Celebrated on September 8 to 10, the Fiera del Santuario in the township of Vicoforte is so named for the rambling that takes place in the streets and piazzas, attracting almost a thousand peddlers to sell their wares.
The fair initially began as a way for merchants to sell their goods in difficult political situations, to ensure the survival of their livelihoods. There are even records going back to a variation of the fair being held in 1234. However, as with many Italian festivals and traditions, the fiera is also a religious celebration, in this case of the Nativity of Mary, commemorated on September 8. The Fiera del Santuario is somewhat unique in that it has become more well known for the celebrations that take place after its religious ceremony, due to their spontaneity which borders on chaos. Yet for visitors in the region, the festival as a whole is still highly anticipated, with the devotional aspect and the trade fair both being drawcards.
The official beginning of the festival is in the early hours of the morning of the 8th, when the Bishop of Mondovì, a nearby township, makes a procession to the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, a huge church boasting the largest elliptical dome in the world. While the Sanctuary is the heart of the fair that takes place the following day, stalls and shows can be found throughout the streets.
The fair’s reputation for spontaneity harks back to the way merchants have historically set up their stalls in a kind of “first in, best dressed” fashion, to make the most of the roving crowds. And so, walking from one street to another, you may encounter travelling street performers, food stalls, an exhibition of agricultural machinery used in the local area, or a couple of goats, rabbits and the odd horse.
Indeed, the fair is so full of energy that, in the pages of local history books, the “common people” have been said to look forward to it to compensate for a whole year of laziness. Understandably, the Fiera del Santuario is often extended by a few days to allow for the celebrations to settle. The festival’s continued popularity in this modern age speaks to the vitality of tradition in Italy; some goods are just better exchanged in medieval streets filled with noise and neighbours.