Tattoos – a Croatian tradition


People have been decorating their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. It was a tradition among many tribes, cultures, and nations who gave their tattoos for spiritual, patriotic, or healing reasons, depending on the culture and era.
Even today, in the explosion of tattoos that have nothing but the esthetic meaning and fashionable purpose, many descendants of some specific groups still tattoo themselves just like they’re elderly- out of respect for their culture.



A similar thing is happening in the last few years in Croatia. Croatian tattoos, you say?

The practice of tattooing actually dates on Croatian soil since the Illyrian tribes but what most of the people mean by traditional Croatian tattoos is actually the traditional tattooing by Croats that lived in Dalmatia and Croatian parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most of the traditional tattooing (also known as “sicanje”) took place during the holiday of St. Joseph which is on March 19th.

Tattoos – a Croatian tradition


The biggest importance these tattoos held came from distant history,  between the 15th and 19th century when local Catholic inhabitants were often exposed to violent attacks from the Ottoman Empire whose soldiers would also steal local women.
To protect their wives and daughters from the Ottomans, they tattooed their hands, fingers, chest, and sometimes even the forehead! The “tattoo artist” would usually be a local woman who would ink younger girls in the village.

The most common designs that girls would tattoo on themselves would be crosses, crowns, and dots in various forms and the ink was not even ink – it was a mixture of mother’s milk, honey, coal and spit!

Glagolitic script, tatoos
The glagolitic script, tattoos

The tradition has ended after WWII when the communist government has forbidden any visible signs of religion on people. Still, that didn’t stop many women to continue to pay respect to their tradition and you can see elderly women in these areas that proudly show off their “tats”.


Most of the traditional tattooing happened during the holiday of St. Joseph


Just recently, an interest in these specific tattoos has risen and many young people, men, and women, tattoo those traditional Croatian motives on their hands and back. Some out of tradition, some out of fashion, but what is most important – the heritage lives on, and this one is quite…permanent!

Ana Plevko


Photos by Sinisa, Imaginarium Tattoo, Zele, Tattoo Zagreb, and HKUD Mokro, Siroki Brijeg




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