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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Medieval Trade Fairs



The European trade fairs, which thrived in the 12th and 13th centuries, linked the economies of the north with those of the Mediterranean. Especially popular in France, these fairs were held annually, in cities located along ancient land routes, and were governed by an established set of rules known as “merchant laws”.
Textiles, leather, furs, and spices were sold at the fairs, and traders came from all over Europe to display their wares. There were six fairs throughout the year. Each fair lasted six weeks. The schedule, while not firm, generally reserved the first eight days for vendors to set up their sites. The final days, about four, were needed to settle accounts.
From Genoa, it took a month to reach the fair cities. Pack mules crossed the Alps loaded with wares. From Spain, merchants traveled the well-worn pilgrim route from Santiago de Compostela. Well-to-do merchants might hire freight handlers to move the goods to the fair location.
In my October release from Five Star, titled The Tapestry Shop, Catherine visits the Colde Fair in Troyes, where she shops for household goods and visits a fortune teller.
One of the images (above) is of the lower floor of a medieval warehouse in Provins which was rented by merchants during the faire. Goods were stored here, and the displays would have been on the upper floor. In Provins, visitors can see a permanent exhibition (top image) depicting a medieval market.

13 comments:

Donna Hatch said...

I didn't realize there were trade fairs that long ago. What a fascinating tidbit. Thanks for sharing!

Kathy Otten said...

Reminds me of a modern day craft show, in which vendors spend most of their summer traveling to shows and fairs. Kind of surreal to imagine having to do your shopping this way once a year. I'd hate to be the last town on the route.

Cathie Dunn said...

Very interesting post. Towns like Shrewsbury used to have annual fairs, with traders from all kinds of areas. It must have been so exciting for the people, especially the ladies who had money to spare - and didn't really travel much like their menfolk.
Great post!

Mary Ricksen said...

What no grocery store? No Walmart?
Lotta effort to get stuff for sure!

catslady said...

I just read about this in a Ken Follet book and found it very interesting. A lot depended on those fairs for some to make a living.

Joyce Moore said...

Hi Donna: Yes, the trade fairs are ancient. There are some interesting books on them, too. They were a big part of medieval life.

Joyce Moore said...

Hi Kathy: Thanks for stopping by. Actually, the fairs were months apart, so vendors went back home between them. (Or maybe they could have stayed at a Holiday Inn :-)

Joyce Moore said...

Hi Cathie: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I think this was a big part of their lives, planning for the journey etc. Can you imagine not having a discount store a few miles away?

Joyce Moore said...

Mary: You're so right. Days of travel, on mules and in wagons. Of course I doubt peasants went. They just subsisted on whatever they could grow/steal. But merchants and fairly well-to-do, like my tapestry shop owner, would have been able to go there and get supplies to last all year.

Joyce Moore said...

Hi Catslady: What Follett book was that? Yes, that was a big part of a merchant's livelihood, especially the guilds. It was fun doing research on the medieval fairs.

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Hatch Donna said...

I didn't realize there were trade fairs that long ago. What a fascinating tidbit. Thanks for sharing!

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