Perugia’s “Fiera dei Morti” (All Souls’ Fair) goes back to medieval times – there are written documents mentioning the Fair from as early as 1260, already calling it a “customary” event. Its name back then was the “All Saints’ Fair,” as it took place in the period around All Saints’ Day.
This fair was part of a busy calendar of fairs and trade activities in
The fairs enjoyed special exemptions, such as the exemption from any type of taxes on the goods sold, and the “fair peace,” i.e. the freedom to trade for everyone, even those who had troubles with the law for civil cases. The fair also meant a big event for the town that held it, given the lengthy duration of the fairs (15-30 days), which attracted large numbers of people, many of whom would stay there during the fair.
During the All Saints’ Fair in
It was not until the 1600s that the All Saints’ Fair would be called the “fiera dei defunti” (“fair of the deceased”), and in the 1800s it took on its present name as the “Fiera dei Morti” (All Souls’ Fair). The significance of this choice seems to express the wish to make compatible the memory and ritual reuniting with one’s ancestors with the need to attenuate the sadness accompanying the memory of those that are gone. The collective ritual of the celebration includes the custom of eating sweets with names such as stinchetti (shinbones), ossa dei morti (bones of the dead), and fave dei morti (“pods” of the dead), almost as if seeking a laical and festive “communion” with the deceased.
Today, the Fiera dei Morti remains a deeply felt tradition among the people: virtually every Perugian goes to the fair at least for a quick visit and buys something. The Fair is thus a symbolic ritual of belonging to the community, which is repeated every year, and seems to be part of the life cycle in the collective imagination, for which the changing of the season from summer to winter has always been a factor in identifying with one’s own land and its customs.
The symbolic function and that of gathering with the townspeople thus exceed the economic aspect, giving meaning to a commercial activity that certainly could not compete with shopping centers or large-scale retail chains on an economic level.
The progressive increase in the quality of the items sold, more and more oriented toward rare, typical and local products, today draws large numbers of people to the Fiera dei Morti also from nearby towns. Thus the Fair begins to take on a certain importance for tourism, entering the town’s calendar of large and traditional events of interest to tourists.