UNESCO-listed carnival procession draws crowds at open-air museum

Photo: CTK

Hundreds of people came to see the carnival, or Shrovetide processions at the open-air museum at Veselý Kopec, near Hlinsko in eastern Bohemia, on Saturday. It was the first opportunity to see the centuries-old folk tradition after it was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage.

Photo: CTK
The Spotted Man and Wife, two masked figures leading the procession, ask the mayor for permission to walk from door to door to ensure a rich harvest in the coming year. The procession includes four Turks, who perform a traditional dance in front of each house in the village, as well as other figures called the Straw Man, the Mare, the Knacker, the Jew and the Chimney Sweep. These engage with the onlookers, and collect the fee for their visit.

This tradition is common in many places in the Czech Republic and other central and Eastern European countries. But nowhere else has it been preserved in such a compact fashion that has not changed though the centuries. That is the main reason why last November, these processions and masks were included in the UNESCO list of intangible world heritage. Ilona Vojancová is the head of the open-air museum at Veselý Kopec.

“In the Czech Republic, you won’t find another area with such sets of masks. The figures of the traditional Shrovetide processions here in the Hlinsko area are really unique. In other countries in Europe, in Germany or other countries in Western Europe, these processions are more carnival-like, and they often took place in cities.

Photo: CTK
“They tend not to emphasize the agricultural aspects; they lack the magical functions that were to ensure prosperity, fertility and good crops.”

The intact tradition has survived in several communities around the east Bohemian town of Hlinsko. On Saturday, a group of young men from one of them, a community called Vortová, performed the procession at Veselý Kopec, an open-air museum that features a set of historic timbered houses that were transferred here from several sits in the area ever since the museum first opened in 1972.

Among the crowds of visitors were Pavel Myška with his wife who came from the nearby town of Hlinsko.

“We came to see some of our friends who take part in the processions. It’s really great, and the environment is wonderful, too. It’s snowing today but otherwise, it’s just great.”

Photo: CTK
Bořek Krejčíř with his family arrived from the city of Jihlava.

“We very much liked the masks, and our kids liked them too. They were scared a little, but thought it was great. We wanted our children to see the old customs. We live in a city, so they normally don’t have a chance to see this.”

By the time the procession had reached the last houses in the village, most visitors had their faces blackened by the masquerades. Their job is to interact with the onlookers to a degree when they roll with them on the ground. Ilona Vojancová explains the meaning of the ritual.

“The Turks do their dance in front of each house, and they have to jump high so that flax and wheat grow well. The other figures then engage the onlookers. When they have passed each house in the village, the procession ends with the killing of the Mare which symbolizes the meaning of the whole procession. In this way, the people ended the evil winter.

Photo: CTK
“The figure is then resurrected by getting a sip of ‘water of life’. The mare jumps to its feet and that’s the beginning of spring and of the new farming year.”

The period of Shrovetide ends 40 days before Easter, on Shrove Tuesday, which is when most of these processions are held. This year that falls on March 8, so if you’re in the country, you still have a chance to go and see this ancient folk tradition for yourselves.