In the past Bulgarians used to carry out active trade during weekly, seasonal and annual fairs.
The traditional markets
In traditional notions, the market is an open-air venue for selling and buying various goods. There was hardly a city, town or a larger village without a weekly market. It was organized on a particular weekday that varied in different places and was often held in a central place. Agricultural and handicraft goods were being sold at the market by producers from the town / village or from neighboring villages.
The role of fairs
Fairs represent large temporary markets related to a particular traditional holiday during the year. The role of fairs for Bulgaria’s international trade relations with neighboring countries shows clearly in a range of documents, the earliest of them dated to the Middle Ages. Prior to the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 fairs were held annually on the greatest church feasts – St. George’s Feast, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Petka Feast, St. Nicholas’s Feast, St. Demetrius’s Feast and others.
The social impact
The fairs' function was larger than mere exchange and sale of goods: they were also places for Bulgarians to make contacts and express their creativity. As fairs were underway, the specifics of lifestyles and culture of Bulgaria's diverse ethnographic regions were demonstrated. The biggest and most popular fairs in the Bulgarian lands were the fairs in Uzundzhovo and Eski Dzhumaya.
The first international fair in this country
In 1892 the first international fair in Bulgaria opened in Plovdiv. Its goal was to give an impetus to local industry and agriculture by creating international contacts to the benefit of Bulgarian producers.
The contribution of Gabrovo
A fair used to be held in Gabrovo during the National Revival. It was also termed sabor, a gathering, and was underway from 14 to 26 October. Its importance declined in mid 19 c. mostly resulting from the notorious Gabrovo thriftiness. An excerpt from the minutes of the City Hall from the 1850s reads as follows:
We have reached a point where Gabrovo residents and notables, merchants and guildsmen have put up an opposition to the fair demanding the termination of the gathering. The argument is that the fair inflicts losses on the poor, has no worth and spoils the progenies of all classes. Young and old are losers going to the fair and squandering money to buy what not…
As a result the fair was officially banned. Gabrovo folk began visiting fairs in other towns to sell craft goods and earn money.
The Fair of Traditional Crafts since 1990 to date
In 1990, at the initiative of specialists, “Etar” Ethnographic Open Air Museum (EOAM) organized and hosted for the first time the Fair of Traditional Crafts. Its goal is to recreate in a museum environment and with strict adherence to tradition, a fair from the recent past with an emphasis on handicrafts. Originally held on St. Petka Feast (Petkovden) and later in early September the museum would annually become a magnet for artisans from across the country. They present their products; demonstrate traditional techniques; exchange ideas and experience. The museum fair is an event for experiencing traditions in a unique manner.
The international dimensions
For the first time in the autumn of 2003 the fair became international. Since then the forum has been organized by the Ministry of Culture, the Municipality of Gabrovo and “Etar” EOAM with support from media, craft chambers, tour operators etc. The fair's statutes, logo and prize token – the Silver Bell figurine, were created. The fair is an annual event that takes place on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of September.
This is the only fair based on a museum concept with strict adherence to tradition. Its purpose is to promote crafts and encourage their inclusion in the present-day society. Special requirements are placed for craft goods sold during the fair: they should be made using traditional tools with predominantly manual technology and should be related to processing of raw materials typical of the respective craft.
Demonstrations, craftsman competition, conference
The fair's program features a craftsman competition among other events. It attracts artisans from a particular handicraft which is different every year and is determined by the organizers. The winner receives the Silver Bell Prize, a money prize and the right to organize an own exhibition during the year that follows.
The International Scientific Conference “Traditional Crafts – Past, Present and Future” held during the fair since 2005 has over time attracted dozens of Bulgarian and foreign museum specialists. During the days of the fair visitors attend demonstrations of traditional crafts, home occupations and re-enactments of folk rituals. The forum offers a diverse folklore program.