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Tsar’s Hunt

Since ancient times, hunting with a bird of prey was not so much a way of getting hunting trophies as art and entertainment at the same time. It has not lost its value even to this day. Today, enthusiasts in Kazakhstan, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, England, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, and many other countries hunt in the world with a bird of prey.

Since ancient times, hunting with a bird of prey was not so much a way of getting hunting trophies as art and entertainment at the same time. It has not lost its value even to this day. Today, enthusiasts in Kazakhstan, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, England, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, and many other countries hunt in the world with a bird of prey.

It is difficult today to name at least one place in Russia where hunting with a bird of prey still remains professional and traditional. Perhaps only the Kazakh Berkutshi today are still true to ancient traditions.

Hunting with a bird of prey
The sacredness of the action, when the trapping bird, as if by a wave from above, acts in the interests of the trapper, is fascinating. That is why the hunt itself has always been erected not just to the pursuit of the game, but as if to demonstrate the favor of Heaven to the will of the hunter himself. From the result of such a hunt, God’s benevolence was taken to all the activities of the hunter himself – whether he can succeed in plotting his chosen prey or not.

Falconry in Russia is not only a bright page in the history of Russia, but also a symbol of national tradition, marked by royal decrees and even the patronage of an Orthodox saint. The Russian people, being hunters of their original origin, not only loved hunting, elevating its symbolism into the sphere of spirituality, but also associated their whole life with it from time immemorial, including the main passions of the royal court, about which ancient legends, chronicles, songs and legends In Russia, the falcon yards were kept by the princes Oleg and Igor. Judging by the bylinas, there was a falconry under Prince Vladimir – the Baptist of Russia, who did not eradicate it, considering it a pagan relic. So, in one epic about Illya Muromets it is said: “Ilya Muromets drove up to the Safat River, and he saw the bogatyr in the open field … let go of the clear falcon from his hand …”

Despite the fact that falconry existed in ancient times, the period of its unprecedented dawn came during the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov. By order of the king, over two hundred birds of prey were brought to the capital every year — falcons, hawks, gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, coccyxes and Saker Falcons. Round the clock with birds in the palace villages – Pokrovsky, Kolomensky, Sokolniki, there were more than a hundred falconers. And to see the mysterious birds in the crest was not possible to anyone from outsiders. The connecting thread of hunting birds and royal power can be traced even in heraldry. The eagle, as a symbol of royal power, appeared in the time of Ivan the Terrible, far from accident, but as a symbol of a long-established ancient tradition, inherited from Byzantium.

Sokolnichy was not just a confidant of the king, but also a constant companion, and often an adviser, so it was not easy to enter this service. Admission to the service was done on oath, in which not only people but also birds were present – they were the main guests of the ceremony. The procedure was opened with “Bird dressing” – symbolic donning of nouvets, klobuchkov and bells. At this solemn moment, they did not forget that there was no real falconer without a horse – for this, a haystack covered with a blanket was placed in the hut, where the sovereign was waiting. Around the hay – four chairs for the four best birds. The whole ritual was performed with deep meaning, the glove worker was handed a glove, and only after that he took the falcon on his hand.

The procedure was so solemn and full of mysterious meaning that it was repeatedly captured in their paintings not only by famous Russian artists, such as Leskov, Sverchkov, but also by foreign painters who came specially to the court for this. Moreover, there are even paintings that depict Western masters themselves, who write from life as falconers, sitting in the royal chambers with Alexei Mikhailovich, looking favorably at those and others.

falconry, holy triphon The king hunted down almost every day, and even more often: “after the early dish” or “before and after the table dish”. Slowly, accompanied by hundreds of ministers – warriors, hunters, grooms, the king came to the place of hunting, where tents and everything necessary for his fun were ready. At the king’s signal, from the loud noises of the hunting horns, the birds flew up into the sky, after which, one after another, the birds of prey fell from the hands of the falconers and struck their prey. After the hunt, the most distant falcon was presented to the king, so that he would admire a good bird.

I must say that in the time of Alexei Mikhailovich hunting became not only a favorite fun, but also acquired political significance – it was much more pleasant to establish contacts with neighboring countries during the hunt.

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