-the world as I see it
Having just finished the first book in George Martin’s ‘A Game of Thrones’ series, my mind is slowly making its way out of the medieval world that it had been holed up in and bracing itself for the forthcoming plunge into the academic world. Come to think of it, the middle ages were not all that different from our current times. Substitute hooves clicking with engines roaring, swords clashing with guns clicking or bombs exploding, rulers scheming with politicians scamming and voila, the middle and modern ages seem to have the same essence. Even the distinction between the nobility-gentry-peasants is akin to the current divide between the rich-middle class-poor. Anyway, I can’t deny that the word ‘medieval’ has a certain irresistible charm to it and I sometimes tend to associate the words ‘mystical’ and ‘magical’ with the era.
When my friend invited me to join her at the medieval festival at Santa Maria da Feira, I happily jumped at the opportunity. Santa Maria da Feira is a small city in the district of Aveiro that is really hard to get to, unless you have a car. The city rose to fame when Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal decided to establish its strategically located castle as his base. Although a couple of other cities and towns in Portugal organize their own medieval fairs, the ‘Feira Medieval‘ at Santa Maria da Feira is the most authentic and is held on a much larger scale. This year, the festival was held between the 1st and 11th of August. The most amazing part of the whole affair is how they manage to transform a normal modern-day city into an enchanting little medieval village – well, not entirely, the big ‘super bock’ and other sponsor banners as well as the omnipresent smart phones and electronic gadgets, toned it down a notch or two.
After we had purchased our tickets (priced at 2 euros), we entered the area lined with stalls selling different items like traditional cork products, wooden handicrafts of African origin and sequined bedlahs to bring out the Moorish influence. But with the aroma of roast pork and freshly baked bread in the air, all I could think of was ‘foooood’. To cope with the effects of the scorching sun, we dashed off to one of the many sangria stalls and bought a whole stand of very medieval-looking, sangria-filled cups. When you buy your first round of sangria at the fair, you pay even for the cup. You could return the cup once you’re done and get your money back or you could just keep it as a souvenir, like I did. All the eating areas are colourfully decorated and have seating arrangements in the form of wooden benches and tables. Be warned, at the fair you will be faced with the dilemma of ‘what not to eat.’
Apart from sangria, you can also have some mead. If you’re a Robin Hood fan or a reader of Tolkien’s and George Martin’s books, you’ve surely heard of the drink. The Portuguese word for mead is ‘hidromel’ which translates to water honey, the two ingredients from which it is brewed.
The medieval festival is also a good time to try the pão com chouriço as they are baked in wooden ovens, which renders them even more tasty than they normally are. The pão com chouriço is basically made by wrapping slices of chouriço in dough and baking them whole.
Santa Maria da Feira is also famous for its celebration of the festival of Fogaçeiras in honour of St. Sebastian. The origin of it dates back to the days of the plague, when the town inhabitants prayed to St. Sebastian to intercede for them to rid them off their suffering. To express their gratitude, they made a special kind of sweet bread (fogaça) as on offering to him.
After a heavy and satisfying meal, I decided to work it off by heading up to the castle atop the hill. Like many of the other castles in Portugal, this one too is made of granite. The Baroque chapel (in white) at the side was a later addition. The castle holds a very special place in the pages of medieval history especially during the time of the reconquista because of the role it essayed in the defense of the country. You are allowed to enter the castle during the fair for a fee of 3 euros.
Apart from stalls selling snacks and knick-knacks , there are lot of fun things to do at the fair. You can try your hand at archery, horse-riding, rope walking and a whole bunch of other activities.
At 6 pm, there was a show in which one of the battles of the reconquista period was enacted.The reconquista period was marked by a lot of wars between the Moorish invaders and the Christian inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. Although I wasn’t able to follow every bit of the reenactment because it was in Portuguese, I got the gist of it.
After the show was over, we decided to leave. Crowds of people were streaming in, now that the sun was less intense. I really enjoyed my first experience at a medieval festival in Europe and I am looking forward to the one that will be held in Guimaraes in September. If you’re in Portugal next summer, try to catch the medieval festival at Santa Maria da Feira (http://www.viagemmedieval.com/).