Medieval Europe, alive
The medieval period, or Middle Ages, is considered both a barbaric yet romantic historical time in world history during the 5th through 15th centuries. New languages emerged. New kingdoms were formed. And a knightly code of conduct would grow to influence romantic prose in literature for centuries to come. The mystery, gallantry and showmanship of those thousand years continue to intrigue and seduce us today.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and its empirical rule over much of Europe, smaller matriarchal kingdoms of new civilizations emerged; fierce battles were waged in the pursuit of land. Separated by geography, new dialects took shape from ancient Latin, Norse and Saxon and would become versions of what we know today as English, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. And, as these new kingdoms grew their armies, horse soldiers, or knights, would adopt a code of conduct, the Chivalric Code, that would not only influence today’s military and civil service codes of conduct, but would also help cement the Middle Ages as a period in history known for noble gallantry, chivalry, honor and courtly love.
Why not experience for yourself what life might have been like in the Middle Ages at one of Europe’s large medieval markets, fairs and festivals? Don a costume and become a lady-in-waiting, noble knight or pesky peasant, and blend into the scenery at the lively event. Or, simply go as an onlooker as local participants re-enact medieval battles, knightly jousting, scenes from everyday life in the villages, and more. Sample traditional foods and drink, take part in demonstrations, and be transported to Europe’s historical past.
You won’t have to travel far to find a good festival. With its fair share of storybook castles and medieval ruins, Germany offers many grand events to choose from.
Here are a few popular ones to consider:
- Kaltenberg Medieval Tournament, Kaltenberg Castle – This annual event attracts more than 120,000 visitors and was originally created by Prince Lutipold of Bavaria. It includes a seven-stage tournament, parade and market with traditional handicrafts and foods. Don’t miss Jester’s Night, or Gauklernacht; where medieval musicians, acrobats, dancers and other entertainers impress guests through colorful performances.
- Drachenstich at Furth im Wald – Considered “the oldest traditional folk spectacle” in Germany, this performance in dragon slaying has endured more than 500 years. While the dragon is animatronic, the fire-breathing and fear-inciting is indeed real.
- Angelbachtal Mittelalterliches Spektakulum – Several participants will dress in authentic attire from the 10-12th centuries, creating the medieval mood, while jousting tournaments take place both days. Potters, wood carvers, soap boilers, tanners and smiths all share their artistry.
- Historisches Burgenfest Manderscheid – A long rivalry is marked by a grand battle for nobility and honor at this annual event. Defending knights from both Niederburg and Oberburg castles show mighty and elaborate jousting skills utilizing lances, bows and swords. Guests can enjoy mingling among the sights and sounds of fire-eaters, jugglers, minstrals and minnesingers, while feasting on handfuls of delicious meats roasted over open flames. Younger guests can partake in jousting and enjoy a puppet show in the castle’s cellar. Visit the artisan marketplace for hand-forged keepsakes from the blacksmith and other fine artists. Then, stay for the wondrous fireworks display above the ramparts.
- Imperial City Festival in Rothenburg ob der Tauber – More than a thousand active participants of nobility, knights, archers, riflemen and peasants all play a part in helping bring this medieval town to life. You will feel as if you were transported through time as you find yourself immersed in scenes of “everyday” life in the Middle Ages, such as a fiery medieval public trial, cattle market and other hustling and bustling. Stick around for the torchlight procession and fireworks over Tauber Valley marked by bone-rattling cannon fire.
Take a trip across the border for more phenomenal medieval fests, feats and feasts at some of Europe’s best-preserved castles and citadels.
- Les Médiévales Européennes at Citadelle de Bitche – This isn’t just another medieval festival; this is quite the spectacle of horsemanship, dancing, rivalry, romance and all things medieval. But don’t take my word for it. Search the event on Youtube to watch a beautifully edited, dramatic three-minute event trailer that will have you planning your trip. Once there, be sure to also visit all of Bitche’s grounds, including inside the fortress and museums; a thorough and interactive audio-visual presentation truly takes you to the heart of the citadel’s history. Also, the Citadel hosts a show of exciting horsemanship and chivalry that showcases the skills of medieval knights.
- Festival Médiéval de Sedan – Less than three hours from Kaiserslautern is Sedan Castle; its medieval festival, in its 19th year, hosts a variety of activities including demonstrations of falconry and old professions of lacemaking, wood gilding, illumination, bookbinding and metal forging. Be entertained by musicians, street performers, theater acts and archery demonstrations. Witness real medieval weddings, take castle tours by torchlight and be part of the historic parade. Of course, there are sword duels, wrestling matches and many, many offerings of food and drink.
- The Battle at Agincourt, Pas-de-Calais – Make way for the re-enactment of one of the most important battles in French and English history, the Battle at Azincourt (Agincourt) of the Hundred Years’ War. More than 300 participants from 11 different countries join to bring the battle to life. Take note that participants must be dressed in specific costumes that can only reflect the period from 1380 to 1415! Prior to the battle, guests can also observe camp living, such as preparations in a medieval kitchen, longbow and shooting contests, dancing, music, jousting and more.
Searching for the ultimate experience in exceptionally authentic medieval life? Then add this event to your bucket list: Europaeisk Middelalder Festival, Horsens. The town of Horsens transforms into the year 1350. Medieval performers from more than 10 countries provide entertainment such as dance, music and theater, while more than 5,000 participants in medieval dress create a living museum of working exhibitions, interactions and images of life as it was in the Middle Ages. The medieval fair offers various sundry goods and authentically made artisan items for sale, while food and drink stands offer only traditional foods found during the period. As their official website states, you “won’t find an honest cup of coffee or dollop of ketchup” as they truly want to create the most authentic, historic experience imaginable of medieval life in 1350.