Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 2: The Site and Festival

On Saturday morning, we loaded into a silver Lada for our journey to the village of Urich on the site of the national park encompassing Tustan. Myron's archaeologist friend Zenik insisted on taking us to the site, and we were happy to have a ride. The trip took us down pothole-filled country roads to the south of L'viv, through the town of Striy, and on to Urich. After about 90 minutes of travel, we approached the town.

Urich is a picturesque village of about 500 residents in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains that runs along a river; quaint country houses dot the landscape in a linear fashion. We drove through some wet, muddy roads that were not too challenging due to the recent sun, to the local museum. We were seeking the director of the festival who is a close friend of Myron's. He was at the festival site, where we headed after resolving some accommodation issues. At left, you can see Lea and Carter making their way up a muddy path to the festival.

While Tustan's existence has been well known for centuries, due in part to folklore connecting it to Ukraine's Robin Hood, the full extent of the site was not well understood until the latter part of the twentieth century. Myron told us much of this history as he escorted us to the top of the natural stone formations that constituted the fortification's skeleton. As we ascended along treacherous, angular, slippery paths, Myron pointed out pagan sun mandalas hewn into the stone, grooves that had been carved into the rock to secure the wood fortifications, and the spots where customs and guard posts once stood. The festival director's father - an archaeologist who made significant discoveries at the site - found five distinct phases of the fort. The first evidence of fortification can be traced back to the 9th century. At its peak, it had a garrison of about 100 soldiers. The site was important as it was on a salt route that existed before Alpine salt deposits replaced it as a key source. Apparently the fort was not destroyed, just abandoned when it was no longer needed.

When we first learned of the Tustan festival, we expected it to resemble an American Renaissance Festival. However, we did not encounter Ukrainian versions of overzealous drama club members liberally sprinkling their speech with "wench" and "huzzah" under the cover of questionable cockney accents. While there were characters in costume: we passed the king and queen on horseback, watched battle re-enactments, and enjoyed a musician playing a traditional Ukrainian bandura, the festival did not fully embrace the culture of medieval Ukraine.

The festival site was compact, with a couple of games (i.e., climb to the top of a May pole), an
area of stone carving, a stage, a campsite, a small wooden guardpost, and a trebuchet. Vendors offered food and souvenirs, but only one was in costume selling items related to the theme (he was a metalworker selling swords and other items for reenactors). We settled in for some entertainment as a trio of women started to sing haunting melodies (this opening act seems to be a requirement at cultural festivals - see our earlier post). They were followed by a hodge podge of acts: Celtic dancers, an odd musical performance by unfunny jesters, and a rap-rock band. In between performances, we snacked on shish-kebab, potato pancakes, and other traditional Ukrainian foods.

Demonstrations of battle rounded out the day's entertainment. The young Ukrainian combatants were quite serious about their craft, with full-metal armor and metal weapons. They engaged in one-on-one combat (on the right) and in a massive battle (see the top photo). As it got dark, the trebuchet was called into action. We headed off to our accommodations, wet, tired, and ready to rest. Our wonderful hosts, however, were ready to show their incredible hospitality.

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