Novel of knights
[b]600th anniversary of Battle of Grunewald inspires interest in medieval history[/b]2010 is setting a record for the number of medieval culture festivals. In May, Belarus’ cultural capital of Polotsk hosted a grand show, Rubon, featuring knights’ battles; the siege of the Upper Castle was reconstructed. This summer, Minsk’s old suburb of Loshitsa joins ancient Zaslavl and the village of Benyuny (in Oshmyany district) in hosting theatrical shows from past epochs. The country is plunging into the Middle Ages, with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald as the high point. This is to take place in late June in Novogrudok and will continue in Lida, in September. The festival is being organised by regional authorities and the Culture Ministry, with official representatives from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine invited.
2010 is setting a record for the number of medieval culture festivals. In May, Belarus’ cultural capital of Polotsk hosted a grand show, Rubon, featuring knights’ battles; the siege of the Upper Castle was reconstructed. This summer, Minsk’s old suburb of Loshitsa joins ancient Zaslavl and the village of Benyuny (in Oshmyany district) in hosting theatrical shows from past epochs. The country is plunging into the Middle Ages, with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald as the high point. This is to take place in late June in Novogrudok and will continue in Lida, in September. The festival is being organised by regional authorities and the Culture Ministry, with official representatives from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine invited.
21st century knights
Novogrudok is an ideal site to celebrate the events of 1410 — when Belarusians, Lithuanians, Poles and Ukrainians defended their independence. The united troops of our four nations smashed crusaders, who tried to seize our Eastern European countries. Warriors from Novogrudok contributed to the joint victory and the ruins of the local castle still remember those hard times. Celebrations are to take place inside its reconstructed walls.
“We’re used to hosting medieval culture festivals; this year will be our fifth. Traditionally, the major attraction is a knights’ tournament, held near Zamkovaya Hill — where real battles once took place,” stresses Alexander Karachan, the Head of the Novogrudok District Executive Committee’s Culture Department. “Moreover, in 1408, Novogrudok Castle hosted a secret meeting between Grand Duke Vytautas and Polish King Jagailo; they agreed to begin a war against the crusaders, which led to Novogrudok troops fighting in the Battle of Grunewald. A commemorative plaque to honour the event is installed in Farny Catholic Church.”
The festival will bring together over 10 military-patriotic clubs, as well as stuntmen, horsemen and archers and medieval music and dance bands from Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia. Concerts of contemporary music, inspired by medieval motifs, will also take place. Organisers plan to create the impression that we are in the Middle Ages. Daily life is to be restored in the streets, with a fair of folk crafts opening and 14th century cuisine offered.
Major events are to take place on June 26th, when the festival will begin with a theatrical parade featuring Duke Vytautas and King Jagailo, surrounded by their noble retinue. Zamkovaya Hill will host performances by historical reconstruction clubs, as well as musicians, and a fire-show. Farny Catholic Church will premiere Grunewald — a musical fantasy, featuring the organ and kettledrums. The Siege of Novogrudok Castle by the Crusaders is to be staged as part of the festival, becoming a major event. The National Concert Orchestra of Belarus, headed by Mikhail Finberg, is also scheduled to play on the same day in the city square.
Minsk is also celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald, with a knights’ parade marching from the Town Hall to the Palace of Sports. Members of Belarusian knights’ clubs will be officially sent to Grunewald Field, in Poland, where Belarusians are to participate in a grand European festival, from July 15th-18th.
Never ending theme
Jointly with foreign colleagues, we are discussing how the Battle of Grunewald has influenced today’s nations. The National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute and the Belarusian State University’s Historical Department have already hosted scientific conferences. We only began studying the Battle of Grunewald in the 1990s. “So far, there has been much room for discussion,” explains Georgy Galenchenko, Doctor of Historical Sciences and an employee at the National Academy of Sciences. “The outcome of the battle is known but we are still studying how many soldiers participated. We are ready to find answers.”
All researchers agree that the Battle of Grunewald was an unusual event for the Middle Ages. “It was one of the largest battles,” stresses Ruslan Gagua, a Candidate of Historical Sciences and an Associate Professor at Polesie State University. “Some historians say the crusaders’ army numbered 35,000. In reality, the figure was smaller; according to medieval sources, around 12,000 knights.”
The Battle of Grunewald is also of interest to the modern military. “Its history is taught to students at the Military Academy and at the military departments of civil universities — as part of the ‘Military History’ discipline,” notes Lieutenant Colonel Vitaly Chirvinsky, who heads Military-Historical Work and Heraldry, on the Armed Forces’ Military-Scientific Committee. “The Battle of Grunewald: Historical and Military-Strategic Aspects textbook is soon to be published. The Military-Scientific Committee also plans to prepare a series of posters on Belarusian military history. The book is unlikely to be read by everyone, but the poster will be seen by all.”
A badge dedicated to the Battle of Grunewald’s 600th anniversary has already been designed, advised upon by the Presidential Heraldic Council. It’s yet to be decided whether it will be used by the Armed Forces or as a state commemorative medal.
Time to gather stones
In recent years, the society’s interest in the medieval past has grown, with restoration works increasingly active. Soon after the Grunewald celebrations, the old castle in Novogrudok will receive extra attention towards its restoration. Every year, this architectural monument is visited by 100,000 tourists.
The Culture Ministry has already received a project regarding the castle’s restoration — headed by Sergey Drushchits. Works are due to cost 1.25m Euros. “Part of this sum has already been allocated from the state budget,” explains Igor Chernyavsky, the Head of the Culture Ministry’s Department for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage and Restoration. “First, Zamkovaya Hill’s banks are to be strengthened, alongside the two towers’ ruins. Then, archaeological works will begin, enabling us to discover remains of other buildings underground. In future, a museum exhibition may be set up in the cellar and on the fortress’ first floor. Infrastructure for visitors will appear near Zamkovaya Hill.”
Reconstruction of a similar fortress is almost complete in Lida. Built in the 14th century to protect city residents from crusader attacks, the citadel will gain its original appearance in September, in time for the Republican Dozhinki Harvest Festival. Knights’ festivals were organised here back in 2005 and 2007. The castle’s tower hosts a museum and shows often take place — such as King Jagailo’s Wedding. Jagailo headed the troops of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus during the Battle of Grunewald.
Yaroslav Mikovoz, the Deputy Chairman of the Lida District Executive Committee, is convinced that the restoration will replicate the castle’s original appearance, as it was in Jagailo’s time. “According to the project, its walls are being revamped. Additionally, a blacksmith’s shop is to be restored in the courtyard — in addition to barracks and two wells. Archaeologists found traces of their existence in the 1970s. Staircases are to be restored in the major ‘museum’ tower, while the destroyed tower will house a cafй and souvenir shop,” he says. A grand total of 2,425,000 euros has been allocated for the project.
In September, Lida Castle will celebrate the Battle of Grunewald’s 600th anniversary. As part of Dozhinki, the Dainava military-historical club is to join the Lida Historical-Art Museum and Svyatovit tourist company in created Crusading Grunewald. Audiences will see scenes from the past, such as how Lida knights prepared for the historical battle.
Each Belarusian region has something to recall from those past times.
By Viktar Korbut