carpathian basin

trying to pick three countries/cultures to teach to my world music class this week

i’ve narrowed their suggestions down to five choices:

  • America (focusing on Appalachia)
  • Ireland
  • Eastern Europe (focusing on the Carpathian Mountain basin)
  • Australia
  • Mongolia

I can’t choose. suggestions welcome

note: I just lived in Ireland for two years studying music, and I did a lot of research on Eastern European music. Didgeridoos and throat singing are cool.

Merovingian Silver and Carnelian Cicada Brooch, 5th Century AD

Cicada brooches are typical of the Hunnic styles (example) that spread across Europe as the Huns themselves moved and settled during the Migration period. They were particularly popular with peoples of eastern Germanic descent, being found predominantly in female graves. Fly shaped brooches were made in the Roman period in the second century AD, and it is likely cicada brooches are derived from Roman forms. During the Hunnic period the brooches are concentrated on the northern shores of the Black Sea, the Carpathian Basin and the Danube region from the fifth to the sixth centuries AD. The life cycle of the cicada and their apparently magical ability to regenerate themselves after long periods of hibernation was perhaps symbolic of the rebirth and regeneration of the soul.

I have a thing for Eurasian men’s fashion – Georgian traditional costumes tho – but I mostly like styles that are rich is dark colours, different textures and are practical, compact and comfortable at the same time, so I’d go for Italian Renaissance, Eastern European early modernity, as well as the clothing of the early rule of Louis XIV  and the early decades of the 19th century. Also, the female fashion of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin: pants and kaftans with belts, braided hair and comfy leather boots! I really like this concept of dressing flamboyantly, simply and practically at the same time.


Hungarian pilgrims attend a mass during the traditional Roman Catholic Pentecostal festival in Sumuleu, or Csiksomlyo in Hungarian, near Mihaileni, Romania, Saturday, June 3, 2017.

The Pentecostal pilgrimage to Csiksomlyo dating back to 1567 attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year as the largest religious festivals of the Hungarians living in the Carpathian Basin. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP)


Fabulous potteries of Hungary

Folk pottery, in form, colour and ornamentation, is one of the richest branches of Hungarian ornamental folk art. Its creators at all periods were professional masters who supplied a large area with their products, taking their ware on carts from market to market. Usually, they bargained not for money, but bartered, exchanging a selected vessel for grain with which it was filled once or twice, depending on the size and ornamentation of the vessel.

At the time of the Conquest, the Magyars knew and used a number of unadorned clay vessels. Thus clay cauldrons, among others, appeared in the Carpathian Basin at the same time as did the Magyars, but shreds of a good many unadorned cups and pots have also been found by archaeologists. At the same time we know of vessels that may have come to the Hungarians from peoples living under Byzantine cultural influence. Excavations prove that in the 13th and 14th centuries Hungarian ceramics went through a great change in form and ornamentation, and began to adjust to Western forms. This became especially noticeable when, in the 15th century, lead glaze appeared. At first only green, brown and yellow spots and stripes, but gradually more and more definite ornaments and motifs emerged, which became general in peasant ceramics in the 17th and especially in the 18th centuries.

The technique of potters’ work is divided into three clearly defined phases. The potter mined the clay himself, then cleaned it, mixed it according to need, stamped it with his bare feet, sliced it, and refined it. He prepared the well-worked clay with several days’ work, and made it into lumps of various sizes. The main element of the second phase of the work was the shaping that took place on the potter’s wheel. The master treads on the larger, lower wheel of the potter’s wheel with one bare foot, while he slaps clay sufficient for the size of a vessel on the smaller upper wheel. He shapes it and pulls the clay to the desired form and size. The vessels are dried to a bone-dry state in a shady but warm place and this is followed by giving the basic colour and ornamentation. In the third phase comes the firing of the vessels. The first part of this is the so-called „zsengélés”, terracotta firing, when the designs get their colour. After this phase lead glaze is poured over the whole vessel, and the final firing follows. A great many different vessels are put into the kiln at one time. After firing the kiln is allowed to cool along with the pottery. Often the masters who worked with clay did not make the same type of vessels even within the same settlement. The name „fazekas” or „gölöncsér” (potter) designates those who make the most simple commodities: pots, pans, fish and duck roasters, flower pots, chicken waterers, etc. The „tálas” (platter maker) and the „korsós” (pitcher maker) masters were held in higher esteem. The former also made other ornamental vessels besides platters and plates, such as milk and jam jugs, mugs, candle holders, and money boxes, while upright vessels, ornamental water pitchers, wine and brandy jugs and flasks were turned out by the pitcher maker. The platter and pitcher makers could also do the work of the potter, but he, on the other hand, could not do theirs.

Hódmezővásárhely, in the Great Plain, has, during the last two centuries, always counted as the largest Hungarian pottery centre. The potters, platter and pitcher makers made here everything that could be formed of clay. Thus, alongside their multi-coloured, flowered plates, we find the so-called fritter platters with open-work, almost always coloured green. Their pitchers, with or without glaze, were famous far and wide. Here, and at nearby Mezőtúr, the most beautiful pocket-sized brandy flasks („butella”) were made. These are always engraved and incised with floral and bird designs on a green background. We generally find a little verse on the side, which contains the name of the owner, and sometimes even of the maker.

In the early days potters of Mezőtúr used to make black ceramics. These vessels, made of black clay, reflect more than three hundred years of traditional folk patterns and shapes. No two are precisely alike, since all work is done by hand, including both the shaping and the decorating. The imprints are made by the thumb or a finger of the ceramist who makes the piece. In the 19th century the use of coloured glazes became widespread, and the masters commenced fabricating green, yellow and brown potteries, ornamented by plan black lines, flowers and leaves. The period between 1870 and the turn of the 20th century was the heyday of Mezőtúr’s pottery. At that time there were nearly one hundred potteries in the town, which produced quality earthenwares, and delivered them to every city and village in the country. The shapes, colors and “writings” of these ceramic creations speak of history, traditions, joys and sorrows of the Hungarian. One of the most famous of these ceramics was the „korsó” , a distinctive type of pitcher, which was used for both holding and carrying water and of course wine.

Another important centre of Hungarian folk pottery may be found along the Middle-Tisza region. The point of origin of this type of pottery must have been Debrecen, one of the origins of anthropomorphic vessels. The that time guild of Debrecen has kept the list of masters from 1715 up to 1920. Debrecen was counted not just as an important centre, but as a market town as well. It enjoyed a certain independence during the Turkish occupation, and therefore all kinds of people came and went there, which made the assertion of many different influences possible on the art of pottery. The designs were incised, painted, and also carried out in relief on the yellowish-white basic colour. On the stomach of the pitcher in form of a man („Miska jug”) is often depicted, perhaps as a warning to immoderate consumers of wine.

Nearby Tiszafüred worked primarily for the Matyó people, who liked plenty of colour, and for the villages that lay at the foot of the. Although they made wine pitchers similar to those in Debrecen and Mezőcsát, their main ware consisted of platters and plates. They flowered the vessels in a most beautiful and diverse way, so that each composition appears to be new and singular. Reddish-brown and bright green is the most frequent on the light basic colour. We should mention among its special dishes the „komaszilke”, which consists of several stackable pots and lids, and in it the relatives and the „koma” (sponsor) women took dinner to the newly-delivered mother.

Among the pottery centres of Upper Hungary it is worth emphasizing the work of the masters in Gyöngyös and Pásztó. They worked with blue, green, and, less frequently, red decorations on a whitish base. We often find gay little birds among the flower motifs. The so-called „csali kancsó” (puzzle-jug) has an open-work neck, while from the bottom several narrow tubes lead to the thickened edge; it is one of the characteristic products of the Gyöngyös and Pásztó regions. Only those who knew its trick were able to drink wine out of it, because they knew from which tube to suck the wine. In a cheerful company many jokes were played with such a vessel.


- The head of the Hungarian tribes during the 9th and 10th centuries. He was considered the sacred ruler of the Hungarians and possible their military leader or gyula as well. Hungarians today consider him the found of their country because of his role in conquering the Carpathian Basin. His dynasty would rule Hungary until 1301. At the dawn of his conquest, The Byzantines provoked Arpad into invading the Bulgarian Empire which he successfully defeated them. Although later the Bulgarians hired the Penchangs to raid Hungarian territory, this forced Arpad to look for a safer homeland across the Carpathian Basin. Soon Arpad conquered Transylvania and soon after authorized himself to conquer the rest of the Carpathian Basin. Once he had died, his body was buried in the City of King Atilla.


The legendary Hungarian Hussars

Hussars are not only pride of Hungarian military history, but also its patent.

King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary established a mercenary army named the black army during his reign in the 15th century. Matthias introduced light cavalry into his army because he recognized the fact that the traditional armored cavalry of the time was unable to effectively fight the light cavalry of the Turks. The new order of light cavalry Matthias created was modeled on the Scythian cavalry of the Magyars (ancestral Hungarians). Their uniform was decorated with many Scythian symbols that date back thousands of years before the settlement of the Hungarian people in the Carpathian Basin. The new order of light cavalry came to be known as huszár, which translates to hussar in English. (Actually in the time of King Matthias, every 20 villages had to stand out and supply one
soldier to this new combat, 20 means in Hungarian “húsz”, this explains the name “Huszár”.

Rules regarding the conduct of hussars were strictly enforced. Each hussar regiment formulated a list of rules, most of which was universal among all hussar regiments. Hussars were not allowed to steal anything from people who did not take part in war. Rape was punished with beheading, other serious violations resulted in immediate discharge from service and minor disobedience was punished with reduction in pay.

Hussar regiments were established by well known nobles at the request of the king or emperor. Financing of the regiments came directly from the treasury and the noble in charge of the regiment became the owner. He was also responsible for appointing a colonel to head the regiment into battle, as well as to oversee training.

In the 17th century, the weaponry of the Hungarian hussars was changed from pikes and swords to sabers (curved swords) and carbines (sawed off muskets).In 1848-49. Hungarian hussars were the most common soldiers of the revolutionary army and thanks to their superb performance against Austrian infantry, Hungary was liberated by force. The most notable battle led and won by them was the siege of Buda Castle between 4th - 21st May 1849. The Austrians were defeated and forced to withdraw. Unfortunately, Russia sent an overwhelmingly large army to reinforce Austria. This resulted in the end of Hungarian revolution on August 13, 1849.

In Hungarian folklore there are numerous tales about Hussars’ braveness, loyality and gentlemenhood. Urban legends and tales honorate even their legendary pipe! Not talking about the victory’s they vanquised over ladys’ hearts.


Őrség – the land of the guards

A land of gentle hills, rivers and streams, pine forests and alder groves, peat bogs and marshlands, butterflies and dragonflies, and the beautiful meandering River Rába and Szala. There are pretty villages with traditional timber-framed, whitewashed peasant houses, thatched wooden belfries, fruit orchards…this is Őrség, an exeptional, unique harmony.

The Őrség has been continually inhabited since the Magyar Conquest, earning it the distinction of being Hungary’s oldest inhabited areas. Its 63% is covered with forest, three times of the Hungarian average. This unspoilt area, with its 18 little villages acts like a magnet, drawing city folk worn down by stress and smog. The special method of building, the crafts, and the customs all grew out of the dangerous circumstances in which the original settlers found themselves. The ancestors of the local population settled in the Őrség after the conquest of the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarian tribes in 896. Their task was to protect the border and those crossing it. They made space for their homes by clearing the forests, and since the valleys were slippery and difficult to navigate, they built on small rises. In this way, a unique form of settlement came about, known as the “szer” (pronounced “ser”), where one family lived on each hilltop. A family could consist of around 20-25 people and all these mouths needed to be fed in the harsh winters, when snow cut off the villages from the outside world. Many of those living in the Őrség became self-sufficient, since for the most part they had to rely on their own devices. From the excellent clay in the area they made terracotta utensils, and from wood they carved tools, furniture, and wove baskets. The workshop, or carving room, can be seen next to most houses.

Szalafő is one of the oldest historical settlements of the region. This small village has best preserved the old, medieval structure of a settlement. It is built on seven hills, on one of which (Pityerszer), an open-air ethnographical collection can be seen. There are early nineteenth-century thatched residential houses, with their living room-kitchensmall room arrangement, workshops, wood chopping blocks, old tools, a small pond for watering animals, and a two-storey “warehouse” unique in Hungary, with a living space on the ground floor and, above that, an open space for storing produce. The buildings usually formed a U-shaped courtyard, closed on the fourth side by a fence the height of a man. This created a small stronghold.

Potters are still active in the Őrség to this day. In the yards of the craftsmen of the villages (Velemér, Gödörháza, Magyarszombatfa) pots, saucepans, baking dishes, jugs and mugs glow as they are fired in the furnaces. And in the other villages woodcarvers, basket weavers and broom binders continue to ply their trade. At the houses, you can buy honey and dried mushrooms, or home-pressed pumpkin seed oil, or the host’s „pálinka” and wine can be tasted..