The tamboura (Croatian: tambura) is a long-necked lute or mandolin, whose various forms and folkloric adoptions are found all over the Balkan Peninsula, Eastern and Central Europe, Turkey, Iran, India and East Africa.
The Balkan version of the tamboura has between 4 and 8 strings, and belongs to the same family of instruments as the Spanish guitar, the Ukranian bandura and the mandolin.
There are different views on the origins of the tamboura. One broadly accepted story has it that the tamboura was probably brought by the Ottomans to Bosnia, from where the instrument spread further with migrations of Šokci and Bunjevci above the Sava River to all parts of Croatia, Serbia and further. However, an alternative theory suggests that the ancestor of the tamboura is the ancient Greek pandouris. The modern tamburica shape was developed in Hungary (Budapest) at the end of 19th century.
Until the end of the 17th century, the type of tamboura most frequently used in Croatia and Serbia had a long neck and two or three strings (sometimes doubled). Similar string instruments are the Czech bratsche, Turkish saz and the sargija, çiftelia and bouzouki.
In Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia (especially the Pannonian plain), Slovenia and Hungary the tamboura (often referred to by the diminutive tamburica) is the basic instrument of traditional folk music, usually performed by small orchestras of three to ten members, though large orchestras capable of playing even classical pieces arranged for tamboura also exist.
In Croatia, the first group of six tambura players was said to be formed by Pajo Kolaric of Osijek in 1847. The first tambura concert was given by Ivan Sladicek with a group of four players in Zagreb in 1879. In 1882, the first studies of the music were begun by Mijo Majer with a group of four students at the University of Zagreb.
Over the past 160 years or so, tambura has been accepted as an authentic element of the Croatian cultural heritage with its own unique cultural and musical expression.