Medieval Folklore – The Wawel Dragon


What’s a Wawel Dragon?

 

Last summer we participated in the Battle of Grunwald, and on our way there stopped by Krakow where we heard an amazing story – The Legend of the Wawel Dragon.

Long story short – under Wawel hill lived an evil dragon who tormented the people, until one day he was slain by a poor but cunning tailor who fed the dragon with a poisoned sheep carcass. The tailor’s name was Krakus, so after he married the king’s daughter, the town was named Krakow after him.

Inside the castle on top of Wawel hill – the Royal palace and the Cathedral of St Wenceslaus


A Story With Many Faces…

As a Balkan child, I’ve heard this story in thousands of variations and it contains pretty much the same elements regardless of where you heard it. Furthermore, I did some research on mythology on the Balkans from the 16th to the 18th centuries and there are many songs and tales that tell the same story – the greedy evil dragon, the deep dark cave of treasures, the countless failed attempts to slay it, the clever but poor hero, and the grateful king who gives him his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Until that moment I had never wondered about the origins of that story because it’s so popular, but once you connect the dots, an interesting image emerges.


Dragonbones!

The one thing that makes this story fascinating are the remains of the dragon. On top of Wawel hill, where the medieval part of Krakow was built, stands the Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus where you can see the bones of the dragon. High above the entrance of the cathedral hang several monstrous massive bones on display. So every time you go there you are reminded of that heroic and legendary deed. They were put there in the 14th century – which is also one of the most prosperous periods in the city’s history. Now the bones themselves are probably from a whale or a mammoth, but they are still very impressive. And on top of that, there is actually a real cave under the hill – from the top of the hill (within the citadel) there is a tower with a staircase that goes down about 100 meters into the depths of the earth and into a magnificent underground cave that leads to the river just outside the castle.

The “dragon bones” hanging at the entrance of the Cathedral

How the Wawel Smok Legend Influenced Europe

 Now, I don’t want to go very deep into the subject because it’s really vast, but thanks to my research in post-middle-ages folklore on the Balkans, and my research on trade routes in the 14th century, I have reached a hypothesis which can be quite interesting and entertaining.

For starters, I want to explain why the legend is so powerful and influential. The first appearance of this legend comes from the Chronicle of Master Vincent from the end of the 13th century. The cathedral was built and destroyed in the 11th century, it was rebuilt in the 12th and destroyed again in the 14th century (1305). By the end of the 14th century it was rebuilt and it’s still standing. Now we don’t know where the bones came from or if they were hung in front of the earlier cathedrals, but according to research the cave under the hill has been inhabited in prehistoric times (50 000 BC.), so it’s very likely that they found the fossilized bones there or somewhere in the area.

So, when you have a strong story and evidence to support it – (like the bones, the tunnels, and the cave), this makes a pretty strong prerequisite for a medieval blockbuster legend. There are at least two written sources of the legend remaining to this day, so it has obviously been popular in the middle ages.

The 14th century is known as one of the most successful periods of the history of Krakow – trade relations improved, culture soared, and not surprisingly the legend spread through Europe. Now, the 14th century was a good time for many kingdoms including those on the Balkans where local rulers invested a great deal in education and learning, and since the oldest legends on the Balkans date from roughly that time period – it is not very surprising to see some of them resembling the Wawel dragon story.

The Dragon’s Den or “Smocza Jama” (Смоча яма)


What I’m trying to say is
, that with the growth in culture and trade in eastern and central Europe, this fascinating and compelling story, might have been the source of inspiration for hundreds of similar stories on the Balkans. This assumption is also supported by the fact that most kingdoms south of Krakow speak very similar languages on the foundation of the Cyrilic alphabet.

The Wawel dragon depiction from Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographie Universalis from 1544


So, what does it matter if the story has had such a great influence? What difference does it make?

Well, as a medievalist I feel a little joy knowing that the European kingdoms in the middle ages have had more in common then we might have expected. It’s the common ideas and stories that help bring people from different nations together and that’s very important for me. We know a great deal about western Europe and its history in details, whereas the Balkans and the eastern parts of Europe are still a bit obscured, un-researched and veiled in myths. So, every light we shed on our common history, is a step toward understanding our ancestors, and that’s worth the effort.

I hope you like this article, and if you ever have a chance – you should definitely visit Krakow! It’s magical!

Krakow in the 16th century

How to Decorate Your Medieval Clothing

This is one of the most common questions I get from friends and reenactors. My answer is always the same – It depends on the historical period, the evidence that you find about it, and the ways to reconstruct it.

These three things are essential for making an accurate reconstruction of any piece of historical clothing. When it comes to reconstructing anything from the Balkans during the middle ages, however, it gets really hard. That’s because of the lack of evidence of that period. We make our assumptions based on manuscrips, murals, written evidence of that time, and extant original archaeological findings. Once you’ve got a solid base of research on that garment, you need to find out what methods of decoration were used at that time and see if you can replicate them. This usually discourages people to decorate their medieval clothing. It sounds like a LOT of hard work, and it sometimes can be. However, there are some ways to make it easier, and here are some of my suggestions:

1. The most common way to decorate anything medieval, is by embroidering it.

Some simple embroidery stitches

It may sound horrible to a man to have to decorate his huge clothes on his own. However, there are some really easy stitches that you can use that can help you decorate a lot faster. Besides the looks of the garment, the authenticity is of utmost importance. You need to make sure that those stitches were used at that place and that time! For example, in my group there was  a serious argument of whether we could use X-stitches or not. X-stitches look good and are traditional for culture, but we had no evidence to support their existence during the middle ages because we had no artifacts to prove it. We had various embroidered capes and clothes and religious clothing preserved from that period but none of them had any X-stitches. So, overtime we reduced the use of that embroidery style and replaced it with accurate ones.

2. The second most popular way to decorate medieval clothing is with another piece of textile. If you’re making a tunic, you can make the main body of the garment of one fabric and use a different color, pattern, or material of fabric to sew around the sleeves, neck, and rim of the tunic. This of course depends on the reconstruction that you are making. Balkan medieval manuscripts and wall paintings suggest that this was one of the most popular ways to decorate your garment. We don’t have a lot of well-preserved finds, but we do have a lot of murals. So, if you want to be quick with your decorating, this is the way to go. And, as always, make sure it’s totally authentic!

Here are some examples of what the end result should look like:


3. Another way to decorate medieval clothing is with tablet-woven bands. Tablet weaving has been used since the early middle ages to create beautiful bands for clothing decorations, belts, and bag straps. There are various findings and depictions that show this to be one of the more popular decorating methods during the middle ages.  Here are some archaeological finds:

These are the methods you can use to decorate your own medieval clothing. The only thing that’s left to discuss are the buttons and brooches that can be used. That, however, depends highly on the location, period, and characteristics of the culture that you’re reenacting. For example, Bulgarian medieval clothes are known to have been decorated with gold and silver threads, pearls, applications, glass beads, semiprecious stones, and a various designs of buttons. To reconstruct a poor man’s clothing you can use textile buttons. They are made of a ball of wool or other filling that is covered with textiles. If you want to reconstruct someone that is higher in hierarchy, we suggest you use silver or copper sphere buttons. They are the most popular ones and come in various designs. Just make sure you choose the most authentic model for your reconstruction! Besides metal ones, buttons can also be made of glass or clay, although the latter is not as durable. Glass buttons have been found in several medieval funerals in Bulgaria.

 

Well, that’s all the advice I’ve got on decorating medieval clothing. If you don’t want to spend too much time on it, just ask a friend or a tailor for help. Just don’t forget to do your research and make sure it’s authentic before you start anything!

Enjoy 😉

 

 

 

 

 

Fantasy LARP Costume

Live-action-role-play is a popular hobby among the fans of fantasy movies and novels. It gives you the chance to LARP costume designdelve into a fantasy realm atmosphere where every player acts like a fantasy creature and does not break character. The settings and stories of such events vary greatly, but most commonly they follow the pattern of a classical adventure – a problem occurs, a solution is sought, the problem is dealt with, and the heroes get rewarded, unless they die in the process.

In any case, I am a great fan of LARP, and recently a friend of mine commissioned a nice tunic for his LARP costume. He sent me a drawing of what he wanted, and this is what I managed to come up with. The outfit has padding on the waist and shoulders for a breastplate. Also, the sleeves are detachable from the torso for further comfort.

 

larp costume larp costume larp costume larp costume

 

Enjoy 🙂

The Most Popular Medieval Shoes

Recently I made another pair of medieval shoes. Although they are made as a part of a Bulgarian outfit reconstruction, they are not strictly Bulgarian. In fact, this is one of the most popular shoe models throughout Europe during the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. It’s pretty simple and comfortable. It covers the front of the foot, encompasses the heel and fastens around the ankle, which makes it very comfortable and hard to slip.

As you can see, this pair of medieval shoes fits pretty tight. That was a requirement for those shoes, because the owner’s previous medieval shoes were too loose and slippery, which makes walking on wet grass a lot harder and more dangerous.

In any case, there are many depictions of such shoes in western Europe. They can even be seen in murals and wall-paintings from the Balkans.

(Serbia 14th century) To see the whole gallery, click the image.

A German gentleman from Frankfurt am Main -1370

The actual shoes are made of 2mm thick upper layer, and 2 soles made of 5-6mm thick calf leather. So, they are a bit sturdier than regular medieval turnshoes, which makes them suitable for various weather conditions and terrains.

I’m proud of the end results. This type of upper leather is very easy to work with, and I’m not surprised that they turned out great.

The original 🙂

Enjoy! 🙂

 

 

London Side-Laced Medieval Boots

This is a pair of western European medieval boots from the 14th century found during excavations in London. Making these shoes was a joint effort. I made the design, then Sergei from “Chigot” sew them. I did the finishing work of flipping them inside out, and adding the external sole. They are made with double soles for extra comfort and durability. This means that they are not ordinary turn shoes but rather a later type called clump-sole shoes. You can check out the Gallery here 🙂

14th century depiction of a pair of side-laced medieval boots

I’m pretty proud of the results. They look pretty close to the original London side-laced medieval boots. Sergei did a nice job on them and it wasn’t easy because of the nature of the project. The owner – Vladimir of Chigot, wanted a pair of sturdy combat boots, so he insisted on using tough leather and reinforcements on the weak spots. That’s why the heel is made of 2,5 – 3mm thick calf leather and the rest of the upper is 2-2,5mm also calf leather. The actual leather is very durable and stiff, so sewing it under the skin was nearly impossible. That is the reason why they have these coarse “X” stitches. It’s not a matter of decoration or anything. It’s just that the leather can’t be sewn with hidden underlayer stitches.

In any case, they turned out pretty comfortable and good-looking. Here is a picture of the proud owner and his new medieval boots:

Proud owner bashing palisades 😀

Enjoy 😉

My First Medieval Furniture Pieces

As a tailor and shoemaker, I can’t deal with wood. So, I asked a friend for a barter – a small table with a bench, for a favor of his choosing. In the end, I had a brand new medieval table and a cute little bench. In return, I promised to make him a sturdy arming doublet for his 15th century hussite costume. You will see it soon enough! 😉

Meanwhile, I sealed the wooden medieval furniture against water damage, and even got to use them at a couple of camps. Here are some pictures:


These pieces of medieval furniture are made by Yasen Nenkov, from “Chigot”, so, if you need a reliable carpenter or tent-maker that won’t rip you off with the money, then I recommend you contact him. You can reach the craftsmen of “Chigot” here.

Enjoy 😉

A Pair of Beautifully Carved Medieval Shoes

Welcome back!
Today I will present to you a pair of very beautiful 14th century carved shoes. The shoe model is based on extant originals and the decorations are based on depictions and originals. They are carved in a grid of squares of about 1 cm, with several wider lines carved across the front of the shoe. As you can see from the pictures, they turned out great, and I’m happy with my work. This type of leather is excellent for carving. Also, it’s very flexible and thick, so the shoe’s integrity is not compromised in any way. The carving is pretty simple, all you need is the right tools and the time to prepare the leather. I did half the work on this pair in Grunwald, Poland, that’s why the pictures took so long to share. Anyway, enjoy! ^_^

Best regards
Vasil the leather carver 😛

A Pair of Fantasy Boots

Last week, I made a pair of sturdy fantasy boots for Live-Action-Role-Play. The owner wanted them to be as sturdy and durable as possible, so this is what I did:

  • I used 2 layers of thick leather for the soles. Each sole is about 5-6 mm thick, so every shoe has a 12 mm sole.
  • They were supposed to be nailed with hobnails, but it turned out too expensive and time-consuming, so we left that out for later. Keep in mind that medieval shoes rarely have hobnails, so that’s not an accurate reconstruction; however, the design is based on medieval shoes.
  • For the upper pieces, I used thick cow leather about 2mm, and for the heel – 3mm. Sadly, this type of leather is very hard to sew with hidden stitches, so I had to use visible X-stitches. I don’t like that much, but It’s not up to me. It depends on the leather quality.
  • The shoes are sewn inside-out, and turned after that. The second sole is then added, and the upper pieces are sewn to the shoe.
  • Lastly, I added the strings. They are designed so that the boots can be worn closed neatly around the calf, which is great for cold and wet weather conditions. They can also be worn with open tongues so that the foot can breathe when it’s hot.

The design is based on a pair of medieval shoes. Sadly, the stitches are not very common for medieval shoes. Regardless of that, however, the fantasy boots turned out very good, and I’m extremely proud of my work. Enjoy:

Bitwa pod Grunwaldem

Hello again,
we just got back from Grunwald, Poland, a couple of days ago, and it was amazing! The festival lasted for several days and was perfectly

The medieval dudes from the Balkans

The medieval dudes from the Balkans

organized. The participants were divided into camps based on their origins and reconstructions. So, there were several camps all of which had their own guards and fences. The camp site was full of entertainment too. There were tournaments and games all the time. The medieval market was supreme and full of interesting things to see and buy. Also, the people were amazing.

We sent only two people from Varna, Bulgaria, but picked up our Serbian friends on the way -“The Golden Keg” company. So, we had a small company of medieval Balkan people.

I can’t really begin to explain and describe what the experience was because it was overwhelming, but lets say it like this – you get a nice camp and enough straw to live comfortably for days; you get to cook your own medieval food or get it from the camp’s tavern; you can participate in every event if you have the necessary inventory; also you can go out shopping. Lastly, you can get drunk and party with so many people that you can’t even remember where you have been and where you haven’t.Grunwald medieval festival

“Grunwald is more of a family event. People come here to meet their friends. I can just go around and talk to my friends and never have enough time for all of them.” 

This is what one of the participants told me about the festival. I did not believe it at first, but after several days I met some great people and had a lot of fun. Visiting Grunwald was amazing for me. I made a lot of friends and had a great time. I also managed to make some nice photos and videos of some of the fights. So, enjoy!


Best regards!
Vasil Vasilev – “fireshow guy” 😛

Reconstructing the Bird Shoe from Haarlem

There are several very beautiful medieval shoes found in Haarlem which is a neighborhood in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This pair is dated 1300-1350 and has some very nice and unique decorations. I’ve wanted to do a reconstruction of that find for a long time now. So far, I have seen only one reconstruction of the bird shoe, so I have the pleasure of presenting to you possibly the world’s second reconstruction of the bird shoe from Haarlem. Here is the original:

 

As you can see, these medieval shoes have an amazing design which I tried to replicate. Here is what I managed to do:

The reconstruction is not done at full scale due to the characteristics of the material that I had to use. However, I am very pleased with the results, and I think the owner will be happy with his new medieval shoes.

Best regards!
Vasil