31 Aug,2017 By Jagabond
I’ve been to medieval events before. I watched the grandiose show at Medieval Times in Anaheim, and played the slots at the Excalibur hotel in Vegas. I even visited the Viking Festival in San Diego two years in a row, which had a strong medieval vibe. What all those experiences were missing was a legitimate backdrop. A truly medieval setting for which to celebrate those festivities of times past.
Enter Rocca San Felice, a small town situated in the Avellino Province of Italy. It unfortunately has gone through a multitude of earthquakes over history, and sustained significant damage in the 1980 earthquake that ravaged many towns in Avellino. Locals kept rebuilding the town as it was, and it maintains the medieval look with its mostly stone architecture. I enjoyed lunch in a classic looking stone building that housed La Ripa, the top rated restaurant in town. I imagine knights enjoyed breaded pig as much as I did!
Can you be medieval without having a castle? The one in Rocca San Felice sits on a hill overlooking the town. The hike was mildly strenuous in the heat, but the payoff was worth it. Dating back to the 11th century, the castle provides great views of the Irpinia countryside.
I visited Rocca San Felice for…you guessed it…the medieval festival! This annual event highlights the town’s history with a celebration worthy of a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode. The aforementioned stone buildings provided the perfect medium for this event, and strategically placed artwork set the mood.
Merchants were there peddling their goods. Everything from handmade crafts for the maidens to weapons for the future knights (I would pick the slingshot).
For the more superstitious there was even a fortune teller and an alchemy stand.
I never liked the bird shows at these events. The poor animals never look interested and seem riddled with anxiety. Yes, their training allows them to fly from one handler to the other, but that’s hardly a ‘wow’ moment. Furthermore, try getting one of these shows on video…impossible! The bird flies out of range, and saddles you with a boring, incomprehensible YouTube post. Regardless of my ranting, I appreciated the close-ups I got with the birds…owls will always be my favorite!
They also had these guys who knelt on stilts, making it look like they were taller than Andre the Giant. This fascinated the kids, but who hasn’t seen this act before? They were nice enough to pose for pictures though, and when they had the chance they didn’t trample me while parading down the main street.
I couldn’t resist the grill and the delicious smell of the smoke emanating from it. I settled on a sausage sandwich with cabbage and mayo. Is that a thing? It is now.
Medieval theater always starts nice and sweet, then some demons come in to screw things up. That was the theme of this play from what I could gather, as it looks like a maiden gets captured here. Fireworks are an obsession with Italians, so not surprising to see them used for dramatic effect.
I also caught a fire dancing show, where the performers were good not great. In fact, the one shown below flubbed the juggling a few times before hitting the finale by balancing a fire stick on his nose.
The music reminded me of something you’d hear in the background as Gandalf gave some sage advice to a group of hobbits. A large, beautiful tree in the main square of town overlooked the band as they played. Whoever the woman on pipes is, she’s great. Not only does she play her butt off, but her moves aren’t so bad either.
I stayed awake long enough to catch Tatiana, an aspiring acrobat. These festivals in Italy tend to go on really late, so I filmed this video half asleep.
As I left Rocca San Felice I had a smelly experience. Two miles outside town is a geothermic phenomenon called ‘Mefite’, which constantly emits a foul sulfuric odor. It’s embedded within a lush area, so the lack of surrounding greenery makes its presence obvious. I imagine in medieval times, wizards warned it was a gateway to hell.
How to get there: Rocca San Felice is a little over an hour drive from Naples. The medieval festival is every August, but I imagine this is a pleasant town year round.