Moreška, a Traditional Sword Dance Still Performed on Korčula

By 1 June 2017

One of the most obvious associations with the island of Korčula, right up there with Marco Polo, is the Moreška dance. If you are sailing the Adriatic Coast, this is one thing you will want to add to your itinerary.

The Moreška is a sword dance-drama, originally performed in Spain, from where it was spread throughout the Mediterranean. The first recorded Moreška (or Morisca, as Spaniards would call it) was performed in 1150 in Spain and numerous variations of the dance with the swords spread through Europe until the late 14th century rapidly. In early 17th century, the Moreška dance arrived at Korčula, supposedly through strong bonds between Dubrovnik and Spain. The fact that works by Marin Držić and Đivo Palmotić mention Moreška proves that Dubrovnik was acquainted with it, even before it came to Korčula in the 17th century. What sets the Moreška in Korčula apart from all the other sword-dances in the Mediterranean is the fact that on Korčula it is still performed today, while elsewhere it has become just a distant memory. It has become an important symbol of Korčulan identity, as only Korčula-born young men can take part in the performances, and it’s a matter of family pride for each young man to become a “moreškant” (a word used to describe the performer in Moreška) – and even more so for a young lady who is able to secure a role of the sole female character, Princess Bula for herself!

The dramatic plot is quite brief and consists of a dispute over the girl between the two groups of dancers, actually soldiers, who are fighting for the Princess Bula. Each of the groups is led by a king, and armies are dressed in red and black (although they are described as “white army” and “black army”). The dance consists of seven figures, it is extremely athletic and choreographed to perfection - I knew what it was about and have heard stories of the performance, and yet, the first time I watched Moreška for myself,  I was still shocked by how hard the swords are struck, how physical and intense the figures are, and the level of skill required to perform without major injuries at such frequency during the summer evenings. In the final scene love and good conquer evil, and the white soldiers manage to win back their king’s fiancée and true love. Of course, the whole plot is symbolic, and actually remembers the victory of Christians versus Moors in Spain during Middle Ages.

In the past, Moreška didn’t have a musical background; rather it was accompanied only by a drum. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the band music was added and currently it is performed with background music especially composed by Krsto Odak in 1937. These days there are two companies performing Moreška in Korčula, Moreška Company ( and Sveta Cecilija Company ( Their performances are almost exactly the same athletic and artistic level, performed at the same location in Korčula Summer Stage at 9 pm, the tickets can be bought at the same locations, the prices are the same. So, the question isn’t which company you will be seeing, but rather to make sure you catch at least one performance if you are on the island of Korčula. Moreška is performed on Thursdays in June and September, and Monday performance is added during peak season, in July and August, as Tonči Baždarić, a member of Sveta Cecilija Company explained (he also added that dedicated performances for the tourists visiting Korčula from the cruise ships are added if needed on other days).

The most festive performances of Moreška are held on Saint Theodor’s day, the patron-saint of Korčula, on July 27th, and on that day two performances are held as part of the celebration: one on the Monument near the Korčula Western Pier, and one in the Summer Stage.

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