24 czerwca 2018

The Malta 1798 - 1800 Campaign

fot. Mark Zammit Cordina / Times of Malta
The biggest reenactment ever in Malta and one of the longest in Europe!
The whole week of life in 19th century, more than a half thousand reenactors, five battles in various locations, the ball in presidental palace - everything set on mediterranean island on the most southern edge of Europe.

What does Napoleon do in Malta?
Conquers it!
Especially, if it is 1798, general Bonaparte is on his way to Egypt and the fleet needs supply. The island in the middle of Mediterranean Sea seems to be a perfect place to stay... Surprisingly, Malta denies. Bonaparte goes on war with them and conquers the island. For Maltese one era has closed already while french occupation period started...

The longest reenactment

Never before have I been on such a long event! The whole week of life in 19th century, wearing period clothing and uniforms; the whole week of historic coiffures and corset squeezing. For soldiers - a week of marching day after day, carrying a rifle, other equipment and fighting in many different conditons.
This was the perfect moment to check, how it really was 220 years ago! A weekend is easy to survive. The whole week - that is the challenge!

For a civillian, marching (despite light, early 19th century sandals) was not a problem, as I am very used to march kilometers everyday in my modern life. The worse was carrying the whole necessary equipment for a whole day - as airlines do not accept huge baskets and haversack is not comfortable with a gown. Back then there were wagons following the army and inside them all the things were kept. Eventually, my haversack was carried by one of the soldiers - and it was not heavy as I reduced my stuff -80% after the first day.

If we speak of the clothing, it may seem strange but over a dozen hours every single day in full corset laced tight and paired with maltese heat and marching was not a problem at all! I didn`t even feel 'corseted-like' during an event! Devotion to a late 1790s fashion allowed me to go immoral and leave my petticoat at home so I did not feel hot. The white, cotton lawn dress protected against the sun.
But it was coiffure what provided everyday dose of pain. Curling hair everyday destroyed them a little and pinning curls up, with hairpieces and hat pinned to the updo made everything heavy and painful. If I lived 220 years ago, I would keep my hair blowzy (like I do in 21st cent, he he), that`s all!

5 great battles

Everyday life here was exactly the same as two hundred years ago: the night spent in St. Angelo Fort by the sea, then intensive march through the island to a place where the battle was set. As in 19th century we were made as well to stand a long time and wait and the same problems with supply happened. We were marching through the fields of prickly pears and bamboo. While marching, I picked olive and fig leaves, ate sprouts of huge fennels, admired blooming capers. We were moving through rocky hills, beaches of stone and sand...

Every battle was different than the other. During the first one, Floriana Forest, brave Maltese Militia fought French offensive - and lost. The emotions of mess and chaos when the troobs went through the wall were so true! I hid myself in the woods and waited for the French to pass. I joined my friends later, riding with a cannon, I accidentally met on my way.

The second battle, Mistra Battery, was absolutely the best battle I have ever seen! Just imagine:
The bay of dark blue sea, waves hittting rocks, the stony island with a church, gentle hills with sharp rocks, wild plants and patches of fragnant thyme. Like a heath, but southern version; romantic scenery for romantic actions. Maltese defend battery, the French are nearby. No one really knows what is going to happen. Everything seems to be a planned surprise. When artillery appeared, the battle chaos began. It was like in a film: the smoke, the shooting noises, running civillians, comanders shouting commands. Red patches of Maltese were soon moving out, up the hills, retreating - and revolutionary banners chasing them: with the sound of drums, pipes, La Marseillaise words. I climbed up the hill to follow the troobs. The view from there was breathtaking, smell of the thyme, sea breeze and gunpowder smoke enchanted me. It was one of the best views, I have ever seen and one of the best reenacting moments by far - when the impression of travelling in time got incredibly real!

The battles in towns.
French went further to invade the island, Maltese retreated. It was a moment, I joined my friends in French troobs. The march was long, through bamboo and prickle pears plantations, from town to town. Everytime we met retreating militia, the skirmish started. One long battle made from three skirmishes. Sandstone buildings shivered while artillery shot.

Ramla Bay - the battle by the sea
The battle set on a beach, in tropical scenery, on a golden sand. Azure blue sea and soldiers in woolen uniforms hiding from sun in the shade of tamarisk. They are waiting for a sign. General Berthier sticks out his arm and points in the sea direction - it`s the only limit. Encounter of two opposite lines lasts an hour. The sound of the sea makes a background while artillery brings their guns. The wheels flounder in the sand. When it ends, I will follow them and take a handful of sand - the black sand that was left after cleaning the cannon - and I will keep it in used cartridge paper, as a memory of Malta Campaign.

fot. Renaud Blanloeil
The presidental San Anton palace ball

The same as 220 years ago, war was not only battles and camp but also fashionable life that followed higher ranks. For an officer`s ball I put on my best dress and best parure. We were brought to a beautiful scenery of private garden of president of Malta - a very exotic one, with a fountain murmuring and tropical birds shouting in the background. The little flowers, like confetti were falling gently from acacia tree. It was the moment, I got to know most of the officers in command of the campaign. Interesting conversation was disturbed only by palace stuff serving maltese food and sweets.
The palace interior was impressive with all portraits of local lords, antique sculptures and furnishing. String quartet was waiting already with live music to acompany the dance. It was a great pleasure to dance all evening! The dance level was satisfying for me, and what is most important all men behaved really like 19th century gentlemen, asking for a dance but no more than two, suggesting a glass of champane between the dance and conversating... It was absolutely the best ball I have ever been to! I felt really brought back in time and the only thing I regret is that there are not many photos and no recordings so I can`t show you how amazing it was!

fot. Renaud Blanloeil

fot. Renaud Blanloeil

Unforgettable moments

The moments of total travel in time feeling were countless! And it was what really matters in reenacting and what made this event one of the very best I have been to; one of memories I will keep forever in my mind.
The Mistra Battery battle and marching through incredibly beautiful scenery of the bay.

Dance with young artillery soldier and running between sparkly fireplaces. One of the sparkles made a hole in my hem.

San Anton Palace ball.

When a regiment commander said to the soldiers to stop in march and ordered the guide to kiss miss Marta`s hand in the name of the regiment.

The walk by the St. Angelo Fort wearing 19th century bathing suit - the time I spent on a smooth stones, searching for shells in blue, transparent water and running away from waves.

When after death march one of the soldiers gave me flower he picked for me on the way.

A walk by the sea with one of the chasseurs. I was holding hem of my dress and my 19th century sandals and walked barefoot along the shore, with a soldier by my side. Salty, blue waves reached both dress and uniform.

When I was standing on a very sharp rock, high above Mistra Bay waters, the wind was playing in my dress as I was looking down, into a deep sea, blue and wild...

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