St. Mark’s Fair

By Kristen Monson

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The sound of metal sharpening fills the square as a bearded man in a white cotton tunic draped with fur around his shoulders slides a blade quickly against a stone. A woman wearing a floor-length red gown with gold embellishments is nearby, her hair pulled up into a braid wrapping around her head. However, the year is not 1504, but rather present day Zagreb, Croatia.

Every year in May, Ban Jelačić Square is filled with people donned in medieval attire, vendors selling hand-made, local wood and iron products, and traditional food and beverages. Tents and tables sell a range of products from woven baskets to lavender and tea. Tables full of fresh bread and sweets are placed next to stands of sausages, making it impossible not to buy a snack while searching for the perfect piece of jewelry.

The event originates back to 1256, when the first fair was held after the charter of Bela IV on St. Mark’s day in front of the church of St. Mark, but only recently in the past five years has it grown to what it is today. With more than 70 booths, St. Mark’s Fair is an entertaining way to appreciate the history of Croatia, while supporting local craft manufacturers. The fair is open from 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. May 21-25, 2016.

The festival is host to not only vendors with stores in Zagreb, but also people like Mario Sokolic who travels around Croatia to different medieval festivals throughout the year. Sokolic is a blacksmith who demonstrates metal forging by hand. He is dressed in a leather vest and grey peasant shirt with medallions hanging from his neck. He places a blank coin down and lets out a yell as his hammer comes crashing down on the coin, imprinting it with a design, and then quickly moving the coin to an open spot on the table. His table is covered with engraved medallions, coins and bracelets. Watching him work, you are transported back to the middle ages. His calloused hands rarely put down the hammer he uses to imprint designs on the metal, only letting go of it briefly to place a new coin on the block.

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Across the square, Hrvoje Marušić’s red tablecloth is scattered with hand-made replicas of Croatian traditional jewelry from the Renaissance all the way to the 20th century. The ornate silver and gold-plated pieces vary in sizes and shapes. Picking up a pendant, Marušić is quick to give a time period and region the piece is from, giving as many details as his English allows. Marušić lives in Zagreb and attends many fairs throughout the country. He sells his jewelry in a store past the main square above Dolac Market.

St. Mark’s Fair is a preview of the country’s renaissance festival in Koprivnica, a city in northern Croatia. The four-day event has medieval food, music and activities to participate in. The festival takes place August 25-28, 2016, and hosts close to 50,000 visitors.

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