What in China is represented by a coin on a red ribbon; an elephant with its trunk raised or, in India, a smiling Buddha, in Rijeka it is an Afro-American man with a white turban and thanks to its popularity amongst all social classes, it has been accepted as a Rijeka souvenir. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of this city, of numerous activities and events, and especially of the International Rijeka Carnival for which it has formally been the symbol and mascot since 1991. Morčić is a piece of original jewellery from Rijeka, Kvarner and the Croatian Coast, mostly present in the form of earrings. Besides its aesthetic and decorative purpose, it also marks loyalty to these areas. Earrings with the bust of an Afro-American man wearing a turban are today worn by 70% of women from the area; regardless their social status and the nationality of multiethnic Rijeka which counts up to 22 national minorities amongst its population. It is precisely in this wide variety and bond of cultures, that the largest significance of the city can be found which will embrace anyone searching for a place to live, as well as the chance traveller and anyone looking for luck that, without doubt, no money can buy. However, you will agree that nobody has everything he needs, not in the sense of material things, but in particular, spiritual pleasure. Our Nobel winner, Ivo Andrić, once wrote that "it is strange how little we need to be happy, and it is even stranger that it is precisely this little thing we always miss". Dear reader, maybe you will find this missing "little thing" in Rijeka's Morčić as he is our good luck charm.
He appeared from a legend
Besides being written in the history and tradition of our ancestors and the skilful goldsmith’s hands, it is also a symbol spreading positive energy as it brings optimism and it is precisely his closeness that guarantees our wishes coming true, our serenity, protection from our enemies and from all evil forces. The Morčić earring was once worn by men too, especially fishermen and their only sons. It is not odd to see it in a man’s ear today nor is it abnormal to find brooches, bracelets, rings and pins in the treasure boxes of every older Rijeka family. Due to its attractiveness and historical importance, the Morčić has achieved enviable world fame acquiring a tourist flyer that describes the importance of this famous symbol in 30 languages. Numerous stories have been told about the Morčić’s origins, numerous popular songs and legends have been sung amongst which there are two of the most famous ones. The first one is the legend of Zrinski described by the famous Rijeka archaeologist and art historian, Radmila Matejčić. It dates back to 16th century when the Ottomans set up camp in the Grobnik Field, threatening to attack Rijeka. The nobleman, Zrinski, shot an arrow from Gradina (Castle) close to Jelenje that hit the Ottoman pasha in his temple causing the army to run away. During this period of Ottoman occupation, the people of Rijeka, so Matejčić says, 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 and in a field only their turbans remained. In memory of this event, Rijeka’s men put earrings of a man with turban in their wives’ ears. The second legend originates from Pelješac and says that an Italian countess had a black slave who she really liked. She gave her freedom and to remind her of the girl she ordered the creation of earrings depicting her. Morčić’s creation was largely influenced by Venice which, in 17th and 18th centuries, was obsessed with the Orient. Besides eastern spices, perfumes, fabrics, clothes and jewellery, the rich Venetian patricians started to use pages and servants in their chambers – Afro Americans wearing eastern clothes. This inspired numerous Venetian goldsmiths to begin creating decorative pins in the form of a black man 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 the Morčić was created in Rijeka, a more modest version of the "Venetian moretto". Due to its specific appearance, the master’s creation and its acceptable price, the Morčić became part of traditional women’s popular jewellery, first of all for women from Rijeka. The last moretto maker, Raul Rolandi lived in Rijeka until the end of 1940s and thanks to the models and sketches from his workshop, the cultural and historical collection of the Rijeka Maritime and Historical Museum of the Croatian Littoral came about, showing the way the Morčić was created. The model for the Morčić’s frame is made in print and then engraved onto a cuttle-bone so as to obtain a negative into which melted gold is cast. When the gold hardens, a golden print is created which is chiselled out by files and knifes on the surface in order to adhere enamel crushed into tiny, fine dust to it. This dust is then put into nitric acid and then left for around two hours after which it is washed and dried. 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 and separately areas for the orifices and the nose are printed and the chin is enhanced. Three gold spots remain free and represent the eyes and the mouth. This model form is put into a small tin-oven in the form of a longitudinally crossed roller and this is the "first coat" of enamelling, as written by Radmila Matejčić. The "second coat" is more precise, the finishing touches are put to the shapes of the head, and the channels are cleaned, any holes in the enamel are removed and finally the form of the nose and the black dots on the white turban are added. This kind of model is put into the oven again and when it is complete, the gold becomes black and the whole Morčić is put into a light solution of hydrochloric acid so that it becomes white. After washing, the Morčić has to be cleaned with fine files and finished by polishing using brushes. "Even today the Morčić is andmade. However, technology has developed and the whole procedure is much simpler", according to the most famous Rijeka master, Tonči Grabušić, who adds that it is precisely the technological development that has enabled this good luck charm to be available for everyone. The owners of the oldest private gallery in Croatia, the Mala galerija Bruketa located in the old town centre, have created this souvenir using the original ceramic technique. They fire the Morčić twice at a temperature of 1000°C and then additionally decorate it with gilt at a temperature of 690°C. They also offer buyers a certificate that has been translated into more than 30 languages. Although the procedure to create souvenirs and jewellery requires exceptional skill, patience and precision, the fact that, with regard to the price, the Morčić is available to everyone, is thanks to Rijeka’s masters and artists who are aware that happiness cannot be bought; the source of our happiness is in subjective characteristics: a noble character, an adventurous spirit, a happy temperament, a cheerful mind and a healthy body. And the Morčić is precisely a symbol for all that; he is Rijeka’s open heart.