The Rumble from Grobnik that Scared Away An Invading Army

The Rumble from Grobnik that Scared Away An Invading Army

Among the noise, the excitement, joy and overwhelming energy of the Rijeka Carnival, one masked group stands out. Men wearing unique horned masks weighing ten or more kilograms, dressed in sheepskins, with bells of at least ten litres tied to their belts, carrying an axe in one hand, and a bag of ashes in the other, making their way down the main promenade, the Korzo, with deafening noise. This tradition is typical of the area surrounding the town of Kastav and the greater Rijeka area, and is the most widely known representation of shepherd carnival magic in Croatia.

Ivo Pervan

A long time ago, the bell ringers would don their “work clothes” when they put their sheep out to pasture, and ward off evil curses from their animals by ringing the bells. The most popular legend about them dates back to the time when Ottoman invaders headed towards Grobnik Field.

Once A Frightful Sight For the Ottomans, Now A Carnival Tradition

The shepherds, who were few in number, stood no chance against the powerful army, so they resorted to trickery. They put on scary horned masks and sheepskins, hung bells on their belts, and took up axes. To create the appearance that there was more of them, they used the same items to disguise corn stalks as soldiers and faced the enemy fully prepared.


When the overly confident Ottomans arrived at Grobnik Field, they were met with men wearing frightful masks and making noise that shook the ground. The soldiers ran for their lives, thinking that a large armada was waiting for them on the other side of the battlefield.

IvoP ervan

Today, the bell ringers take over the entire city during the carnival, from the Feast of St. Anthony the Abbot (17th January) until Ash Wednesday. During this period, the bell ringers take a tour of the Kastav area, chasing away winter with their music and ringing.

The tradition was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009, and the bell ringers’ motto of Krepat, ma ne molat (“Death before surrender”) has become widespread in the entire Kvarner region.