Cordes-sur-Ciel is an amazing village in the Tarn department in the French South West.
It is, in my eyes, one of the most beautiful villages in the country, and it should be on everyone’s itinerary when they visit France.
I could tell you more about it, but many people have done it before me, so I’ll refer you to them. May I advise you to especially check out this site for a historical overview of the town, as well as its official site.
The thing I want to tell you about and show you today, is one particular event taking place in town every year, during Bastille Day (usually on July 13th and 14th).
It is called the “Grand Fauconnier” (the grand falconer), and it’s probably the best medieval fair I have seen in my life.
First, the setting. It beats any field, garden or parking lot.
The streets haven’t changed much since the creation of the town in the 13th Century (ok, the tents don’t date from back then, and were there only because of the festival).
During the Medieval Fair, different stands, booths and small events take place all over town over the course of the two days. And if you’re from North America and are reading this, the expression “medieval fair” may bring some impressions of geekiness, tackiness and overall goofiness to your mind.
Well, here is the thing; in Europe, we understand what “medieval” means. It’s not some sort of vague fantasy past. For us, it’s a real thing. Medieval is all around us, it’s something that’s part of us. Again, if you’re not sure to understand what I mean, just see how the town looks. It’s not a movie set, it’s a real town.
So yeah, in North America, medieval fairs often only have a vague connection to the Middle Ages; facts, fictions, fantasy often get mixed (or even Renaissance times) and the result may be fun (for kids and nerds) but not even remotely “medieval”. I don’t blame anyone here, it’s almost normal, those fairs are grounded in nothing. Even if they’re as accurate as possible, accurate to what? What region of Europe? What period? What reality?
On the other hand, in Europe, this is what a good medieval fair looks like.
I hope the following pictures and videos will give you a good impression of what it is (and what the Middle Ages actually looked like, while not everything is 100% historically accurate, it’s as close to it as it gets), and more important, that they will make you want to visit Cordes-sur-Ciel next summer or a following one.
The blacksmith (and his assistants)
Music is played almost all over town.
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Of course, an event that is called the Grand Falconer needs to have falconers:
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Apparently, our falconer from earlier just got promoted to knight:
OK, not everything is completely realistic. I doubt that street performers like them existed in the Middle Ages. I mean, of course street performers existed, but those two were heavily inspired by Don Quixote (now, I’m not saying that something like Don Quixote couldn’t have existed earlier than the novel, but I kinda doubt it).
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Little “skits” were performed here and there at random intervals:
The woman was being tried for witchcraft and was in all sorts of trouble
(thanks to Patrick Vuichard for refreshing my memory)
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Remember our blacksmith and his assistant from earlier. Well, they don’t only build weapons and armors, they also show us how to use them.
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Unfortunately, now that I live on the other side of the planet, I have no idea when I’ll get back there, but if you’re in the South West of France this coming July (or a future one), it would be a mistake to miss the Medieval Fair in Cordes-sur-Ciel in my opinion.
And we finish with a small bonus, some old pictures of the same Grand Falconer Festival, way back in 2003 (all the previous pictures date from 2011):