Thanks to all the movies, TV shows and video games, people’s ideas about the Middle Ages tend to be rather romanticised. I wasn’t any different. Until the Utgard festival of early Middle Ages 2016 went medieval on my ass. The event took place on July 16 – July 17 close to a little village called Jasenové (near Rajec).
Meeting this wild horde while wandering through the woods can be a little intimidating...
Time-travelling into the past
Out of a thick mist in the middle of the Súľovo woods cradled in the lap of nature, a medieval camp rose. I loved it. It had been raining since the early morning and the cold, damp air was needling under my skin. There was smoke rising to the skies from some of the tents, the hammers meeting the anvils with a rhythmic clang when I heard the first voices.
There was a woman standing in the middle of the muddy road. I came closer. From beneath a hood, a pair of curious brown eyes of the famous local baker were staring back at me. She was waiting for me. She greeted me with a wave of her hand and then she was taking me to meet the chief of the camp. There was bustle everywhere around me. The merchants were getting their stalls ready for the fair. All kinds of visitors – from the nearby villages and the space-time continuum – were soon to arrive. The merchants made quality linen cloths, sheepskin covers, leather footwear and bags, helmets, axes and even amber jewellery for them. I didn’t even have time to look at it all because as soon as I smelled grilled meat, all I could think of was biting into the juicy venison and washing it down with some strong mead right after my meeting with the chief…
Some snapshots of the festival looked like stills from a historic blockbuster.
The idea of a medieval camp couldn’t have come to life without its hardworking organizers from the Gunnar association, who managed to put together over 400 attendees from various corners of Europe, mostly from Czech Republic, Morava, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, and of course Slovakia. Some of them had been staying on the big field since Wednesday where the Early Middle Ages (9th – 11th century) themed camp was slowly growing and finally opened to the public on Saturday.
A bunch of warriors were getting ready for a battle.
These types of festivals happen more regularly and more often abroad than they do here – this was only the Utgard festival’s second year, but it has the potential to become the region’s summer attraction. The visitors could expect stalls bursting with food and all kinds of medieval and contemporary delicacies and of course an interesting programme. Both the lone wolves and families could find something to their liking.
The panel of judges choosing the scariest warrior consisted of the youngest festival-goers.
The most interesting to watch were the combats between the medieval warriors and the final battle between them all. Three various cultures clashed on the battlefield – Slavs, Avars and Vikings. And they didn’t hold their punches back.
The final battle was a proper skirmish.
Middle Ages down to the last detail
All the attendees were wearing clothes and shoes made of natural materials that were accessible in the medieval time period. Today we’d proudly put ECO and BIO labels on them. All the weaponry, armour and jewellery were authentic, based on the existing documented findings. No made up fantasy Gandalfisms. You couldn’t even light a cigarette in the camp, since Columbus brought tobacco to Europe a couple centuries later. Fortunately, beer was already being brewed then, so we could all have a pint. ;)
This brave, nearly half-naked man tried to cheekily join the best female costume competition.
Wind, rain, mud… but it was worth it!
Despite the weather – that some of us modern-age spoiled people might consider foul – quite a large crowd gathered at the festival. A bit of a drizzle wasn’t so bad in the end and it just reinforced the medieval atmosphere that was breathing at you from every corner. There was medieval music playing in the background and there wasn’t one boring moment. There was always something to look at.
The visitors could observe the fight for the bridge up close and personal.
The interesting thing about it was that the amazing atmosphere stayed with me a week after the festival ended. The echoes in form of images and sounds kept popping up in my mind and I realised that the life in the Middle Ages was really tough. Getting to experience it for a couple of days with my own two eyes – and some people even more closely – was incredible. But what’s even better is that I could come back to the spoils of modern technology and the comfort of my own home where I have heating and warm water. ;)
The famous baker and the chief of the camp.
More photos from the Utgard 2016 festival can be found here.