Cosenza welcomes Spring with a centuries old tradition, La Fiera di San Giuseppe or the Saint Joseph’s Fair. This year’s fair begins on March 15th and will continue until March 19th (the saint day for St. Joseph).
History of The Fiera
This outdoor market is one of the oldest and most important traditions in Cosenza and goes way back to 1234 when it was first established by Frederick II of Swabia. At the time it was called the Fiera della Maddalena and took place in the historic centre near the Chiesa della Maddalena and the square now known as Piazza Riforma. The fiera took place at the end of September and carried on until 1554 when a terrible earthquake caused flooding and damage to the Church and surrounding area. It left the Fiera but a memory for 20 years. But then, on March 19, 1564 it was rebooted under the name Fiera di San Giuseppe and has continued to be a very important event for the city of Cosenza.
Where Does It Take Place
In the past, the fiera always took place in the old part of Cosenza. However, a few years ago, the mayor of Cosenza decided to shift the fiera to an area that had more room to accommodate the ever growing number of stands and visitors.
The fair begins in the old part of the city and continue along Viale Giacomo Mancini (also known as Viale Parco), a long street that runs along Cosenza towards Rende (the neighbouring city).
What You Can Expect To Find
La Fiera di San Giuseppe isn’t like other weekly markets, it’s huge. To get an idea of the magnitude of this market, the fair spans 6 kilometers which host around 600 stands for merchants from all over Calabria as well as other parts of Italy. You’ll find just about everything you can possibly imagine like clothing, jewellery, household goods, artisan crafts, plants, food and even furniture.
It’s also the best oppourtunity to pick up some delicious southern Italian foods like mostaccioli. Mostaccioli are deliciously sweet and are creatively formed by hand into some pretty incredible shapes like animals, flowers, and anything else your imagination can conjure up. Many go to the fair for the sole purpose of purchasing these traditional biscuits.
Visitors can get their hands on the best mostaccioli by stopping by one of Dolciaria De Nardo’s two stands. They have a permanent stand which is open not only during the fair but all year long located on Via Sergio Quattromani (near the City Hall). The second stand will be set up on Viale Mancini in the area near the Hotel Centrale. Try to resist buying up one of everything. They also sell other delicious treats like sussumella, torrone and many others.
Get There Early to Avoid The Crowds
The fiera is kind of a big deal here in Cosenza, so much so the schools close for 4 days during the festival. It not only draws visitors from the city of Cosenza, but many come from the neighbouring towns as well. So, if you can, it’s a good idea to plan to your visit during the week in the early morning or lunch period. The weekends are when most people will be off work and free to go. If you like the feel of a big crowd, go for it. It’s just hard to look at stands while you are criss-crossing and squeezing through walls of people.
What To Bring
Being a fair, you’ll want to make sure you have cash on hand since most stands won’t have a means to accept credit cards or bank cards. To keep your wallet and money safe, you should bring a cross shoulder purse that zips and can be carried in front of you. Big crowds are a pick-pocketers dream, and you don’t want to become one of their victims.
Also, check the weather and dress accordingly. March is a bit nuts when it comes to weather so I would suggest wearing layers. That way, you can remove layers if you start to feel too warm when you are in the bigger crowds and pop your layers back on if you are in a more open space. Don’t forget to wear comfy shoes, especially if you don’t want to miss anything and choose to walk the whole 6 kilometers.
Practice your Bargaining Skills
The Fiera di San Giuseppe is the perfect time to do as the Italians do and practice your bargaining skills. Don’t be afraid, everyone does it. If it’s your first time, here’s a tip. When given the price, if it seems too high, negotiate. But always start lower than the maximum you want to pay. That way, you have room to negotiate. However, use common sense. If you want a purse and they are asking 30 euros for it, don’t offer 5 euros. Be reasonable, after all, for many of these people, this is their main source of income.
Take a Break From the Fair with these Activities
The fair can get overwhelming for some so here are some things you can do to get a break from the hustle and bustle of the fair.
5 Sensi di Marcia: Dall’Antica Fiera della Maddalena alla Fiera di San Giuseppe:
This urban excursion will take you to all the places linked to the historic Fiera della Maddalena all the way to the Fiera di San Giuseppe as its known today. You’ll visit the historic Chiesa della Riforma and Chiostro, the Diocesan Museum where you can see the Stauroteca (Requiem of the Holy Cross) donated by Federico II in 1222 and is usually only available for viewing by appointment. The tour starts at 3:30pm at Piazza Riforma and lasts about 4 hours.
Degustando la Fiera:
New to the festival this year is the opportunity to take part in cooking classes, cake design workshops, as well as tutorials on how to make pizza and homemade pasta according to the old traditions. For those interested, these activities will take place from March 17th to 19th at Caffè Letterario in Piazza Matteotti.
I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is an incredible atmosphere that comes with this fair. Maybe it’s because it has become a symbol for the start of Spring. Regardless, it’s an event that residents of this city and neighbouring towns look forward to each and every year.
Have you ever been to a fair in Italy? I’d love it if you would share your experience with me by leaving a comment below!