During the last weekend of August, the Jutland town of Horsens is transformed into a bustling Medieval Market with the streets looking as they would have 500 years ago, complete with market stalls, open fires, and people dressed as knights, ladies and peasants. Even the streetlights are replaced with torches when darkness falls for a truly authentic experience.
The Europæisk Middelalder Festival, or European Medieval Festival, is the largest of its kind in Northern Europe and attracts performers, dancers and musicians from all over Europe.
Horsens, a Medieval Market Town
The town of Horsens, located south of Aarhus on the Horsens Fjord, was founded around 12,000 years ago. The long history of Horsens includes occupation by the Vikings and the establishment of a market town during the Middle Ages. The current street grid of Horsens is a relic from medieval times, dating back to the year 1300. There are many medieval buildings in the town, including the church, Vor Frelsers Kirke, which dates from 1225 and the castle ruins of Borgbanken, dating from the 14th century.
Horsens today is a modern Danish town that is well known for attracting big name bands from around the world to play at its arena. Acts such as Bob Dylan, Robbie Williams and The Rolling Stones have played concerts in Horsens. The town is lively and vibrant, with many shops, restaurants and pubs. But while Horsens may be a modern town, it keeps in touch with and celebrates its past during the European Medieval Festival.
The European Medieval Festival in Horsens
Since its beginning in 1995, the Medieval Festival in Horsens has grown and become a very popular event for Middle Ages buffs from all over Europe. It is estimated that over 100,000 people flock to Horsens during the festival each year to partake in the drinking of mead, jousting and general revelry. There are many activities to participate in and over 100 vendors selling everything from beer to spit roasted meat to jewellery and clothing.
The newest addition to the Medieval Festival for 2016 was the Medieval Circus which features clowns, acrobats and tightrope walkers. In addition, the German group, Die Wurttemberger Ritter, was on hand to display their prowess for heavy weaponry such as maces, swords and shields.
Other popular events at the festival are the swordfight and, of course, the Medieval Jousting Championships. The sword fighting competition includes participants from all over Europe who fight a fierce battle for the title of sword fighting champion. The Jousting Championships is the festival’s most popular event. The tournament, which is a genuine battle and not play-acted, is guaranteed to provide visitors with drama and excitement. Participants are master jousters and come from all over Europe to test their mettle with both mounted battle skills and one-on-one lance jousting. The finale that takes place on Saturday is generally sold out well before it begins.
For those who enjoy entertainment of a less war-like nature, there are falconry displays, theatre and musical events. There are three separate stages playing host to a variety of bands playing medieval style music throughout the weekend. In 2016 the festival welcomed a troupe of Italian flag throwers and drummers who paraded through the city, providing a spectacular experience for spectators.
The Medieval Festival offers many activities for its child visitors as well. Children can learn how to shoot a bow and arrow with the help of experienced bowmen, as well as participating in the Medieval School which offers workshops ranging from wool carding to armour making.
For many visitors to the festival, the atmosphere, food and drink are the main attractions. There are many food vendors on hand providing authentic medieval fare such as roasted pork, homemade bread and sausages. Special beer is brewed for the occasion and authentic mead is plentiful. Drinks are served in clay mugs which can be purchased for a small deposit and either returned for a refund or kept as a souvenir. And while cleanliness and hygiene were probably of little importance to the average peasant in the Middle Ages, modern standards are adhered to at the festival and all bins are covered in wood to make them look more authentic.
The many visitors to the European Medieval Festival will enjoy an authentic historic experience in an exciting and vibrant atmosphere. The festival has been acknowledged as being the closest you can come to visiting a genuine medieval market town, but without the litter.
Visiting the European Medieval Festival in Horsens
The festival takes place on the last Friday and Saturday of August. Entrance to the festival is free and most activities take place near the Rådhustorvet or the Town Hall Square.