First held in 1987, the official Alabama Renaissance Faire in Florence, Lauderdale County, has developed into a major tourist event in northwest Alabama. Regularly named one of the top 20 fall events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourist Society in Roswell, Georgia, the event is held on the fourth Saturday and Sunday in October in Wilson Park (renamed Fountain-on-the-Green for the two days of the fair) and draws as many as 35,000 people.
The Renaissance Faire is planned and executed by an all-volunteer group known as the Roundtable, which includes a board of directors composed of 18 people who serve three-year terms and who meet quarterly to guide the overall planning and set policy. There are no limits to the number of members in the Roundtable. The event is financed primarily through the fees that vendors pay for space. Any profits are added to the organization's treasury to provide additional funds for the event. The City of Florence provides liability coverage and overnight security for the weekend and allows free use of the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum. The city of Florence also declares the month of October to be Renaissance Month each year.
The fair's yearly cycle begins in the spring, with an annual statewide poster contest to determine that year's official logo. Entries from across Alabama are submitted, with the winning artist receiving $500. The image is then used to promote the fair throughout the year on posters, tee shirts, and other products. A number of other events take place during the weeks before the fair, including Renaissance-related music programs, public lectures, dramatic performances, art exhibits, and dance programs. One of the major events is an authentic Renaissance Feast, held on Saturday evening a week before the start of the fair in the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum. The event, which features authentic food and entertainment of the period, provides attendees with the opportunity to engage with the customs of the Renaissance period by bringing their own tablecloth, candelabra, and eating utensils, a practice common among the nobility so that they could flaunt their wealth.
A primary goal of the fair is to educate visitors about the Renaissance period, and organizers include a number of activities to encourage the involvement of students. Among them are an annual art contest for students in grades K-6, that centers on subject matter related to the period, and a yearly sonnet-writing contest for students in grades 7-12 to commemorate the invention of the sonnet by Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca). Chess tournaments are held at all grade levels in area schools, with winners of these tournaments competing in playoffs at the fair. A free costume-making workshop is held on the second Saturday in October at the local Kennedy-Douglass Art Center, which is located directly across the street from the fair site. Attendees are invited to provide fabric that is then measured, cut, and sewn by event volunteers. This event allows a large number of people to attend the fair in costume.
The two-day fair itself features dancers, musicians playing period instruments and singing Renaissance ballads, sword fights, jugglers, jesters, a troll, a theater troupe, a children's play area, and the coronation of the new year's ruling "monarch," determined by who gets a coin in a cake served at the feast. Period food, including breads and pastries, and souvenirs, such as costumes, mugs, baskets, hand-crafted chainmail, and swords, can be purchased as well.