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Historical Reenactment in Zaragoza: Interview with Bartolomiej Wielocha

Bartolomiej Wielocha (Warsaw, 30) is a construction engineer, but a few weeks ago he became the protector of the Polish army flag bearer, which fought on the French side of the battle of Zaragoza during the Peninsular War.

Napoleon had conquered Poland and, as he did with other conquered nations, he forced the military elite to join the French ranks on other fronts in Europe. Two centuries later, a group of historical re-enactors of the nineteenth century Polish army crossed Europe by bus for two days with Zaragoza as their destination. They stayed at the Sauce Hotel, located a few dozen meters from the Coso, where they were once overrun by the Zaragoza resistance.

Each morning, in front of the door of the hotel, the polish soldiers showed off their iron discipline: they aligned perfectly, they performed pushups on the cold asphalt and then they disappeared down the street parading, perfectly synchronized, with the cries of their commander. Baca, as his colleagues know him, tells us about his experience in Zaragoza.

“Zaragoza is my favorite reenactment. I came to the previous one and I´ll make sure I´ll come to the next one too”

Tell us about the Polish soldiers, and who they are in their normal lives.

We are around 40 in total; some of us belong to Polish military academies and were given the opportunity to participate in the event. But others are pure civilians interested in history, like me; I work as a technical manager in construction complexes in Warsaw.

How does a technical engineer end up becoming the protector of the flag bearer of the Polish army?

Before moving to Warsaw I worked in the military, and I also studied at a university where there was a student group dedicated to history. There were people who were already involved in historical reenactments and I liked the idea from the beginning. I have been participating in reenactments for six years already.

Who makes the early nineteenth century Polish army costumes?

Our mentor, Andrzej Ziólkovsky, the one who guided us in the battle against the Spanish in Zaragoza, works in the military and he´s also a historian. He provides us with the weapons and teaches us the maneuvers the same way they were performed then. Some bring their own clothes, but most of them are owned by the Polish army.

After six years participating in battles, what would you highlight from the Zaragoza Historical Reenactment?

It is clearly one of my favorites. I came two years ago and loved it. Here the action is different. In other places we just move forward and fall back, and then we repeat it over and over again. But here everything is more intense: we hide, we shift our positions, we display strategies, we move from one scenario to another … I think we all love it.

What is it like to play the role of an ally of the invading army in that same invaded city?

Well, historically the Poles were forced by the French into battle with the Spanish. In fact I don’t think the maños hold a grudge because when I came to Zaragoza for the first time, two years ago, people treated us wonderfully and were very welcoming. We were very well accepted and I´ll make sure I attend the next reenactments that are held here.

What is the most spectacular battle you have participated in?

As I told you, Zaragoza is one of my favorites because of the amount of action. But perhaps the most spectacular battle I have been a part of was in Borodino, Russia. The original battle, in 1812, involved 250,000 soldiers from both the Grande Armée of the French, and the army of Alexander I of Russia. The reenactment involved some 5,000 actors and an audience of around 200,000 people. I don´t think the public was able to recognize the scale of the battle.

Have you had the opportunity to visit the city and its monuments (other than assaulting and overtaking them?)

Yes, I took some walks around the city. As an engineer, I pay attention to the structures. And I think the buildings, the houses, the Citadel, the bridges, etc … are of great beauty.

Our night watchman at the hotel recorded on Saturday the arrival of several Polish soldiers, late at night, and surely not from a battle. Did you participate in the evening incursion? What do you think about Zaragoza nights?

Yeah, I joined for a while. I love the night in Zaragoza: it´s very intense and fun, and should not be missed. If I come to more battles in this city, I´m certain I´ll join more evening incursions.

What is the strangest thing that ever happened to you in a hotel?

Once I was in a hotel in Italy, changing my clothes for a reenactment, and suddenly, while still in my underwear, a group of chanting and dancing Spaniards broke into my room and started to embrace me and asked me to sing with them. I explained as best as I could that they had the wrong room, but eventually I joined the party and ended up with them in their room.

What nonsense object can always be found in your suitcase?

My vodka shot glass, even if I don’t have vodka with me. You never know.

 

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