Venetian nobility of the 17th – 18th centuries was greatly influenced by the Orient and North Africa. Wealthy Venetians were obsessed with items such as spices, perfumes, fabrics, clothes and jewellery from the East. Lots of Moorish slaves were also “imported” as pages and servants from numerous Muslim countries at that period of time. Black Moors were introduced in the chambers of i palazzi ricchi (rich palaces) all over Venice. They were dressed in fine Oriental clothes and wore jewellery. That way their Venetian owners showed off their mighty, wealth and extravagance.
This Oriental fashion inspired a great number of Venetian goldsmiths and jewelers to start creating jewllery (especially pins) with the image of moretto. Moretto is a bust of a black Moor with a white turban on his head, richly ornamented with precious stones. The figurine was the main ornament of various types of pins, necklaces and earrings. Thus a style called “Blackmoors” was born at that period of time.
Moretto was brought to the Croatian town of Rijeka (the name means Fiume in Italian and River in English) and thus Morčić’ was created and it became a symbol of the town as well as of whole Croatia in the early 1990s. Here we go. We’ve already hit the topic of this post, namely that a little bit strange and too “foreign” talismans that have protected Rijeka for some centuries now. There are, let us call them, two “official” legends connected with the symbol and one third which I know from my guide in Croatia, and Rijeka in particular. Here they are.
When I was in Rijeka our guide told us that the town was threatened by the Ottomans who wanted to conquer it in the 17th – 18th century. Locals looked for any means to protect their settlement. A little, brave boy, a son a fisherman and seaman, got an idea to get dressed like an Ottoman. He and the other residents dressed up in full-bottom breeches and they put turbans on their heads. They also “coloured” their faces in black. When the invaders were approaching Rijeka, they saw very strange creatures in the distance. They were as black as demons with turbans on. Being very religious, the Ottomans didn’t dare go further and conquer the town. This way Riejka was saved and all locals were grateful to this little boy who was named Morčić’, i.e. the man of the sea.
The first “official” legend is similar to the above recounted one. The Ottoman troops reached the town of Rijeka and the town was threatened to be attacked in the 16th century. Heroic noble called Zrinski and the leader of the locals shot an arrow from the Castle (Gradina) which hit the Ottoman pasha in the temple and killed him. After that deadly shot the Ottomans were totally desperate. At that time people from Rijeka prayed to God for protection. They looked to the sky and asked for stones to be thrown at the Ottomans. Their prayers were heard and the invading troops were killed by stones falling down from the heaven. After this scene, the Grobnik field was full of dead corpses that were covered with stones and only the invaders’ white turbans were visible on the ground. The grateful men from Rijeka commemorated this miraculous victory by creating Morčić (a character of a Black Moor with a white turban on his head). They used the ornament for the preparation if earrings which they put on their wives’ ears to protect them from misfortunes.
The second “official” legend tells the story of an Italian countess. She had a black-skinned maidservant. She loved the young girl too much but she knew that the maid was far away from home and wasn’t happy. The countess gave freedom to her and sent her back to her homeland. The wealthy lady ordered that Morčić jewellery be created and thus it reminded her of her young black-skinned maidservant.
No matter which legend you would like, it’s a fact that Morčić became a symbol of Rijeka in this period. Locals and especially sailors and fishermen regarded as talismans that brought them much good luck and protected them from misfortunes. That’s why they wore single earring with the image of Morčić. The pendant also symbolized wealth and prosperity and it was passed through from generation to generation. Goldsmiths from Riejka produced lots of golden jewellery with Morčić but unfortunately, most of the jewelers emigrated after the World War II. Consequently, their skills and knowledge disappeared … but not at all because such earrings, bracelets, necklaces and so on and so forth have still been produced and sold in Rijeka and Croatia as a whole.
The town’s mascot has still be alive especially during the Carnival of Riejka when hundreds of thousands of locals dress up as Morčić invade the streets and squares of the town, thus keeping the century-old tradition of Rijeka.