Moorish dances – the Moreška

This famous sword-dancing tradition has been around for almost 400 years. 

Written by Piers Letcher


For around 400 years the people of Korčula,Croatia by Piers Letcherhave been dressing up and performing the Moreška, a famous sword dance which continues a tradition once common across the whole of Europe. Few of the dances retain anything remotely Moorish about them (least of all Britain’s morris dancers), but the name has stuck fast. Korčula is special, however, in still using real swords in what is effectively a war dance.

(Photo: Narrow street in Korčula, © Piers Letcher)

Originally an annual festival, the Moreška is now performed around twice a week (in a much condensed version – 40 minutes instead of the original 2½ hours) in Korčula town in summer, and makes for a spectacular evening show.

The plot’s pretty simple – bad king runs off with good king’s squeeze; good king’s soldiers fight bad king’s soldiers; squeeze is saved from bad king’s embraces – but none the less enjoyable for all that. Mind the flying, broken swords in the front row …

In other villages on Korčula they perform a similar dance, the Kumpanija (the main difference being that it’s sabres rather than swords which are used), particularly in Blato, towards the western end of the island. These are hard to get to without your own transport.