Audentes Students Get a Taste of “the Knight Life”
Estonia is famous for its medieval sites, not only Tallinn’s Old Town but also the remains of Crusader castles and fortresses. On 7 September 2016, Audentes IB students marked the beginning of the school year with a field trip to Rakvere Castle. This is one of the most historic castles in the Baltic, now serving as an educational and recreational centre. It offers a colourful and immersive experience into Estonia’s knightly history.
Rakvere Castle sits on a hill overlooking the city of Rakvere in northern Estonia, 100 kilometres drive east from Tallinn. It’s an exceptionally well-preserved and outstanding example of the Crusader castles that at one time dotted the Estonian countryside. The castle site was originally Wesenberg, a stronghold of the Danish king. When Denmark sold its possessions in northern Estonia to the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1346, those German knights transformed Wesenberg into an Ordensburg, or typical Teutonic Order fortress.
Today, the Estonian black, blue, and white tricolour flies from its highest tower. Close to the castle, also overlooking the city, is a giant bronze sculpture of an aurochs (a type of large wild cattle that once roamed across Europe). Seven meters long and four meters high long and elegantly tapered horns, its profile etched a memorable image against the blue, late summer sky.
Audentes means “those who dare.” Our students got to live up to their name shortly after they entered the castle grounds. A guide, dressed as a Livonian Order squire, gave them instruction in knightly education. Instead of puzzling over physics equations or literary texts, they got to handle real lances, ramming their weapons against jousting training equipment. They also learned how to fire a medieval bow and arrow, firing their volleys at straw-stuffed targets against a high castle wall. Immediately afterward, the squire fired an old Swedish cannon, of the kind one would have seen in the Great Northern War. The stone courtyard reverberated with the thunderous sounds of the cannon. Afterward, one could hear the cackling of the courtyard’s white geese, equally militant.
Their knightly education, however, wasn’t confined to physical combat. They also sampled a Harry Potter-like lesson. The squire led them into the castle’s alchemy classroom. With his arcane instruments, he showed them the medieval way of preparing gunpowder, which they ignited outside. Afterward, they were given a tour of the heart of the castle interior. They saw the chapel and got to practice some Latin, then assembled in the council chamber. There, the lords and knights of the castle deliberated on plans of war and peace. Our students got to examine authentic swords from different times, not only European ones but also a scimitar and a Japanese katana. The group tour concluded with a visit to the castle torture chamber, now done up as a kind of haunted house amusement. They saw genuine torture instruments and artificial ghosts, and escaped through a mockup of a medieval hell.
Having finished the official tour, our students were free to roam the castle walls and grounds, playing chess on a giant chessboard or eating lunch at the Castle’s Schenkenberg’s Pub. At the end of the day, they hiked from the Castle to the giant aurochs, taking their pictures with the bronze beast. We hope that as they proceed with their studies, the memory of valorous knights will give them some strength and inspiration.
Jason Cronbach Van Boom
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