In Croatia’s northernmost state of Istria, folklore, and myths run rampant with the wealthy historical past of witches, vampires, giants, and vitality traces.
Ask any Croatian what their favourite place of their nation is and it’s probably they’ll launch into cascading reward for the northernmost state of the nation, Istria. Lesser trodden by worldwide vacationers however large within the hearts and imaginations of the locals, inland Istria is flush with medieval hillside hamlets with cobbled streets, like Motovun, Grožnjan, Opatalj, Pazin, Pičan, and Kringa.
Although overarchingly fairly, these villages have extra happening than meets the attention. First off, Istria has a wildly layered historical past, because the area has modified palms between rulers, international locations, and cultures myriad instances. Celts, Historical Illyrians, Romans, Slavs, Venetians, and the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs all referred to as this place residence at one time or one other, every leaving their mark. However greater than that, Croatians know Istria for its wealthy folklore, myths, and spirituality.
Historical Slavic gods, prehistoric monuments, vitality traces, giants, witches, and vampires are simply a number of the tales you’re more likely to come throughout whereas taking your time to discover the Istrian highlands. Whereas on the floor these villages look as if they have been established within the medieval Venetian period, many have a historical past that extends again not less than 2,000 years, as one civilization after one other took over the traditional hill fort settlements.
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Psychic Vitality Traces and Giants
Probably the most well-known and beloved spot in higher Istria is undoubtedly Motovun, a big fortified village with a inhabitants of roughly 500, and which is residence to an annual movie pageant that pulls in film lovers from internationally. The Acropolis-esque setting was first constructed by the Celts, who named it Montona, which means “city within the hills.” These days, this completely preserved Venetian outpost attracts structure lovers, cyclists, foodies (each black and white truffles are dug from the forests within the foothills), and people within the esoteric. It’s broadly understood that Croatia’s northernmost ley traces run by way of the middle of the city sq. beneath St. Stephen’s church tower.
“They dug him up and located his physique in its coffin completely preserved and smiling, so minimize off his head and reburied him.”
What are ley traces, you ask? Earlier than we go any additional, ley traces are (invented) traces of vitality that have been created by historical individuals such because the Celts. These theoretical straight axes minimize by way of the land, connecting culturally vital, spiritual, and social locations. Also called “dragon traces” in Istria, these traces have been first mapped out within the Nineteen Eighties by Slovenian sculptor and land artist Marko Pogačnik, who famous these historical traces passing by way of Motovun, Grožnjan, and Opatalj, in addition to the traditional stone circles in Picuge and Modele. Pogačnik, an artist with feng-shui coaching, believed (like many) that numerous ley traces cross paths in Motovun, making it a robust supply of optimistic vitality.
There are three historical stone circles in Istria which might be clustered shut collectively, southwest of Motovun. They’re unexcavated and overgrown, thought-about to be the one recognized megalithic circles in Croatia, because the oldest dates again to the Mid-Bronze Age (1000-2000 years BC). They’re tough to go to in the summertime when shrubs are excessive and snakes are rife, however cross by way of Istria within the winter and pack a drone to get some glorious views.
One other nice native legend is of the giants who lived within the Mirna River Valley, which dissects Motovun, Grožnjan, and Opatalj. The story goes that these large males have been so tall they may cross instruments and boulders to 1 one other over the tops of buildings. One of many cities constructed on this mythological period was Motovun. As years glided by, Istria grew to become populated by regular-sized individuals and the giants disappeared, however one remained in Motovun. The star of a 1908 fairytale written by Vladimir Nazor, Veli Jože was a pleasant and kind-hearted large, however so robust that he might shake the bell tower of St. Stephen’s together with his naked palms. Jože is a much-loved native determine, whose mural adorns a wall in Motovun and whose story kids nonetheless learn in the present day.
The God of Lightning
When you’re piqued by paganism, look no additional than the village of Pičan, southeast of Motovun. Pičan, based on locals, was the fifth church-governed city within the Christian world. A bishop was appointed and a diocese established within the fifth century AD, which might lead you to the belief that Istria was an early adopter of Christianity. Native journalist and researcher Davor Šišović believes that this was not strictly the case and that Istrians continued to worship pagan Slavic gods on the aspect.
“Historical past teaches us that someplace within the Eighth-century the previous Slavic world turned to Christianity. However we have now a hill close to Pičan named after Perun, the Slavic god of lightning,” says Šišović. “There are different monuments and tales that point out that the previous faith was nonetheless right here, 500 years later with this trinity; the Slavic mom nature goddess Mokosh represented the Holy Mary, Perun as St. George and Svetovit grew to become St. Vitus. It’s my idea that previous Slavic religions right here in Istria existed till the Fifteenth-century.”
Vampires and Stringun
So as to add to the heady mixture of historical gods, stone circles, ley traces, and giants, probably the most infamous and influential character in Istrian folklore is the vampire Jure Grando, who originated within the village of Kringa and nearly definitely impressed Bram Stoker. Grando died in 1656, however terrorized Kringa for 16 years after his demise, knocking on individuals’s doorways at night time and inflicting the demise of many residents. In 1672, a celebration of 9 locals from Kringa fashioned a hunt to finish his habits. They dug him up and located his physique in its coffin completely preserved and smiling, so minimize off his head and reburied him. Et voila—no more bizarre deaths in Kringa.
Slovenian author Johann Weikhard von Valvasor wrote about Grando’s life and the afterlife in his historic epic The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola after visiting Kringa throughout his travels. His e-book, initially revealed in German in 1689, is filled with eyewitness accounts. You may go to the commemorative stone plate within the village of Kringa, with the names of all 9 individuals of the vampire’s elimination.
Grando is the primary character in historical past to be recognized as a vampire and never, as you would possibly hear in these components, a “stringun.” A stringun—or stringa, if feminine—is one other Istrian creature, distinct from vampires as they’re at all times tied to a dwelling particular person (and in addition distinct from witches regardless of their tendency to congregate on hills and mountaintops). The stringun possesses its host by night time, and by day, the chosen host physique is unaware of its acts. When the particular person sleeps, the stringun possesses the particular person’s physique to kill animals and youngsters, relying on their energy. Researchers from the College of Zagreb are presently accumulating stringun tales and documenting this oral historical past in depth.
Like all land wealthy in oral historical past, your greatest wager is to go to Istria’s villages and speak to native guides, consultants, or long-time residents. There are undoubtedly extra tales nonetheless to uncover.