Last year we wrote about a similarly themed fair which took place at Pontremoli, just over the Bratello Pass. This year, we experimented – not for the first time – another Medieval fair which was just as exciting, but a little further away. The Lunigiana area is full of castles and little hamlets which seem to have frozen in time, and the ancient fortified village of Borgo del Filetto is no exception. This magical place, hidden within the embrace of stone walls, was an important defensive structure in the VI and VII centuries, when the Byzantine army was employed in a bitter struggle to defend the Lunigiana from hoards of Longobard invaders. In order to protect north Tyrrhenian ports – in particular Luni – from barbaric invasions, a defensive line across the Apennines was organised, and Filetto played an essential part in this imposing barrier.
Two monumental entrances – one at the top and one at the bottom – give access to the hamlet, which is designed around a quadrilateral. Upon entering and walking down the vaulted alley which leads to the main square, it is difficult not to imagine how it must have been in the past, and if you happen to chance on Filetto whilst the medieval fair is in full blast, you don’t have to imagine anything at all, because it’s all there in front of you. Every year, in the first half of August, Filetto travels back in time, a full immersion in the medieval era. It’s a show/market of culture and craftsmanship, of the antique trades and of typical Lunigiana gastronomic products, amidst people dressed in the costume of the time. Little reconstructed medieval workshops display and sell articles in wood, iron, stone, ceramic and leather. They also carry out demonstrations of basket making and weaving, as well as embroidery. Many local specialities can be sampled along the alleys, and stalls exhibiting colourful and beautifully smelling herbs and spices fill the night air with amazing aromas.
Just for these nights, many garages and cellars are transformed into make-shift inns, which serve spelt soup, testaroli (a typical and antique product of the Lunigiana area; a sort of large pancake made of spelt flour, water and salt, cooked on terracotta or cast-iron “testi”), savoury vegetable cakes and italian cold cuts. Sitting on benches and sharing space with other people is part of the jovial atmosphere, if not completely comfortable, but for those who do not want to give up comfort, it is also possible to eat in one of the few restaurants in the village. After dinner you can stroll to another cellar where they are offering scalding spiced coffee, or taste a locally made, unusual liqueur.
But the real show begins when the falconer lets loose his majestic birds of prey, in bizarre flights amongst uneasy spectators; when the snake charmer allows you to have your photo taken with his serpent around your neck (yes, we tried that too!); when unlikely looking musicians play medieval rock with unprobable and unrecognizable instruments; when the entertainers have everyone oohing and aahing at tightrope exhibitions, and ladder-stilts in combination with huge steel knives, or when, in a hidden courtyard, an expert swordsman is explaining how to overthrow thy enemy with a clever thrust of thy blade…..each evening the attractions vary, so you could easily visit the fair for all three nights in a row and never be bored!
And after all the excitement, a walk around the dimly lit alleys to find that special little thing – a pair of handmade earrings, a leather-bound agenda, chestnut bread or artisan soap – is almost like a treasure hunt. You then walk out of the vaulted exit and suddenly find yourself in another time and space…..and wonder whether you just dreamt it all.
But no – it happens every year, and you should make sure you will be part of the next one!