La Fiera di Sant’Orso in the Aosta Valley
In Aosta each year at the end of January, a thousand year-old event takes place to showcase the creative talents of the local residents. Visitors from all over the world come to Italy for The Fair of Sant’Orso, an anthem to creativity and to the industrious nature of mountain folk. Each year thousands of exhibitors, including artists and craftsmen from the Valle d’Aosta, proudly present the fruits of their toil. Exhibitions include wood sculpture and carving, craft- making from local ollare stone and wrought iron, and wool weaving on looms. Also at the fair are musical events and a celebration of local folklore, complete with traditional food and wine available at a special pavilion. The highlight of the event is the Veilla – a night of musical performances in the lit- up streets which continues till dawn.
This international hand craft fair is the biggest of its kind in the region and one of the longest lasting fairs in the world; to date, there have been over one thousand editions of the festival. Stalls and stands stretch through the historical center of Aosta and along the old town walls. Classic valley objects include ‘sock’ or ‘puin’ which are slippers made from a cloth traditionally woven in the nearby town of Gressoney-La- Trinité, and pillow lace work from the village of Cogne.
Each year at the fair, all of the regions traditional activities are featured from wood carving and sculpting to the processing of soapstone, from wrought iron and leather, to the crafting of lace, wicker and household items. It is not so much the commercial side that makes exhibitors want to take part in the Fair, but rather the desire to get out of the workshop and get in touch with a public that knows how to appreciate quality work and creativity, the fruit of traditions that have centuries-old roots. Equally, those who visit the Fair don’t do it merely in search of a good bargain or a quality item to adorn their home, but rather to breathe a unique and unrivalled atmosphere.
The Fair is special because it is a time when the particular characteristics of the identity of the people from the Valle d’Aosta are on display; it is not just an exceptionally grand and colorful “festival,” but also the celebration of being a part of this historical and cultural Italian environment. This event, that highlights the best of craftsmanship skills in the Valle d’Aosta, is repeated every year along the city streets. During the Middle Ages, the Fair was held in the Town of Aosta, in the area surrounding the Sant’Orso Collegiate. Legendary tales say that it all began right opposite the Church where the Saint, who lived before the 9th century, was said to have regularly given clothes and “sabot” to the poor. “Sabot” are the typical wooden clogs which are still exhibited at the Fair today.
The entire city center is involved in the Fair, within and beside the Roman city walls. Music and folklore fill the streets during La Fiera, as patrons satisfy their appetite with local food and wine. The highlight of the evening is the “Veillà,” the festive vigil that takes place late at night and lines the streets with light and people until dawn. A visit to the Sant’Orso Fair is a unique, unforgettable experience, truly not to be missed and to be enjoyed with intense emotions.