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St. George's Fair. Proud to be the oldest in Italy!

A disruptive force drags us back to the Middle Ages

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Where is


Via Spinazzola, 70024 Gravina in Puglia BA, Italia (379m s.l.m.)


Today we take for granted what a fair is. Some more, some less, but we are all accustomed to this term for a large temporary trade show that is repeated annually or more. For some it is a must-see opportunity to showcase their business and products, for others it is an exploration in search of big deals, and for still others it is a kind of merry-go-round, a spectacle of shapes, sounds and colors to be enjoyed carefree. But have you ever wondered how old the custom of fairgrounds is? Or how it was carried out in the past? If the answer is yes and you are curious to unearth an answer, you will find plenty to do in Gravina di Puglia.

01-consegna-chiaviThe handing over of the keys to kick off the event

A leap into the Middle Ages

Right in Gravina in the second half of April each year, an ancient spectacle is staged. It all begins with the establishment of the fair. This first, fundamental step takes place with the reading of the Royal Decree, the handing over of the keys of the city to Duke Montfort, and the entrusting of the realization of the fair to the Chief Fairmaster. This is an important event, finally a large and rich market can be kicked off. The excitement is so great that a procession is formed with nearly a thousand participants: lords and ladies, courtiers, soldiers and knights, bands, musicians and jesters. They walk festively through the streets of Gravina, which already come alive with the first stalls. Does it seem to you that there is something wrong? Indeed you are right. In this day and age, we certainly do not rely on royal decrees, nor do we wear clothes in medieval fashions. What is unfolding before our eyes is a re-enactment, an ingenious and engaging stratagem to invite people to visit the fair, informing them from the outset that it is an event with very ancient origins, going all the way back to the Middle Ages! It was King Charles II of Anjou who instituted it, and it is also in his honor that historical reenactments, processions, events, festivals take place... the whole city for five days relives the Middle Ages and thousands of visitors come from all over to participate.

02-realiThe king and queen join the procession

The ancient origins

The famous Royal Decree that opens the re-enactment bears the date of February 1294, and the signature of Charles II of Anjou. This document assured Gravina the ancient privilege of being able to hold an export and import fair once a year. An annual event that was to be held on the prairie surrounding the church of St. George. Trading was to begin five days before the feast of St. George, April 23. The ancient fair was distinguished into outdoor and indoor. The former was held outside the city walls, near St. George's church, for the buying and selling of both locally produced and imported livestock. Horses, mules, mares, plow oxen, cows, sheep, buffaloes and goats, etc., were traded. The second was held inside the city with wide display of different kinds. Cereals, wines, oils, cheeses, textiles of all kinds, embroidery, silverware, etc. Foreign merchants, flowing in from all parts of the kingdom, brought all the most varied goods, sure to find in Gravina a certain base for the outlet, bringing back those specialties that our square offered. Gravina became in this circumstance a true emporium, and its fair was so rich and extensive that it could compete with that of Sinigallia. Dance parties were organized for occasions, and gambling halls and small theaters were set up. And so houses, squares and streets were populated with a festive crowd.

03-in-fattoriaInside the pavilion dedicated to farm animals

The fair today

Today, the event retains some of its characteristic features, such as its date and type: it is what is currently called a sample fair, where a wide variety of goods are mixed together: clothes, furniture, tools of various kinds, agricultural machinery and farm and companion animals... One of the greatest innovations, however, concerns the venues involved: no longer two, inside and outside the walls, but a single, modern fairground with pavilions, outdoor spaces and all the necessary services for exhibitors and visitors. However, not even the most technological of innovations can take away the title it is proud to boast: welcome to Italy's oldest fair.

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The San Giorgio Fair, has been held since as far back as 1294; today it is held at the San Giorgio Fairgrounds in Gravina in Puglia and with over 35,000 square meters and 7 modern pavilions gives space to the oldest trade fair in Italy.