Festival of Sword Dances

The Tourist Board of Korčula founded the Festival in 1997 with the aim to recognize the rich heritage of sword dancing on the island, to present the dancing in its original ambience in villages and in the town, to create a pleasant atmosphere during the Festival for both people of Korčula and their guests, to bring together the societies from the whole island of Korčula, from other parts of Croatia and from other areas of the world to develop friendly relationships and mutual cooperation, and to support further advancement of sword dance societies with a favourable financial situation. Therefore the Festival was established in the town and on the island, to further cultivate the tradition of sword dancing that has existed here for more than 400 years. Almost every town and village on the island has its own dance society. The town of Korčula has two societies which "strike" Moreška, while a Kumpanjija exists in Blato, Pupnat, Čara and

Smokvica, and the Moštra in Žrnovo.

The texts on the following page speak to the phenomenon of Moreska in the town and of Kumpanjia societies on the island who are keeping their traditions. Information is also drawn from foundational research works about these groups, published by Dr. Ivan Ivančan "Folk Customs of the Korčula Kumpanjija" and Dr. Vinko Foretic; "The Historical Survey of the Korčula Moreška".


"Moreška", the name of the sword battle dance in the town of Korcula, is a term that likely derives from the Italian word "moresca". This name and type of a mock fighting dance connected with the Moors was widespread in much of Europe. The origin is believed to be Spain and is reminiscent of the expulsion of the Moors from that country. The dance was performed in several areas of the Mediterranean and depicted the battle between Christians and non-Christians, the Spanish against the Moors, or the battle of the Osmanli against the Moors, as is depicted in the Korčula Moreška.

Until the Second World War Moreška was performed (it was "struck") once a year on July 29, the day of St. Theodore, the protector of Korčula. It was then a special event prepared over many weeks and the performance itself lasted for two hours. After the Second World War the dancing with its dramatic roles was shortened to thirty minutes due to the frequency of performances.

In the past, Moreška was accompanied only by a drum ("tamburin"). At the beginning of the twentieth century band music was added. Currently the preferred musical accompaniment is a full brass band with music especially composed for Moreška by Krsto Odak in 1937.  Today's Moreška from Korčula is definitely one of the most attractive sword dances you can see in Europe. It is performed at least once a week in Korčula due to the great interest from tourists.

The war dance is connected with a short drama. The play begins with the scene in which the son of the Arab King Otmanović, Moro abducts the white king Osman's fiancee Bula. In a short dialogue Bula rejects Moro's love, and then the white king with his army comes to the scene in order to liberate his fiancee. Both armies are ready for combat and Moro and the white king decide to fight for the Bula.

The war dance consists of an introductory part - "sfida" and seven figures ("kolaps"). Moro, performing the "sfida" challenges the white king Osman waving his swords. Osman accepts the challenge, and other soldiers gradually engage themselves in the battle. After each sword-clashing figure there is a pause in the battle while the dancers ("moreškanti") walk in a circular formation. The Bula tries to reconcile the two kings, but a more fierce battle follows. Finally, the war dance ends with a figure in which black soldiers fall exhausted in front of the white ones. Moro recognizes his defeat and gives to the white king both his arms and Osman's fiancee. The battle symbolises a universal message for victory of good over evil, and for the victory of eternal love.


Island's of Korčula sword dance societies

The island of Korčula happens to have preserved a number of traditions, especially connected with the performance of a chain-dance with swords. Kumpanjija means both the dancing and the society of men in a complex of customs and ritual. Each sword dance society in the villages of the island has in its title the name "Kumpanjija".

The men's society is not only a heritage evolving from a European medieval tradition but also from ceremonies of the Dinaric Mountain areas on the mainland, along with sword fighting skills seen in Korcula town's Moreška. Kumpanjija, as a society of men, also protected their village from pirate attacks thus certain military elements are preserved in their organization. Therefore the Kumpanjija on the island of Korčula is much richer in its sword figures than most European sword chain-dances.

One can best experience the custom of Kumpanjija in its original ambience. It consists of the sword dance, electing the king, the ceremony of animal (ox) sacrifice, and also customs connected with winter carnival ceremonies, such as a dance ball following the Kumpanjija sword dancing. The women who participated in the ball were mostly the relatives of the sword dancers ("kompanjoli"). In Blato this couple dance is called "Blatski tanac", in Pupnat and Žrnovo "Stari bal", and in Čara and Smokvica, "tanac".

The contemporary way of life and other social and cultural influences contribute to the changing roles of Kumpanjija and Moreska. Their performances are more frequent due to tourism, and the ceremonies of animal sacrifices have been abandoned and reduced to symbolism. However, there is an overall tendency among the "kompanjoli" to want to preserve their traditions that emphasise their island's identity and inherited values.


With great enthusiasm by the town's youthful dancers the Moreška dance was revived after the liberation of Korcula in 1944, toward the end of World War II. All activity related to Moreška was unified into a K.U.D. (Cultural Artistic Society) Moreška at the Worker's Home. The progress of Moreška as a dance performance along with other activities of this KUD were influenced by the fast development of tourism to the island, thus arising the need for frequent performances and tours. Moreška is presented at least 50 times during the year in Korčula, other places in Croatia and abroad, so that the KUD Moreška continues to develop and grow in numbers.
Its most festive appearance is on the Day of the Town of Korčula and its Feast of the protector of the town, St. Theodore. Its most festive appearance is, on the Day of the Town of Korčula and its Feast of the protector of the town, St. Theodore
The KUD contains a Moreška dance group, a music band and a folk dance group.


Kumpanjija Blato"KUMPANJIJA" Society - Blato was founded in 1927 with a focus of preserving and cultivating the "ples od boja" [the battle dance] and the rich heritage of Blato. Within its program for tourists, the Society performs its Kumpanjija, "Blatski tanac" - a couple dance from the 17th century, a set of carnival dances, the pastoral dance "kotiljun" and the dance for "four", the "kvadrilja".

Over several centuries Kumpanjija was an organized village army which helped defend Kor_ula and Blato. At the beginning of the 19th century, by the inclusion of the island of Kor_ula within the Austrian Empire, Kumpanjija lost its military-defensive function and became a preserved tradition. The annual appearance of the V.U. "Kumpanjija" is on April 28, the day of St. Vincenca, the celestial patroness of Blato, and the annual feast day for the community of Blato.


Kumpanjija had a rich tradition in Smokvica, performing during carnival festivities and on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption (August 14) on the church square. These customs were renewed in 1954. In 1978 with the organization of K.U.D. [Cultural Artistic Society] "Ante Ćefera" an independent Kumpanjija society continues to be active to the present time.

In the past the length of Kumpanjija dancing lasted about three hours, while today, in its celebratory full form with all 18 figures the dancing lasts for one and a half hours.


Kumpanjija PupnatAlthough Kumpanjija from Pupnat is one of the oldest on the island, it was performed with some breaks in time. Before the Second World War it was last organized in 1939, and after the war in 1949, and in 1996 it was revived again with great enthusiasm.

Kumpanjija was performed during carnival events and during the religious holiday of Our Lady of Rosary (the first Sunday in October). After the 1996 revival the Kumpanjija event was moved to August 5, for the Feast of Our Lady of the Snow, the patroness of the village.


Kumpanjija CaraThe oldest written documents, from the end of the 19th century, emphasise the need to preserve Kumpanjija as a permanent value for all later generations. According to the tradition from the 19th century, Kumpanjija was performed five or six times a year - Candlemas on February 2, several times during carnival days, St. Peter's Day on June 29, and for the day of St. Jacob on July 25, the protector of Čara.

In the 20th century, Kumpanjija was infrequently performed, but after the Second World War, the Kumpanjija was revived in 1953, and continues to the present.

Croatian musical society "SV. CECILIJA" Korčula

HGD "SV. CECILIJA" from Korčula founded in 1883, followed the tradition of Croatian singing societies on the Dalmatian coast in the nineteenth century. This society was revived in 1991, and together with the Korčula Moreška it cultivates Dalmatian harmony-singing and traditional dances from the island of Korčula. Its most festive appearance is on July 29, on the Day of the Town of Korčula and its Feast of the protector of the town, St. Theodore. In addition the Society performs at least 60 times during the year in Korčula, for various occasions in Croatia, and abroad.

MOŠTRA Žrnovo - Postrana

The oldest written document on "kumpanjija" is the Statute dated 1620 which bears the title "The Law of Kumpanjija in the Village of Žrnovo". Kumpanjija was performed during carnival days along with customs of singing carols, depicting the defence from an enemy, a chain sword dance, sacrificing an ox, and the "stari bal" couple dancing, followed by a collective village feast. The title "moštra" was accepted from an Italian term which means a military review.
Moštra was performed before the Second World War in 1937, and then revived in 1966 with an entire set of customs that included the sacrifice of an ox.

In recent years, the Moštra, is performed in an abbreviated version with chain sword dance figures, clashing sword figures, followed by an "old ball" with couple dancing. The dances are performed on the feast of St. Rocco, the protector of Postrana, one of Žrnovo's suburbs.



It took place from August 3 to 23 with the participation of the societies from the island of Korčula. That was the beginning and the test of the idea, choreography and possibilities.


All societies from the island, Volktanzgruppe Frommern, Balingenm Germany, The Society of the Crossbow Men from Rab, Malta (cancelled)


All societies from the island Volktanzgruppe Frommern, Balingenm Germany,   The Society of the Crossbow Men from Rab, BETI- JAI- ALAI Basurto, Bilbao, Spain, Galicia,  Bal do Sabre, Bagnasco, Italy