Samobor, a town in the northwestern part of the country, located right next to the border with Slovenia and in close proximity to the Croatian metropolis – Zagreb, has enjoyed the tradition of a carnival for almost two centuries.
The Samobor carnival is among the oldest and biggest in Croatia and has grown into a modern festival and become a trademark of the town, a sort of cultural good. It is a tourist and entertainment event, visited for the last couple of years by around 200,000 people.
The biggest and oldest in the continental part of the country, the Samobor carnival is a place of fun, joy, satire and social critique. Also, it is a place of purification and of the hope that by burning the carnival doll, everything that was bad will be cleansed and that the new year will be better and more just.
In Samobor, during this time, it is not only the people that put on masks, but the town itself as well, with its streets, squares and stores completely changing their appearance. During these days, the town, which is usually a favourite weekend excursion spot for Zagreb locals, is the most joyous because jugglers, mimes and street performers take over the Samobor streets.
Along various workshops, concerts and circus acrobats, the youngest are also not forgotten: every Saturday and Sunday, as part of the children’s carnival, the streets are turned into the Sraka promenade.
This year, from January 26th to February 16th, the 184th annual carnival will be held. As always, it will begin with the proclamation of the Independent Carnival State and the ceremonial surrender of the town keys to the carnival prince, who will take power over the town for 20 days.
It all began in the 1920s. The rare written documents from the time show that, in the streets of the then tiny Samobor, a carnival event was held, and that in the town hall a dance under masks was held. The Samobor museum, for instance, harbours the minutes of a municipal council from 1828, at which one local innkeeper asked whether he could rent the town hall premises for the carnival ball, noting he had done the same the year before. This is the first written document of the Samobor carnival, from which it is obvious that it had already been held once in 1827. At the beginning of the 20th century the carnival ceremony underwent some changes. In 1906 the function of the real-life prince Carnival is introduced, who is, in the presence of the carnival judge, sentenced to being burnt at the stake on Shrove Tuesday. Of course, the traditional carnival prince doll that is burnt in the end has been part of the carnival from its very beginning until today.
In the Samobor region, a festive dinner is prepared on Shrove Tuesday, with turkey and traditional pasta, lots of wine and dough-nuts for dessert.
Since 1904, the carnival has its official paper, the „Sraka“. Every February, the Sraka is a real barometer of social events and an indicator of the political circumstances of its time. Since the times of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the various Yugoslavian states, up to the contemporary Croatia, the carnival paper has recorded the time and the customs, making fun of authorities with its humour and irony. The tradition of holding the carnival was stopped by World War II, but was again revived in 1965. The carnival tradition finds its roots in Christianity. In the 9th century, during the time of Grgur of Nin, a church measure was prescribed that on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday a fast was mandatory. The Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday was named in Latin dominica carnis privii or meatless Sunday, and the people have simplified it to carnival or „meatlessness“. Since the 15th century, the fast was replaced by many with opposite customs – strong food, fun, drinking and wearing masks under which everything was allowed. This is how the carnival events came to be.
Apart from the carnival, Samobor offers numerous other tourist attractions, and is well known for craft guilds. Near to the town the Samobor and Žumberak hills are located, offering many natural beauties, cultural and sacral monuments, archaeological findings, mountaineering and cycling trails and mountain lodges and hospitality facilities, where you can enjoy in the rich culinary offering based on traditional recipes, particularly the Žumberak lamb, venison and trout.
A recommendation for all who visit Samobor – make sure to taste the custard pastries (kremšnite), probably the only ones in the world eaten when they are warm. This favourite dessert has become a tradition and one of the trademarks of this charming town, 20 kilometres away from the centre of Zagreb.
Zagreb County Tourist Board
Town of Samobor Tourist Board