The origin of “morčić”, the lucky charm from Rijeka

The origin of “morčić”, the lucky charm from Rijeka

The period from the Feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot (17 January) until Ash Wednesday is known as the “fifth season of the year” in the city of Rijeka. The silly, merry and off-the-hook carnival is one of Croatia’s biggest outdoor parties. One of the colourful masks that stands out the most is the dark-faced character wrapped in a white turban that has been the symbol and trademark of this carnival parade of thousands of people since 1991.


The character in question is that of “morčić” or “mori” from Rijeka which has been used as a good luck charm in the Kvarner region for several hundred years. It is thought that the gold earrings with the blackamoor figure bring optimism, positive energy and protection from harm to the wearer, which is why this traditional piece of jewellery from Croatia, influenced by the Venetian moretto, has found its way into the jewellery box of every old family in Rijeka. Throughout history, women wore them to indicate their origin, while men who were the only sons in their families, sailors (who wore one on their right ear) and fishermen wore them as a talisman.


Morčić is the central character of many stories; numerous songs have been written about his miraculous powers, and two legends survived to the present day.


The day “rocks rained from the skies” on Grobnik Field


One tells the story of when the Ottoman army came to the Grobnik Field in the 16th century, and the locals began preparing for the worst. The only thing left for the women to do was pray, because the strong enemy army looked invincible. However, a nobleman by the name of Zrinski shot an arrow from the Gradina fortress near the Jelenje municipality, which, through divine intervention, hit the Pasha right in the temple. The Ottomans withdrew hastily once they saw their leader was killed, and at that moment the heavens answered the women’s prayers and buried the leaderless army under a pile of rocks. The only thing left from the army on Grobnik Field were their white turbans, which were used as the basis for the morčić motif in remembrance of the great military victory.


A different, more romantic story comes from the Pelješac Peninsula; it claims that the morčić was created when an Italian contessa granted freedom to a servant she cared for very much. In honour of their great friendship, she had earrings made in her image.


Today, the morčić is a symbol of good fortune given as a present on special occasions, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.