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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 7, 2009
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Reconstructing History
January 7, 2009   
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Historical reenactments, or the recreation of past battles, costumes, weapons and even dances, are becoming increasingly popular in Poland.

Historical reenactments spread in Western Europe in the second half of the 20th century. The first sword and crossbow "brotherhoods" appeared in Poland in the 1980s and were often linked to museums or castles. The largest group is made up of "knightly brotherhoods" interested in medieval reenactments. The biggest event of this kind in Poland, the reenactment of the battle of Grunwald of 1410-which pitted the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against the Knights of the Teutonic Order-brings together over 1,500 participants from all across Europe.

"Great wars and battles of the past, especially those in which Poland was victorious, act like a magnet for most enthusiasts," says Leszek Tarwacki, who takes part in 17th-century reenactments. "Apart from the Middle Ages and the 17th century with its famed Polish hussars, the Napoleonic and World War II periods are also attracting interest."

A popular pastime among the hobbyists are period fighting skills. Whole academies have been set up to teach the art of historical fencing. Participants can also train in archery and rifle shooting, as well as horse-riding. Some people even try to reestablish fading skills like blacksmithing. A lot of time is spent on researching the chosen period by reading historical chronicles and tracts, visiting castles, palaces, museums and churches to study objects and iconography, all in the search for the most painstakingly accurate way of reproducing period detail.

Even though whole guilds of people reproducing weapons, clothes and objects have sprung up, a lot of participants create their own. Which can be quite cost-effective as a full suit of 15th-century armor starts at around zl.3,000.

Another popular reenactment activity are court dances, especially those of 15th to 17th century Western Europe. All one needs to do to learn is sign up at the Early Dance Academy, which even has classes in mixing dancing, fighting skills, court savoir-faire, singing and music. Its costumes have been created from paintings, drawings and museum exhibits so as to faithfully match those of the period.

"During my childhood, I witnessed a jousting tournament in czechoslovakia," says Tarwacki. "It made a huge impression on me, right beside me knights in full armor were fighting with battle-axes, shield splinters were flying, spaulders were getting dented. This experience prompted me to start my own brotherhood, The troublemakers and Drunkards, with friends, reenacting the colorful antics of 17th century Polish nobility. There are now around 20 of us."

Participants in reenactments are of varied ages. Some come through curiosity, others want to teach their children history. For some it is a way of celebrating their Polish roots, a tribute to Polish culture and history, while for others it is just an opportunity to have fun, shoot some arrows and buy a few souvenirs.

Anna Kosowska-Czubaj

Useful internet sites:

Information on period dancing:
Akademia Tańca Dawnego www.taniecdawny.pl
Interested in fighting skills? Go to www.lorica.pl/szkola-szermierki/akademia-broni.php
Who makes period costumes? See www.lorica.pl/producenci/bron-zbroja-i-inne.php
Information on acquiring weapons: www.bronbiala.pl
List of events: www.freha.pl
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