what is the medieval week?

It was, I think, in 2015, that my one of my groups of friends started trying to convince me to come with them to Medieval Week. I was interested but reluctant; it felt like you had to be so ... invested and knowledgeable. My friends had already been going for years at that time and had everything they needed. I didn't have anything! "Don't worry, we'll lend you everything you need", Lisa, Johanna and David said. "We just want you to come!".

And so, one year later, I went with them to Medieval Week. In the end, their arguments were too good not to go: "We promise you you'll want to take photos of everything", they said. "Everything is beautiful in Visby!". They were not wrong. I've been there three times now (I didn't go in 2018 because I was living in the UK that summer, 2020 was cancelled, and I chose not to go this year because it was a smaller, socially distanced version and I'd rather skip it until we can go "for real" again and not have to worry about all that stuff), and I can't wait to go again.

Medieval Week can be many things, depending on what you happen to be interested in. For me, it's a music and culture festival, but with more vivid, saturated colours, set in a more beautiful location. And this is a blog post answering questions I tend to get about the whole thing - they way we do it. It's important to remember that our way is just one way of doing it. (The reason I'm writing it now, when I haven't been there for two years, is because I miss it a lot and felt the need to relive it in photos until next year when we can hopefully go again.)

Visby is a city and world heritage site on the island of Gotland, which is a few hours' ferry ride from the east coast of Sweden. It's the most magical setting imaginable for a culture festival like this; its city walls are from the 12th century and there are church ruins from the Middle Ages behind every corner, quite literally. Even the modern buildings inside the walls look ... older?, which adds to the sort of fairy tale feel of the place. It's just so charming.

We live in a camp that's organised by the local branch of SCA, Society of Creative Anachronism. This means that everything visible should look like - or at least make an effort to look like - it could belong in the Middle Ages. Everyone who lives in this camp dresses in the Medieval style (to the best of their ability). Some people do everything Medieval style, including inside the tents; we do more of a relaxed version where we have some modern things inside the tents, but hide them under many layers of blankets. :) A few of my friends sleep better on modern folding camp beds than on the ground, but they hide them under wool blankets; I sometimes get too cold despite all the blankets, so I bring a modern sleeping bag (but again, not I keep it hidden).

You might be wondering: what does it matter if a camping bed in a tent is visible, or if someone carries something in a plastic bag on their way back to their tent? Well, I can only speak for myself, but ... I've spent my entire life reading and enjoying fairy tales and fantasy. Being at Medieval week in our camp can, at best, feel like being in a different world, in a film, in a story, in a magic place. And I don't want that magic broken if I can help it. It's a very special feeling, living like that for a week - there's beauty everywhere. (Unless I look in the direction of the toilets. Yes, they're modern - big ugly toilet trailers off to one side of the camp. There's just not much to do about that. :))

This is our first tent, Paviljongen ("the pavilion") ...

... and the orange one on the right is our second tent, Vikingatältet ("the Viking tent").

I need to note as well that I had a very easy entrance into all this. My friends had already been going for years, and had a working concept that they followed and enjoyed, and I could just tag along. Fabric to make tents from isn't cheap (not to mention all the work put into it!), and all the mixed paraphernalia that we use inside the tent - sheepskins, blankets, things to eat from and with, lanterns, boxes ... It's taken years for the group to gather everything. I certainly wouldn't jump into sewing my own tent my first year of going to Medieval Week. I'm just lucky that David had sewn a tent and was willing to have me in it.

Also, now that we already have the tent, it's more affordable to stay at the camping than renting an apartment or staying at a hotel in Visby (renting something further out would be cheaper, but not really an option for us as we want to be within walking distance of central Visby). It's also much more comfortable than a regular modern tent (our tents are big and comfy; it's nice to have space enough to stand upright inside the tent, and space enough to actually hang out together in the tent!).

Sadly, a few years ago the camp moved, and isn't next to the city wall anymore. But while it was there, the view with all the tents and the city walls in the background was one of my favourite things about Medieval Week. Now we get this field bordered by trees instead which is just a tad bit less magical. And I'm still dreaming about it moving back there someday. :)

We wear linen and wool clothes, and this is, it seems, what confuses most people. Why? Why would you dress up like that? Is it a larp? Nope! It's not a larp. I'm not another person, I don't act, there's no story to tell. We are ourselves, but in different clothes.

I have three reasons to want to dress in these clothes for a week: It's comfortable, fun, and beautiful. Wearing all natural materials in long swooshy dresses is just really comfortable. The fun comes from being part of the magic, the feeling of being in a film or book. It's just fun to "match" the buildings around me, I guess. And lastly, it looks amazing - on every individual, but it's even better in a group of people - all these wonderful colours together! I wish people would choose these colours for their everyday clothes as well.

The saturation is also the reason I prefer wool as a top layer over linen. Historically, wearing only linen, without a wool dress, wouldn't happen - that would be like going out in just your underwear - but I care less about the historical correctness of things (I wear modern sandals, have a modern haircut and all that jazz - those details are important to some people but not to me). I have a linen shift and then a woolen dress on top, not because it's historically correct but because it looks AMAZING. Wool has a saturation and a sheen to it that few other things do - it's like finding yourself in a sea of bright beautiful colours, I absolutely love it. With that said, wool is a lot more expensive, so I can totally understand that people choose linen for that reason. It's not exactly a cheap hobby to get into.

Oops, here I am playing the harp in just my underwear! :)

So, now that you know all the basics ... what do we actually do?

We go to concerts and shows of all kinds! Like I said, for me, Medieval Week is a culture festival. There are concerts and plays and jester shows (don't have a better translation for "gycklarföreställning" - let me know if you have one) going on all the time. Most of them take place in one of the many old church ruins, which is super cool. (I cannot for the life of me remember what all the different churches are called from year to year. I will often know them by the time we leave, and then it's all gone next year. :)) Most of them have absolutely NOTHING to do with Medieval music, which I don't mind at all. :)

There are a few things we like to do every year. This band, Tjaut, who play Irish folk music type stuff, is one of my favourites.

Katten Skogmans orkester is another favourite.

We often go to see the Wednesday night fire show by the jester group Trix in Nordergravar.

And my old friends from the Academy of Music, Ars Veritas - one of very few groups who perform actual Medieval music! :)

This is marknaden, the market; something of a hub during Medieval Week. We spend hours, if not days, wandering around here, admiring things (and people!), listening to music, bumping into friends, having lunch, deciding on fabric for next year's projects, and buying everything from roasted almonds with liquorice to leather for a new belt.

Klosterlängan is one of our favourite places in Visby to hang out in the evenings.

I guess most of all, we walk a lot (a lot! So many places to be and things to see, buildings and streets to admire, food to eat), and we hang out a lot. On the beach, singing songs. There's a beautiful atmosphere on the beach, with little groups of people hanging out around lanterns, watching the stars fall (Medieval Week coincides with the Perseids). Sometimes when we're tired we just hang out in our tent. Also probably singing songs. :)

(Photo of me by Jonas Lundh)

All in all, it's a wonderful experience, and I can't wait to go back and do all the things and soak it all up - the atmosphere, the culture, the colours. Next year, I hope! Soon.

(If you want more, all my posts are under medeltidsveckan.)

No comments :

Post a Comment