You’ve seen them. On hats, on scarves, on huge flags waving over football stadiums. Wherever Croats come, red and white checkers follow. But what is the story behind them? Is it only a matter of fashion, or do Croats like playing chess? The answer is – both
Legend tells us of Croatian king Drzislav, who waged a fierce war over Dalmatia with Venetian doge Peter II Orseolo. Unfortunately, he fell into enemy captivity and was thrown into a dungeon. Doge learned that he shared a passion for chess with Drzislav, and gave him a witty offer- if the Croatian king can beat him three times in a row, he would win his freedom. Drzislav accepted, and the royal rivals clashed over the board. As it came to be, the Croat won three parties in a row, and was released. To eternally commemorate his victory, Drzislav added a chessboard to the Croatian insignia.
Well, that is at least what the legend says. No matter how much truth is in it, the chessboard became a national emblem. It lies in the white centre of the Croatian flag, shaped like a shield, and consists of 25 square fields of red and white. It is generally believed that these colours represent the ancient “White” and “Red” regions of Croatia, while some historians suggest white is linked to a mysterious Medieval Croatian tribe which dwelled on today’s territory of the Ukraine. The initial square is red, but that was open to change during history.
Ok, now – we promise following paragraphs won’t be boring, although we are done with the checkers.
Above the national emblem on the Croatian flag, five smaller shields exist. The first one from the left is what is known to be the oldest emblem of Croats. Dating from the 12th Century, it depicts a golden Morning Star and crescent moon underneath it. It is believed these symbols come from Slavic mysticism, as the Poles have similar insignia on their historical emblems.
The second shield represents the city-state of Dubrovnik. Most people don’t know, but the famous city was actually an independent republic up to 19th Century. Unfortunately, these Games of Thrones did not end well for Dubrovnik, as it was invaded by Napoleon, who disbanded the city authorities.
The shield in the middle represents Dalmatia, and depicts three lion heads. It is a common mistake to think of them as leopard heads, because Croatian heraldic science calls lions turned en face leopards. But they are lions. Period. No doubt about that. What is strange is that, for some reason, prsut didn’t make it onto the Croatian flag.
However, goats have. These animals were usually associated with Istrian insignia, so there is no wonder why one lies engraved on their shield. The animal has a golden yellow body with red horns and hoofs.
The final shield represents Slavonia. Two white tracks symbolise the rivers of Drava and Sava, while the black animal between them is actually a marten. Old Croats used the mammal’s skin as a form of currency, and this is where the modern Croatian money got its name- kuna (marten).
Well, in any case, we started with checkers, and we are ending with furry mammals. Hopefully, we have all learned something in between. Keep checking Like Croatia, as more historical trivia is on the way.