Hoggetowne Medieval Faire: Using Historical Reenactments for Community Tourism Development

Article excerpt

Festivals and events have become one of the fastest growing areas of local community tourism development. Communities increasingly understand that festivals are crucial elements of the city's tourism business. However, this understanding has led to an increase in the number of festivals and a rise in competition. It's increasingly important for festival planners to identify the features that not only attract visitors and generate economic impact, but also improve the perception of the host community and develop loyal patrons. Due to this growing pressure, communities have become more creative in their forms of entertainment. Interestingly, in order to meet the challenges of modern times, Gainesville, Fla., uses an event that dates back to the Middle Ages--a Renaissance festival.

The first Renaissance festival took place in 1963 in Southern California. Since then, the phenomenon has spread across North America, and more than 160 festivals are held each year. Florida hosts 16 of these, including the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.

history of hoggetowne

The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire was first held in 1985 at Gainesville's Thomas Center. The fair was planned over three months and executed with a total budget of $500, drawing about 2,000 patrons during its five hours. Given that success, the city increased the budget to $6,000 and spent a year planning the second festival. This year's festival had a $160,000 budget for preparation. Running two weekends in February at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, the 16th Annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire brought the experiences of a commoner from Dark Ages to visitors from the 21st century. Right from when the gates open, the guests are greeted by the performers for the day. King John and Queen Isabelle lead their royal procession through the fair, knighting lucky visitors along the way.

One of the highlights of the fair is the Knight's Tournament, put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). This tournament is a full-scale, live reenactment of a medieval jousting match, with the competitors dressing up in full armor and engaging each other with fake weapons. A human chess match is also a popular attraction, allowing guests to participate in a match placing Robin Hood against King John.

Visitors have the opportunity to learn weapons handling, such as shooting arrows at live knight targets or throwing an axe. Minstrels, magicians and other storytellers and entertainers are scattered throughout the grounds on seven stages. More than 140 craftsmen and women come from all over to demonstrate their skills and sell their crafts and creations. Food available includes turkey legs, gyros, blooming onions, pastries and frothy beverages. Among the family activities are a wax hand exhibit, face painting and a chess exhibition placing elementary chess players in a tournament. Many of the pieces of art submitted by the children for the student art and essay contest are on display as well.

Who Participates in the Festivals?

One of the strongest drawing powers of the fair is its ability to demonstrate a way of life that would otherwise only be read about. The SCA makes its mission to educate and entertain others with medieval themes; as the society puts it, the goal is "recreating the Middle Ages, not as they were, but as they should have been." Formed in 1966, the society has more than 15,000 members in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Romania, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. It's estimated that for every dues-paying member, there are three or four more active participants.

The festival recreates a town fair similar to those in the Middle Ages from 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. Members live in one of sixteen "kingdoms," with smaller groups known as baronies, cantons and shires existing within each kingdom. All of Florida east of Tallahassee falls under the Kingdom of Trimaris, with cities like Orlando and Gainesville taking on names such as the Baronies of Darkwater and An Crosaire, respectively. …