St. Dominic's Fair
St. Dominic’s Fair, together with Weihnachtmarkt and Oktoberfest, is one of the biggest trade and cultural open-air events in Europe, organized in the Main City – the representative part of Gdańsk, Poland.
Saint Dominic was canonized in 1234 and his feast day was immediately included in the General Roman Calendar for celebration on 5 August. With the introduction of the Tridentine Calendar in 1568, his feast was moved to 4 August, where it remained until the 1969 revision moved it to 8 August. It was thus at some time between 1568 and 1969 that it became customary to announce the opening of the Fair by the ringing of bells at noon on 4 August. In the beginning, it was all about prayers and entertainment, but later the Fair began to function as a trade and cultural event with great importance to the city. At first, it was held at the Dominic Square but, as the event developed, it needed greater space, so the Fair was moved into the area of Wały Jagiellońskie and Długa Streets. Also, the new market places, such as Targ Drzewny, Targ Sienny, Targ Węglowy, Targ Wąchany or Targ Rybny were created. Their names were closely related to the goods, which were sold on each market and in the case of Długi Targ the name was derived from its shape. Around 400 ships sailed to Port of Gdańsk for the August fair and the transactions were held in many languages. It was possible to buy famous Toruń gingerbreads, Kashubian ceramics, Czech glass, Eastern furs and carpets, English cloth, gypsy pots, Goldwasser (type of vodka) and amber. Apart from merchants, in the Fair participated also circus performers, jugglers, acrobats and theatre groups.
St. Dominic’s Fair became an important event for the city, attended by gentry and even by the king himself. The most memorable fair for the citizens was the one from the year 1310, when, during the absence of the king Władysław the Elbow-high, the Teutonic Knights plundered the city for the first time, killing many merchants and other participants of the Fair.
St. Dominic’s Fair had been organized annually for the centuries. However, the outbreak of the Second World War caused the Fair to disappear from the city for 33 years. In 1972, owing to the efforts of Wojciech Święcicki, a journalist from a popular Gdańsk evening paper “Wieczór Wybrzeża”, the tradition of the Fair was restored. In the 1970s the Fair was mostly viewed as a trade event, providing the opportunity to buy desired goods. During special fashion shows commonly called “Live Journal” the latest Polish fashion collections were presented.
St. Dominic’s Fair today
For many years, since its reactivation in 1972, the St. Dominic’s Fair lasted for 2 weeks. In 2004, a decision was made to extend it up to 3 full weeks. Every year, about 1000 merchants, artists, artisans and collectors take part in the Fair, and it is visited by an average of 70,000 people daily, whose number usually doubles at weekends. As the organizers declare, approximately 5 million people come and go through the Old Town of Gdańsk during each St. Dominic’s Fair (in 2007 there were as many as 8.5 million of them which is still a record). The contemporary character of the event recalls the medieval tradition of fun and trade. One can find there an abundance of food stalls offering cold beer, meat, potatoes, sausages, and shish kebabs baked on a gridiron. Tourists from abroad will additionally have a unique opportunity to taste some traditional Polish dishes, like e.g. pierogi (dumplings), bigos (stewed dish made of sauerkraut and/or fresh cabbage, meat and mushrooms), or farmhouse bread with lard and dill pickles.
Just as before the war, there is a funfair which used to be a major attraction during the times of the free city of Danzig. In year 1938 the funfair became even more famous when a 2-metre crocodile escaped from its menagerie and jumped into the Motława river. It took quite a long time to catch it, and the escape caused a general sensation. For obvious reasons, the funfair has changed its character throughout all those years. The halls of mirrors have disappeared and nobody cuts women into two pieces with a handsaw during magic shows; however, it still remains one of the main attractions for the youngest participants of the St. Dominic’s Fair.
The number of stalls increases each year, and the programme of the Fair is diversified by various cultural and entertainment events. On the stalls we can find numismatic and philatelic collections, as well as handicrafts, haberdashery, valuable cloths and antiques. All those products and many more may be bought on the popular flea market. Unfortunately, as it happens in other similar fairs in the world, some fake products are sold as well. In the past, for example, it was possible to buy pictures of Kossak, Witkacy and numerous other well-known painters. However, the majority of merchants and collectors are fair and treat visitors seriously. They arrive not only from the farthest corners of Poland but also from other countries, like Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Austria, Sweden and such distant as Israel or Uzbekistan. All those foreign sellers offer products and souvenirs distinctive for their culture.
The plan of the Fair
- multibranch stalls - Szeroka, św. Ducha, Grobla I, Grobla II Streets;
- craft articles and jewellery - Mariacka Street, Długie Pobrzeże, Rybackie Pobrzeże, Długi Targ;
- souvenirs and artists’ stalls - Długa Street, Długi Targ, Zielony Most;
- stalls of collectors and hobbyists – Wartka and Straganiarska Streets, Targ Rybny;
- gastronomic stalls - Targ Węglowy, Targ Rybny, Szeroka Streets.
The programme of the Fair
- outdoor stages,
- fêtes and concerts,
- demonstration of fireworks and laser lights,
- street parades,
- rock concerts,
- chamber and organ music concerts,
- sport events and competitions (St. Dominic’s Race).
- Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 100