I’m excited to know that when I’m back in Umbria in June, I’ll again be able to catch a few days of Bevagna’s fascinating Mercato delle Gaite, a remarkably rich, cultural event that essentially transports the walled town, its inhabitants and visitors, all back to the Middle Ages.
Last year, I caught only one evening of the event and found it fascinating.
The title of this elaborate festival refers to Bevagna's division, during medieval times, into four gaites or neighbourhoods. Each year, there is an elaborate competition between the four to create, each within its own area, an authentic reproduction of life in the medieval period.
For the Mercato, Bevagna's windy medieval streets are lit by flickering torches (very atmospheric!); buildings are turned into the types of workshops that were essential in any community at that time -- candle-makers, weavers, fabric dyers, potters, bakers, goldsmiths (not so many of those) and, of course, taverns with plank tables and benches.
Night after night, townspeople in period costume actually re-create the work of these artisans. For example, last year I watched as women produced silk threads. One could follow the entire process, from the carefully watching over slabs of dirt where the silkworms burrowed and worked, fed by local mulberry bushes; through to the spinning of great lengths of silk thread from a single pod. Slightly creepy, but fascinating.
Local residents seem to get into character very quickly, and intensely fight for the honour of their gaite. Even cooking becomes a competition, as the four gaites present banquets with dishes that must be authentic to the region and to the period of about 1250 to 1350.
With just one night to visit last June, I missed so much. I saw a few spectacles -- a fire-eating juggler in the Piazza Silvestri, with (mysteriously) rubber pigs instead of rubber chickens -- but I didn't get to spend much time in each of the four gaite.
I hope to make up for that this year.