Out of 365 days of the year, 12 are very, very special in Santa Maria da Feira, the small town in Northern Portugal. Those days that the town and the region live for are happening right now, centered around the most prominent local monument – the well-preserved castle dominating the urban landscape. The medieval journey of Santa Maria da Feira, the 19th so far, has turned into the largest event of its kind in the entire Iberia. Every year, the event has a particular historical context (this year it was the rule of King Afonso III, the 13th century period).
For me, however, the visit to this fair was more of a contemporary than a medieval journey, giving an excellent insight into how Portuguese are – their mentality, values and the current state of mind. And also giving some mixed feelings!
There are some educational and museum initiatives present, created with a lot of sensibility, engaging people in learning about the medieval treasures in their surroundings. One of them was a workshop aiming at recreating well-known limestone sculptures in cork, an emblematic Portuguese material. However, such activities were almost completely shaded by numerous and diverse entertainments. It seems that crisis has been bringing out the most diverse entrepreneurship ideas that have little to do with the genuine spirit of the Middle Ages: artisans and food sellers have been inventing all kinds of “historical” products and the sea of visitors has been enjoying them. Even if simplified and at times banal, more resembling a fairytale than historical recreation, I tend to understand the phenomenon of a medieval fair as an opportunity to escape the reality that, for many, is quite harsh in Portugal. It is also a way to enjoy wonderful Portuguese summer, open air “convivio” (gathering) and eating out, because, despite the ever present economic constraints, this warm and open nation rather saves elsewhere.
It was lovely to see children being interested in bows, arrows and wooden toys and being immersed in playing together outdoors, far from computers and gadgets. That brought back some memories of my own happy and carefree childhood years.
On the other hand, more an more city children have no opportunity to see and touch a real animal: the little “zoo” with domestic animals like horses, donkeys, sheep and chicken was thus almost as exotic as the wild bird area, where falcons and owls proudly stood, captured but still with that sparkle of wild and unpredictable in their eyes.