A medieval tournament
by Muriel Feiner
Photos: M. Feiner
Would you like to discover how people lived in the Middle Ages? You could have had the opportunity to find at the last weekend of August in the charming town of Ribadavia in the province of Ourense. Just two hours by train from Madrid (or four hours, by car) will transport you back in time to the Spain of the Middle Ages, to the authentic, festive and entertaining atmosphere of the traditional “Festa da Istoria”.
But as it is too late to enjoy the Festa this year, we will give you the programming of the festival for 2024 as soon it is available so you can plan your trip well ahead of time and ensure that you do not miss the memorable fun of it. In an upcoming article, we will share a more detailed look at the history and the many charms and attractions of the city: historical monuments, beautiful landscape, with tall mountains, green fields, crystal clear rivers, delicious gastronomy, wine-cellars and bodegas producing the fine Ribeiro and Albariño wines, mineral water springs and spas, etc. that can be enjoyed all year long.
Meanwhile, read on and get a good look at what will be awaiting you. To begin with, the Galician town of Ribadavia is a colorful evocation of the past in and of in itself with its narrow, steep, cobble-stoned streets or ruas, castle, fortress, ramparts, towers, small churches and monasteries and sturdy, centuries-old manors. The whole town participates in the extensive program of events recreating medieval life and nothing is lacking: kings, queens, knights in shining armor, lavishly dressed damsels, acrobats, buffoons, jugglers, waving banners, marching bands and a group of bagpipers. Aside from the pageantry of this year’s opening day parade, also scheduled were tournaments, jousting matches, duels, fencing competitions, archery and falconry exhibitions, medieval music concerts, dancing and theatre, and a delightful Handicraft Market.
At the Festa de Istoria, everyone dresses up in period attire -men, women and children- complete with all the accoutrements and trimmings, like armor, swords, bows and arrows, wimples, flags, period musical instruments, assorted headgear… and they take great pride in the fact that the staging is very real and reflects the age-old customs inherited from their ancestors.
The townsfolk make it clear that they are not masquerading around in disguises but actually living out year after year their traditional and respective roles in the festivities. In fact, there are some events in which one is not allowed to enter if not suitably dressed. It is possible, however, to rent or buy simple costumes from the street stalls so that an out-of-towner can feel fully integrated in the celebrations.
In order to be true to the concept of this Historical Festival, monetary transactions are carried out in “maravedis”, mimicking the ancient coin of that name dating back to the 12th century. Do not fret if you only have Euros in your pocket because there are “money exchange kiosks” all over town that will convert Euros to Maravedis on the spot. This year’s exchange rate was 9 Maravedis for every 10 Euros (the surplus Euro is used to finance the planning and organization of the Festival) and when you become a part of this medieval adventure in Ribadavia you will see that no expense is spared to assure its authenticity, charm and entertainment.
Furthermore, everyone organizing and participating in the different events programmed for the week-end in 2023, as they will be next year, were volunteers who do their very best to ensure the success of the celebrations purely for a “love of the art” and their ancestral heritage.
The “Festival of History” is believed to date back to the year 1693, although it was abandoned for centuries due to wars and invasions, until the municipal corporation decided to recover the tradition in 1980 and it has become a highly popular event in the region and the country ever since.
Ribadavia’s Festa de Istoria relives the glorious past when Christians and Jews lived together in peace, harmony and prosperity and it is proud of its Jewish heritage. One of the highlights of the program is the mock celebration of a traditional Jewish wedding in the patio of the Oliveira Church.
Ribadavia aspires to attain highly deserved worldwide recognition for its elaborate and splendorous enactment of medieval life and be declared a “Festival of International Touristic Interest”. Indeed, it deserves it!
See you next year at the Festa!
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