January the 13th, 2024 – As Nikolina Demark writes, our ancestors seem to have loved shiny things as much as we did: traditional garb in all parts of Croatia included precious jewellery pieces such as earrings, bracelets, brooches and pendants. Here’s a look at traditional Croatian jewellery from Istria.
Some date back to medieval, ancient or even prehistoric times, and are nowadays displayed as museum exhibits. Others have stood the test of time, with traditional motifs passed down from generation to generation and remaining popular accessories to this day.
And then there’s some traditional jewellery that falls into both these categories. Medieval earrings found on several archaeological sites in Istria were rediscovered in recent times and recreated with beautiful replicas in silver and gold, made by local artisans and whoheartedly embraced by the public.
The initiative to revive the ancient heritage of Istria in the form of jewellery largely came from goldsmith Klaudija Vorić, owner of Claudia Zlato jewellery shop in Svetvinčenat, now closed. Since the early 2000s, Vorić had been making jewellery inspired by traditional Istrian symbols. About ten years ago, she launched the initiative to make replicas of historic earrings in order to create high quality souvenirs for each given destination in cooperation with local authorities and relevant tourist boards. Vorić was the one responsible for the revival of Žminj, Buzet and Barban earrings on this list, and it’s only right we give credit where credit is due.
Join us on a little themed tour of Istria as we discover accessories of times past that now have their modern versions. They’re readily available to all those who wish to wear a piece of traditional Croatian jewellery from this popular peninsula.
Žminj earrings / Žminjski rićin
It’s said that all the roads in Istria lead to Žminj, so it only makes sense to start our journey in this picturesque inland town.
Earrings and rings were uncovered at the early Croatian cemetery in Žminj, showing that the local women used to wear jewellery as early as in the 9th century. How’s that for tradition?
The earrings found at the necropolis were part of the rural folk costume worn in the Žminj area in the 9th and 10th centuries. They were made of silver and bronze and are grouped into several categories according to design and origin, with the most prominent type featuring so-called ‘strawberries’, hollow granules made of silver with elements of filigree and mesh. Some feature closed hoops, pointing to the fact they were most likely worn interwoven in hair or looped on hair strings.
Nowadays, the original finds are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula. They inspired a beautiful authentic souvenir, the Žminjski rićin (Žminj earring), designed after the medieval pieces and slightly modified to fit modern standards of jewellery wear.
These gorgeous pieces of traditional Croatian jewellery are now made of silver and gold, and are manufactured in Pula by David jewellery.
In Žminj, earrings and rings are available for sale at the floral studio Heidi as a unique tourist souvenir, complete with a leaflet introducing the history of the Žminj jewellery in three languages.
Barban earrings / Barbanski rančin
Earrings dating to the 11th century were unearthed in the small town of Barban. The medieval earrings have the form of a hoop with three small beads adorning the bottom part.
Similar to the ones found in Žminj, they were determined to be a part of folk costume typical for the period between the 11th century, when Istria was a part of the Holy Roman Empire, to the beginning of the 14th century when the region was taken over by the Venetian Republic.
The initiative to bring the traditional Barban earrings into the modern era was also launched by Claudia Zlato jewellery, with the project devised by Jasminka Benazić and executed in cooperation with the Archaeological Museum of Istria, the Municipality of Barban and the Barban Tourist Board.
The result are beautiful wearable earrings, made in several sizes and materials and inspired by the cultural heritage of Barban.
Dvigrad earrings / Rančin Dvegrajka
On to Dvigrad, a ruinous medieval town in Limska Draga valley, where two unique types of earrings were discovered, made of bronze and dating to the 9th century.
Both types are simple hoops, one with a thin wire wrapped around the bottom part (see image below), the other adorned with a bead. Several other kinds of earrings were found in the Dvigrad area, but since they share features with various types discovered on archaeological sites elsewhere in Istria, it was decided to only make replicas of the two designs unique to Dvigrad.
The wearable souvenirs are made by David jewellery from Pula, whose owner, goldsmith Luiđi Đinić, said it takes up to five hours to make a single pair. The delicate hoops are entirely handmade, and available in silver, silver-gilt, and silver gilded rose gold versions.
Like the other artefacts, the historic Dvigrad earrings are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Istria and were declared a cultural asset of the Republic of Croatia back in 1968.
Buzet earring / Buzetska naušnica
Delicious truffles aren’t the only precious thing found in the north of Istria, as the history of the hilltop town of Buzet and its environs goes all the way back to the Bronze Age. Some beautiful traditional Croatian jewellery hails from here.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that beautiful historic jewellery was discovered in Buzet as well, a type of bronze earring dating to the 7th century and known as the Buzet earring in archaeological literature.
Bronze earrings are most commonly found at the early medieval burial grounds of the native population and the Illyrian-Celtic people who inhabited the area between Buzet and the west coast of Istria.
The original pieces are kept at the Regional Museum of Buzet, and a silver replica was created as an authentic souvenir of Buzet. Two kinds are available, one being a near identical copy of the medieval earrings, other slightly modified and equipped with a clasp to be more easily wearable.
Umag earrings / Umaška naušnica
We’ll end our little tour of traditional Croatian jewellery from Istria in Umag, a coastal town in the north-west. Although best known for the ATP tournament, Umag has much more to boast, including priceless historic finds such as the so-called Umag earring.
The bronze earring is shaped as an elliptical hoop adorned with three beads and a large engraved pendant, altogether cast in a one piece mold. It was found during archaeological research conducted in Umag in 2005, at the ruins of an early medieval church that burned down in the 9th century.