Design Inspirations: Croatian Art Of Tattoo

The tradition of Bosnian and Croatian tattoos originates from the time of the great expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Although the art itself can be dated much earlier, back to 4th century BC and the Illyrian and Celtic culture, it gained a true meaning under the Turks, who ruled the Balkans since the late 17th century.

The custom was mainly practised in southern Bosnia, and Dalmacija area (currently Croatia). Originally the art of tattoo was created as a crossover between old pagan believes, rooted very strongly into the mindset of the locals, Slavic symbols typical for most of early Slavic tribes in Central Europe and Christianity – a new religion which came to the Balkans from Rome in 4th century AD.

©Tradicionalno-Tetoviranje-Hrvata / Traditional-Croatian-Tattoo
©Tradicionalno-Tetoviranje-Hrvata / Traditional-Croatian-Tattoo
©Tradicionalno-Tetoviranje-Hrvata / Traditional-Croatian-Tattoo

Inking was traditionally performed mostly on young girls’ hands and arms, often in a shape of bracelets. During the rules of Ottoman Empire it has become a way to prevent young Bosnian and Croatian girls from getting kidnapped and sold or converted to Islam by the Turks (all of which was very common at the time). Some tattoos were made on foreheads, backs and chests to make sure they’re visible and recognisable at all times. It was so common among Balkan catholics, that during the next three centuries it became a custom and an ongoing tradition among Bosnians and Croatians. Inking was cultivated until the end of II WW. It has been completely banned in Yugoslavia in late 50s under the communist rules.


The design is very simple yet very distinctive. A common motive is a Christian cross along with leaf- and pine-like elements accompanied with circles and rings. Traditional tattoos were made with a specially prepared ink, made of charcoal, gun powder and women’s breast milk, to make sure all tattoos would last. Circle rings, a cross (usually in the middle of the ring) and pine motives create a design called “Jelica”. Its level of details varies from simple drawings on palms to complicated ornaments performed on arms and backs.

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