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Join the Ride of Kings this Spring

Published on May 07th, 2015 in Entertainment

  • Ride of the Kings in Skoronice (photo courtesy of www.skoronice.cz)

  • The King and his aid in Skoronice (photo courtesy of www.skoronice.cz)

  • Ride of the Kings in Skoronice (photo courtesy of www.skoronice.cz)

  • Ride of the Kings - Vlčnov, c. 1960's (photo courtesy of www.radioulambatar.blog.cz)

  • Performers in Vlčnov, c. 1960's (photo courtesy of www.radioulambatar.blog.cz)

  • Performers in Kyjov, c.1927 (photo courtesy of www.islovacko.cz)

  • The Kings ride in the town of Staré Město, c.1964 (photo courtesy of www.staremesto.uh.cz)

 

If there’s one thing I love about living in the Czech Republic it’s the wonderfully bizarre ancient customs that are still alive and well in this part of the Old World. Nowhere are these traditions celebrated with as much gusto as in Southeastern Moravia (Slovácko in Czech), a region that borders Slovakia and Austria and is known for its particular passion for folk-costumed revelry.

 

Spring brings to the villages of Slovácko a time-honored celebration known as the The Ride of Kings (Jízda králů). Which sounds perfectly regal but is in fact a technicolor jubilee of the cross-dressing variety complete with heckling! Think of it as the medieval version of Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade.

 

This campy, wine-fueled celebration takes place in four neighboring Moravian villages during the last weekend in May. Its main attraction—aside from feasting and drinking—is a Sunday morning processional featuring young men on horseback, some of them chanting, some of them wielding swords, all of them “protecting” a ceremonial king, a young man whose face is hidden by embroidered ribbons. Did I mention that he carries a rose in his mouth?

 

But the wackiness doesn’t end there—the king and his entourage dress in the elaborate women’s folk dress that is typical of the region and stop to harass spectators who are expected to slip money into their riding boots!

 

Like so many other Czech holidays, the Ride of Kings is said to have its roots in both Pagan myth and Christian tradition, but is primarily considered to be a re-enactment of the 1469 retreat of a Hungarian king who fled the country via the village of Vlčnov after having been defeated in the Battle of Bilovec by his own father-in-law, the Bohemian King Jíři of Poděbrady.

 

 

 

Post Card of the celebrations in Vlčnov (photo courtesy of www.kskvlcnov.cz)

 

 

It should come as no surprise that the Ride of Kings festivities are especially lively in Vlčnov, where it has been celebrated without interruption for more than 200 years. The village even made the Guinness Book of World Records on March 21, 1999, when 182 people showed up for the occasion in 81 different variations of the Vlčnov folk costume, the oldest of which dated from 1846.

 

Another fun fact: The Ride of Kings is also considered a symbolic rite of passage for young unmarried men, though I have read that the lads chosen to play the king are typically 10-12 years old!

 

All joking aside, the people of Vlčnov (and the towns of Hluk, Kunovice, and Skoronice where similar processions take place) have every right to take great pride in this historic occasion, the roles for which are passed down through the generations. Even the traditional finery for both the men and horses is painstakingly sewn by local women in the representative patterns of their village.

 

The Ride of Kings is so unique that is has been listed, like Czech Mardi Gras in the village of Hlinecko, on the UNESCO cultural heritage register.

 

If you happen to be visiting the Czech Republic during May 29–31 and are feeling adventurous, plan a visit to Moravian wine country and take a day trip to Vlčnov to catch the weekend-long festivities which include a traditional craft fair and folk ensemble performances. The nearest large city is Uherské Hradiště, which is about a 3 ½ hour train trip from Prague, followed by a shorter bus ride to Vlčnov.

 

Don't forget to take plenty of pocket change!
 

 

 

 

 

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