Guns blazing, music playing, the streets sizzling with colour and energy, Oliva's residents know summer has truly begun when its famous Moors and Christians festival kicks off.
Next to Alcoi, Oliva's vibrant re-enactment of the battles that culminated with the Catholics' expulsion of the Arabs from the peninsula is perhaps one of the largest of its kind in the Comunidad Valenciana.
Usually coinciding with the town's annual fair and a healthy dose of open-air concerts by famous chart acts, Oliva's Moors and Christians fiesta is more than just history brought back to life. It is a week-long round-the-clock celebration that sees the town's inhabitants out on the streets until the early hours, a week of entertainment and abandon.
The festival starts with a presentation in the town hall square, usually presided by a famous local personality, such as a sportsperson, poet, or this year, Punt 2 TV presenter Julio Tormo, who will open the festival on July 16 at 20.00hrs from the town hall balcony.
Later in the week, the official entrada, or entry, of the ill-fated Moorish troops and then the Christian conquerors takes place on two different evenings in the Paseo next to Parque l'Estació, the main artery of Oliva.
A huge stage is erected and the captains parade down the aisle between the audiences with all their usual pomp and flair, followed by their fellow festeros, to the excited cheers of the crowd.
Some years, novelties such as an enormous 3D television screen suspended above the stage and even a captain abseiling down a pylon have been thrown on for spectators' amusement.
Behind the stage is a huge, mock castle, which will be the scene for the final battle and form the doomed Moors' temporary refuge from the Christian attackers at the end of the fiesta. Here, gunshots ring out as the two opposing sides fight for their territory, although history dictates that the victors will be the same year after year.
One of the most unique features of Oliva's Moors and Christians is the formers' flamboyant entry, by boat, onto Mitja Galta beach. They arrive amidst fireworks and mascletaes to be greeted by thrilled spectators, and the Moorish Captain gives his troops orders whilst a 'spy' on horseback tips off the Christians of their disembarking onto the shore.
With open-air concerts of every type of music – from famous pop stars to local orchestras – public meals for the festeros and parades galore, sleep-deprivation is guaranteed for local residents. Each procession ends in a firework display and the party goes on through to dawn in the Moors' and Christians' tents.
The parades themselves are some of the most elaborate and spectacular in the province, with camels, horses, mules and imaginative, colourful floats. In the past, such unusual aspects of the festival have included a giant, global flower that opens up to reveal a dancing girl, and a giant Trojan horse-style carriage ridden by belly-dancers. These are interspersed by the ever-popular local bands from villages and towns all over La Safor, traditional dolçainer players, and the odd acrobat or stilt-walker.
Ambassadors, pirates and musketeers keep the watching crowds, three-deep on the pavements all along the Paseo, C/ Loygorri and the town hall square amused until nightfall. In 2007, a landmark move by the town hall meant part of the parade was able to take place along the main N-332, effectively blocking off the traffic, but allowing an all-round view for more local residents and more chair-space for spectators.
In between the showy entrada and the noisy, passion-filled final closure as the Moors are inexorably forced to a gunpowder-fuelled defeat, the fairground continues in the background with the rides and stalls that bring people in from far and wide.
Declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest, and arguably one of the largest and most elaborate in the region, Oliva's Moors and Christians is a firm date in the diary for fiesta-followers all over La Safor and the Costa Blanca.
2009 PROGRAMME OF EVENTS
Saturday, July 11: PRESENTATION OF DIGNITARIES
11.00hrs: Children's fair with dolçainers, animations, costumes, warpaint, story-telling and much more. Parc de l'Estació, main Paseo.
23.00hrs: Presentation of captains, ambassadors and flagbearersin Parc de l'Estació, followed by firework display.
Thursday, July 16: PREGÓN, DÍA DE LOS MÚSICOS Y NOCHE DEL PUTXERO
20.00hrs: Pregón Festero, or 'call' to the fiesta from the balcony of the town hall. This year, presented by Punt 2 TV presenter Julio Tormo. Followed by cannon-shots and musical parades from the town hall square to Parc de l'Estació in front of the mock castle. Here, they will play the pasodoble by Miquel Villar, Oliva 1990. Ends with fireworks and mascletà.
00.30hrs: 'Informal' entrada of the Moors and Christians.
Friday, July 17: ENTRADA OF THE CHRISTIANS.
07.30hrs: Awakening with band music and cannon-shots in front of the castle and then parading around various streets in the town.
20.00hrs: Spectacular entry of the Christian troops in the following order of Filadas, or troops, after the official opening and the flag-carriers of the fiesta committee: Fila Contrabandistas, Fila Corsarios, Fila Jaime I, Fila Mosqueteros, Fila Maseros, Fila Piratas (Hilada Capitana 2009). Leaves from Rinconada de las Ermitas and runs along the N-332 (C/ Gabriel Císcar), Avenida Loygorri, and Paseo Joan Carles I (main street). Ends outside the municipal market. Continues with Xaranga music until the early hours.
Saturday, July 18: DISEMBARKING OF THE MOORS.
02.00hrs: Open-air disco on Pau Pi beach (Playa Mitja Galta) lasting until the disembarking of the Moors.
06.00hrs: Disembarking of the Moorish troops on the beach, firework display and cannon-shots. Moorish captain addresses his troops and a 'spy', or estafeta, tips off the Christian army of their arrival. Mock battle on the beach.
19.00hrs: Spectacular entry of the Moorish troops. Official opening then parade of flag-carriers from the fiesta association. The filadas, or parades, are in the following order: Fila Moriscos, Fila Tuareg, Fila Marraquech, Fila Almorávides, Fila Taifas, Fila Mudéjares (Hilada Capitana 2009). Fiesta continues until the early hours on the streets.
Sunday, July 19: RECONQUEST AND END OF THE FIESTA.
Noon: All filadas, or troops visit each others' casales (tented headquarters) accompanied by musical bands.
19.00hrs: Children's parade along C/ Loygorri, Paseo Joan Carles I, Paseo Lluís Vives and ending in front of the municipal market.
19.30hrs: Reconquest parade starting from Paseo del Rei Jaume I through to the castle.
20.30hrs: Reconquest of the castle by the Christians. The Christian captain leads his troops and features the estafeta, where a 'spy' on horseback tips off the Moors, who are hiding in the castle. Mock battle with cannon-shots. Midnight: Huge firework display to mark the end of the fiesta.