text by Alicja Krawczun-Rygmaczewska
(Imagine) Summer, crowds filling the cobbled streets, shouts of vendors chaffering with the customers, smell of freshly made food coming from multiple stalls, parades, music and festive atmosphere. Sounds like a medieval market shown in the Hollywood movies, doesn’t it? However, to people from Gdańsk, it’s a common event they have celebrated every year, for over 750 years.
We’re talking about St. Dominic’s Fair here – one of the biggest trade and cultural open-air events in Europe, starts in early September and lasts the entire three weeks. Its history goes back to the year 1260 when Pope Alexander IV permitted Dominican monks to give people the pardons and organize church fairs. Since then the Fair have significantly grown and transformed into a trade event. Hundreds of ships would come to Gdańsk in September to sell desired goods from all over the world. The Fair has had its ups and downs, one time the Crusaders have raided the city, burning the stalls and killing people attending the fair, or the other time in 1938 when a crocodile escaped from its menagerie and dived into Motława river. St. Dominic’s Fair has been organized for centuries until the outbreak of the II World War. It has been reactivated in 1972 and happens every year to this day. Nowadays it hosts over 1000 stalls with antiques, flea market, craft articles & jewelry, souvenirs & artistic products, hobbyists and collectors stalls, various food stalls, both regional and foreign. It occupies most of the Old Town in Gdańsk and is divided into various areas.
The fair apart from being a trading place is also accompanied by many cultural events, parades, fireworks shows, street artists, sports events & competitions. It has become an integral part of the city, both pride, and curse of the locals (imagine having stalls standing outside of your flat for three weeks straight and hordes of tourists blocking the streets). There is something there for everyone. You can try some traditional polish food at Targ Węglowy, buy some antiques, hand-made jewelry, artistic porcelain, designer’s clothes, made locally. You can visit stalls full of sweets and chocolate, or smoked cheese. Foreign products from all over the world are also easy to find. And maybe, if you’re really lucky you’ll meet the Red Rooster – legendary symbol of the Fair?
We are very proud of our Fair, sometimes we will complain, it helps us calm down, but nonetheless every single year we will prepare for and impatiently await the St. Dominic’s Fair, one of our oldest traditions. In fact, in summer 2017 it will happen for the 757th time in history.
Some people come here for the bargains, some are collectors, some make it a living selling antiques, or their work. But most of them come especially to get carried away with a festive, joyful atmosphere, to loose themselves in the narrow streets of the Old Town where time slows down and bygone days still live on right next to the reality.