It is one of the most recognizable symbols of this city, of its numerous activities and events, and especially of the International Rijeka Carnival of which it has been the official symbol and mascot since 1991. Morčić is a piece of original jewellery from Rijeka, Kvarner and Hrvatsko primorje, most frequently taking the form of earrings. Apart from its aesthetic and decorative function, it is also a sign of loyalty to the region. Earrings with the bust of a black Moor wearing a turban are today worn by 70% of the local women; regardless of their social status and nationality in the multiethnic Rijeka which boasts with as many as 22 national minorities. It is precisely this wide variety and melting pot of cultures that constitutes the greatest value of the city which will embrace anyone searching for a place to live, as well as a chance traveller and anyone pursuing happiness which, without doubt, no money can buy. However, you will agree that nobody has everything he needs, not only referring to the material, but primarily to one’s piece of mind. Our Nobel prize winner, Ivo Andrić, once wrote that “it is strange how little we need to be happy, and even stranger how that little always manages to elude us”. Dear reader, maybe you will find this missing “little thing” in Rijeka’s Morčić as it is our good luck charm.
It came from a legend
Apart from being a symbol of the history and tradition of our ancestors and skilful goldsmith’s hands, Morčić is also a symbol spreading positive energy. Keeping it close, it brings us optimism and guarantees our wishes coming true, our serenity, the protection from our enemies and from all the forces of evil. The Morčić earring was once worn by men as well, especially fishermen and their only sons. Even today it often decorates men’s ears, and is not at all unusual to find Morčić brooches, bracelets, rings and pins in the treasure boxes of almost every older Rijeka family. Due to its attractiveness and historical importance, Morčić has achieved enviable world fame getting a tourist flyer describing the importance of this popular symbol in 30 languages.
Numerous stories have been told about the origins of Morčić, numerous folk songs and legends have been sung, amongst which two enjoy the greatest popularity. The first is the legend of Zrinski, described by the renowned Rijeka archaeologist and art historian, Radmila Matejčić. It dates back to the 16th century when the Ottomans set up a camp in the Grobnik Field, threatening to attack Rijeka. A nobleman, Zrinski, shot an arrow from Gradina (Castle) in the vicinity of Jelenje which hit the Ottoman pasha in the temple, after which his army dispersed. According to Matejčić, during this period of Ottoman occupation, the people of Rijeka looked to the sky and prayed to God to throw stones and kill all the Ottomans. This is exactly what happened when they tried to run away: stones covered the Ottomans up to their necks, with only their turbans remaining in the field. In memory of this event, Rijeka’s men put earrings shaped like a head with a turban in their wives’ ears. The second legend originates from Pelješac and says that an Italian countess had a black slave she really liked. She gave her freedom and to remind her of the girl, she ordered the earrings bearing her image to be made. Morčić’s creation was largely influenced by Venice which, in the 17th and 18th centuries, was obsessed with the Orient. Apart from using eastern spices, perfumes, fabrics, clothes and jewellery, the rich Venetian patricians introduced pages and servants in their chambers – black Moors in Oriental clothes. This inspired numerous Venetian goldsmiths to begin creating decorative pins in the form of a black Moor with a turban, a golden bust, richly decorated with precious stones, known as a “moretto”.
From the hands of experienced masters
At the same time Morčić was created in Rijeka, a more modest version of the “Venetian moretto”. Due to its specific appearance, masterful craftsmanship and acceptable price, Morčić became a part of the traditional women’s popular jewellery, primarily of the women from Rijeka. The last moretto maker, Raul Rolandi, lived in Rijeka until late 1940s and it is thanks to the models and sketches from his workshop, obtained for the cultural and historical collection of the Rijeka Maritime and Historical Museum of Hrvatsko primorje, that we now know how Morčić was made. The model for the Morčić’s frame is made in the positive and then impressed onto a cuttlefish bone so as to obtain a negative into which melted gold is cast. When the gold hardens, a golden positive is obtained. Its surface is chiselled out by files and knifes to allow the enamel crushed into tiny fine dust to adhere to it. The dust is then put into nitric acid for around two hours and washed and dried afterwards. The enamel is mixed with a drop of water on a piece of glass and this mixture is then placed on the golden frame using a needle. When the enamel is put onto the frame, the head is shaped, the areas for the ears impressed and the nose and the chin enhanced. Three gold spots remain uncovered and represent the eyes and the mouth. This model form is put into a small tin-oven shaped like a longitudinally cut cylinder and this, according to Radmila Matejčić is rough enamelling. The “second fine enamelling” is more precise, the finishing touches are put to the shapes of the head, the grooves are cleaned, any holes in the enamel are closed and finally the nose is shaped and the black dots on the white turban added. The model prepared in this fashion is put into the oven again and when it is complete, the gold turns black and the whole Morčić is put into a light solution of hydrochloric acid to make it white. After washing it, Morčić has to be cleaned with fine files and finished by polishing using brushes.
“Even today Morčić is handmade, although a more advanced technology is used, significantly simplifying the entire procedure”, says one of the most renowned Rijeka masters, Tonči Grabušić, who adds that it is precisely the technological development that made this good luck charm available to everyone. The owners of the oldest private gallery in Croatia, Mala galerija Bruketa located in the old city centre, have been making this souvenir using the original ceramic processing technique. They heat up Morčić twice at the temperature of 1000°C and then additionally decorate it with real gilt at the temperature of 690°C. They have also prepared for their buyers a certificate that has been translated into more than 30 languages. Although the procedure of production of both souvenirs and jewellery requires exceptional skill, patience and precision, owing to its price Morčić is available to everyone, because Rijeka’s masters and artists are aware that happiness cannot be bought; the source of our happiness lies in subjective characteristics: a noble character, an adventurous spirit, a happy temperament, a cheerful mind and a healthy body. And Morčić is precisely a symbol of all that; it represents Rijeka’s open heart.