Croatia's biggest carnival takes place in Rijeka, culminating in a colourful procession of thousands on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday. The Mardi Gras tradition here dates back centuries, when it was a festival to welcome the coming of spring and to scare off any lurking Turks. Then, as now, masks were elaborate and ugly, and evil spirits were sent packing by local men dressed in animal skins, the zvončari, clanging huge cowbells.
Always up for a spot of costumed fun, the Habsburgs revived the concept in the late 19th century, before Rijeka got tangled up in too much political torment for street parties.
Then, in 1982, three masked groups walked down Korzo to the bemusement of onlookers. After that, numbers grew. By 2001 there were around 4,000 taking part in the parades. For the 25th anniversary event in 2007, it was nearer 100,000. No wonder locals call it the 'fifth season', in addition to spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Depending on when Shrove Tuesday falls, the Queen's Pageant usually takes place on the third Friday in January, followed by the Zvončari Parade, which takes place the next day. By tradition, the bell-ringers clang their instruments and move in steps according to their village of origin. Then, 13 days before Shrove Tuesday, on the Saturday lunchtime, the Children's Parade runs through the streets of Rijeka. The big event, however, is the International Carnival Parade, which kicks off at noon on the following Sunday. It usually takes the whole afternoon for floats to pass along the main streets. Subsequent celebrations last well into the night, at stalls and tents set up around the canal.