Bevagna belongs to the Club
I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia
Games, competitions and historical rigour. This is the winning formula of the Gaite Market of Bevagna.
The Gaite Market was established in 1989 to enliven the life of the mediaeval village, taking inspiration from the Town Statute that governed the life of the village by dividing it into four neighbourhoods or gaite. Commonly known as Le Gaite, in few years it has become an indispensable event for the citizens, as well as for anyone who wants to fully enjoy this beautiful mediaeval town – one of the Borghi Più Belli d’Italia.
The creation of Le Gaite was an absolutely smart move that had an enthusiastic response from people. Le Gaite goes beyond the good organisation of an enthralling competition. In fact, for the entire duration of the event, Bevagna becomes an entirely new town and offers visitors the illusion of a journey back in time, to reach the years when it was just a mediaeval village, in 1250-1350, during the peaceful festive days of the fair. Thanks to the organisation of a competition (archery) and three specific reconstruction challenges (the historical representation of two mediaeval jobs in each district, the creation of a convivial environment where to taste the food of the time and the market day), Bevagna completely recreates in every district a world now lost but still incredibly fascinating. Year after year, expert advisers have offered their help to improve every single aspect, every detail of the event: from the clothes to the scenography, to the techniques, and at the same time have a historical reconstruction that is as close as possible to reality. This magical event is repeated every summer when, in the last ten days of June, voices of merchants and people can be heard in the streets and in shops illuminated by the dim light of candles, craftsmen intent on their work can be seen using techniques now obsolete and mostly forgotten, and the town squares become a stage for political discussions and typical scenes of the everyday life… of many centuries ago! Scientific consultant to the Gaite Market is Franco Franceschi, professor of mediaeval history at the University of Siena. A jury made up of renowned academics, who teach or have published essays on subjects related to the Middle Ages, assign a score to the historical and technical quality of the representations. Until the final announcement, the results of each competition are kept secret, enclosed in envelopes jealously guarded by the Carabinieri, to keep tension and expectations alive for the whole period.
But why is the event called the Gaite Market? The word gaita, derived from the Lombard word watha meaning guard, is found – as mentioned – in a Medieval Statute of which we have a 16th-century copy and which subdivided the mediaeval village into several districts called guaite or gaite. The four gaite that compete each year to win the competition are: San Giorgio, San Pietro, Santa Maria and San Giovanni. Each of them has demonstrated over the years several strengths and points of excellence: the gaita of San Giorgio can boast the Novus Ignis – a group of young people who have given new life to the music of the 13th and 14th centuries – a choir and a group of mediaeval dancers, and includes traditional craftsmen such as blacksmiths, minters and luthiers; the gaita of San Giovanni has won more competitions than any other gaita. Among the crafts that have made it famous are papermaking from rags and glass production starting from sand and river cobblestones; the gaita of San Pietro features a baker’s shop and an apothecary shop. It also offers the opportunity to observe how wax candles are made, discover the secrets of the Ars Tinctoria and watch fascinated as monks carefully illuminate manuscripts inside their scriptorium; finally, the gaita of Santa Maria is specialised in any kind of wool and hemp techniques, from spinning to weaving.
Born from the desire to enliven a village, the Gaite Market has also had the undisputed merit of finding the winning formula to rediscover and recreate traditional crafts and make them known to new generations with the enthusiasm of a competition and a game, so to preserve their memory.
Bibliography and websites
Caldarelli, Il mercato delle Gaite. Grandi storie di piccola gente o, forse, piccole storie di gente grande, Marsciano, La Rocca, 2011
More on Bevagna