became marketable, and by 1868 the first warships were equipped with it. The torpedo factory, which closed in 1966, is now open to visitors, with an exhibition tracing the history of the torpedo.
Croatia in front of UN
August Augustincic is one of Croatia’s leading sculptors. Born in 1900 and died in 1979, he is considered to be one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. Having made a name for himself in his early days with his equestrian sculptures, he used the horse on numerous occasions in his work.
His sculpture “The Peace Monument”, depicting a woman riding a horse, has been installed opposite the United Nations in New York since 1954. The base is made of white marble from the island of Brac, and the statue is in bronze. This sculpture can also be found on Yugoslav banknotes.
Zola has Croatian origins
The writer Émile Zola was born in Croatia. On his father’s side, the Zola family lived in Dalmatia in Zadar (then under the domination of the city of Venice). A family of officers, the Zolas (from the Croatian Zolic) served in the army for several generations.
Antonio Zola, the great-grandfather, was a captain with the Fanti Italian soldiers.
Carlo Zola, the grandfather, was a lieutenant and captain in the Engineering Corps.
Fransceco Zola, the writer’s father, was born in Venice.
Croatian Marco Polo
Marco Polo, the famous navigator, introduced Europeans to the mysteries of Asia and China.
And legend or truth (his Book of Wonders leaves one wondering), he would also have known Croatia very well:
In fact, the town of Korcula is said to have been his birthplace in 1254. His house at the time stands right next to the town’s cathedral, to the right of the bell tower. The official story is that he was born in Venice, but there are not that many kilometres between the two…
In 1298, still in Korcula but offshore this time, a major sea battle took place, the Battle of Curzola. It restored the balance between Venice and Genoa. After sinking 65 enemy galleys, more than 7,000 Venetians were taken prisoner by Genoa. Marco Polo was among them. He was imprisoned in the city in the same cell as Rustichello of Pisa, who wrote the above-mentioned memoirs of the navigator in different circumstances.
The Croatian fly
It’s cold in winter in Croatia. Near Lika, men used to wear a woollen pouch under their belt to protect themselves from the bite of the cold. Without underwear until the 1950s, men went about their work in the fields and woods wearing just a pair of wide-legged trousers. To keep warm, they wore a woollen cover.
The sheath was often included in the dowry, and young girls had to ask their future in-laws about the dimensions of their future husband.
This piece of fabric, which had disappeared, has recently resurfaced. Known as nakurnjak, it can be found in some villages and near some major sites. Although not very useful today, the nakurnjak is a great conversation starter and a great way to put a smile on your face, and is one of the frivolous gifts that holidaymakers like to take back with them from their stay in Croatia.
The French baguette
At the bakery, a baguette is called a “French” (francuz). So to buy a baguette, you have to ask to buy a French.
A beret, on the other hand, is simply called a beretka.
Zara and Zadar
The founder of the ready-to-wear chain Zara hesitated for a long time over the name of his brand.
His initial idea was to call it ‘Zorba’, but the name was already taken and the order for the letters to be placed above his shop had already been placed. So he found a close alternative to save money and just ordered an extra A.
But why Zara? Quite simply because the town of Zadar is spelt Zara in Italian, and his visit to this Croatian town had left him with some fond memories.
Croatian salad ?
In French, the vegetable salad called ‘Macédoine’ is made from fruit and vegetables cut into small cubes of less than a centimetre in size. It takes its name from its resemblance to the ethnic confetti found in Macedonia.
In the Balkan countries, particularly Croatia, this type of salad is known as ‘French salad’. It is prepared with mayonnaise, cheese and cold meats. It’s a classic on festive menus. A surprising turn of events, don’t you think?