On our recent trip to the Balkans, by far one of our favorite stops was the little walled town of Korčula in Croatia. Good food, friendly people, and some wonderful cultural sights — for instance, the ancient sword dance known as the Moreška.
The story behind the dance is timeless — there are good guys, and bad guys, and a young maiden caught in the middle. In this case, the good guys are the White King and his troops (once symbolic of Christians, later representing the Turks), and the bad guys are the Black King and his supporters (who have always represented the Moors).
In this scene, you see the White King (Osman, dressed in red) and the Black King (Moro) facing off — with the maiden Bula trying to stop the fighting. Bula is the white king’s fiancee, and the black king has kidnapped her, leading to a series of battles finally culminating in the white king’s victory and Bula’s happy return to her love.
The dance has roots dating back to conflict between Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain, and quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean. For centuries, many towns staged their own version of the Moreška — but usually just once every few years, and then on the given town’s patronal feast day. Over the years, the tradition disappeared from town after town until now, only Korčula stages it with any regularity. But the good news for visitors is that the town stages the dance every week, year ’round (and twice a week during the summer). The performers are all natives of Korčula, some with long and proud family histories of participation.
Should you ever get a chance to watch the show in person, I’ve got some tips for you:
- Don’t use a flash
- Sit in the seats opposite to the musicians, preferably on the center aisle, definitely near the front
- Be prepared for low-light photography — I took this shot at 1/80 sec. to freeze any motion, which meant ISO 4000 and f/2.8