Opanci: Traditional Serbian Footwear


Opanci (or opanak for singular) were traditional footwear that was mostly worn by Serbian peasants. Made of leather, these peasant shoes were (and still are) one of the most famous staples of Serbian culture and history.

You may want to learn more about the cultural traditions and customs of the citizens of the Balkan Peninsula. 

If that is the case, be sure to check out these articles as well: Promaja: What Is It? and Serbian Slava.

Opanci: What Type of Leather Are They Made Of?

When Serbian people first started making opanci, they did so by using rawhide (or untanned animal skins). In many cases, they didn’t even remove the hair (or fur) before turning this rawhide into shoes.

What Is Rawhide Leather?

Rawhide is an animal skin that has not gone through the process of tanning [1]. When compared to traditional, tanned leather, rawhide is more susceptible to water damage. 

Most rawhides today are made from skins of animals such as buffalo, deer, elk or cattle.

How They Used To Make Opanci in Serbia?

There were a lot of different methods when it came to making opanci. In Serbia, this famous type of footwear was mostly worn by peasants. 

In regards to that fact, it’s easy to assume that this shoe wasn’t expensive or that difficult to make (in those days, peasants were extremely poor).

The earliest and the most simple method of making opanci involved a piece of rawhide (I mentioned it before) that was cut in two pieces. 

The size of those pieces was determined by the size of the peasant’s foot (rawhide was usually cut to be a little bit bigger than the person’s foot). 

Once you’ve got the size right, the next step would be to wrap the flaps of the hide upward (to the point where they meet). Then, these flaps would be stitched together. In most cases, the stitching was done with another piece of rawhide. 

Because of how easy and cheap these types of opanci were to make, peasants in Serbia would usually make them on their own. You didn’t need to have any kind of special tools (or skills) in order to stitch together two pieces of leather.

Related posts

  1. Gusle: Traditional Slavic Instrument
  2. Gusli: Russian Traditional Instrument

Different Types of Opanci

There were a number of different ways of making opanci. The differences are subtle, but are, nonetheless still there. 

Mostly, it all boils down to the type of material the people of Serbia (as I’ve said before, mostly peasants) were used to create this special kind of shoe. 

At first they were using rawhide (it’s a lot easier to use and shape). The biggest problem with rawhide was that opanci made from it would be useless after a rainy day (if not dried quickly, the rawhide opanak would completely lose its shape, and would not fit the intended foot).

That’s when (and why) we’ve started seeing the use of different types of materials when it came to producing fully-functional footwear. 

The first opanak was cheap and simple to make but wasn’t that great when it came to protecting your feet against the rain. 

That’s when the peasants from Serbia had a great idea! Why don’t we try something different? And they did try, and that is why today we have a variety of different categories of opanci. 

Here’s just a few of them that were considered the most popular amongst the people of Serbia.

The Vrnčan Opanak

The most common shoe in Eastern and Southern parts of the Balkan peninsula, this type of opanci was made from tanned leather.

The name “Vrnčan” comes from the verb vrncati, which roughly translates to – to braid something firmly.

This type of opanak made in Serbia, was very light and comfortable to wear, but was made without the sole. This footwear was mostly intended to be worn on surfaces such as grass (or mud). 

They would be extremely uncomfortable on hard surfaces, such as pavement or cobblestone roads (they were popular in Serbia through the Middle ages).

The Šopski Opanak 

These opanci were (and still are) very similar to the Bulgarian peasant shoes, called “opinak”. The bottom part of this shoe (like the previously mentioned one) did not have a sole. 

The only difference between the Vrnčan Opanak is that the upper part was decorated with leather straps. 

The Siljkan Opanak

The name of this footwear comes from its most recognizable feature, the hooked front part of the shoes. 

The size and length of the hooked part are very helpful when it comes to identifying the specific part of Serbia where this footwear was made.

Unlike the previously mentioned types of opanci, this one was strictly made from tanned leather. That means that ordinary peasants were not able to make this type of footwear on their own. 

Anyone who wore this type of opanci was considered to be wealthier than the average person.

The Siljkan opanci had a well-made leather sole, making this type of footwear popular amongst the city folks, as well.

The Capped Opanak

This is the type of opanci most closely resembles the modern shoe. The cap (the thing it was named after) looks like the tongue of today’s shoes (it’s similar to it). 

In the olden days, this cap provided a place to put the leather straps through. But, later it became obsolete (with the invention of buckled straps) and was used mostly for decoration. 

Serbian Peasant Shoes – Opanci 

The most popular of footwears, opanci, are a staple of the history and culture of Serbia, as well as many other Balkan states. 

Opanci were mostly worn by poor peasants [2]. They were mostly easy to make which is why they were highly popular amongst the peasantry. 

The Bottom Line

We’ve talked a little about the opanci, how they were made and what uses they had during the long years of Serbia’s history.

Opanci were mostly worn by the peasantry, but later became the staple of the Serbian culture and identity. 



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