THE official exhibition which has been touring the globe for a decade has been set up in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences since April 13 – and tomorrow (Sunday, August 11) is its last day. But, unbelievably,...
August’s most unique fiestas in Spain
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Aug 11, 2019
WHEREVER you are in Spain this August, it’s almost certain you’ll stumble across the odd fiesta in a town within striking distance of where you’re staying. Trying to decide where to go to make sure you get to witness the most spectacular and memorable of these is never straightforward – and just to make the choice even harder for you, here are some of the most splendid, silly, fascinating, unusual and exciting left on the festival calendar this month.
Semana Renacentista (‘Renaissance Week’), Medina del Campo
This may be the first you’ve heard of it, but Medina del Campo in the province of Valladolid, in the centre-northern regional of Castilla y León, was one of the most powerful and wealthy in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its weekly market was among the continent’s biggest trading hubs. Unsurprisingly, then, when King Carlos I arrived in Spain and wanted the people of Medina del Campo to contribute money towards his being made Emperor, the commoners opted to revolt.
A completely unique historical pageant, the Semana Renacentista re-enacts the battle between the commoners and the imperials, and also recreates the weekly market in the form of a Renaissance fair. Starts this Wednesday, August 14 and continues until the following Wednesday, August 21.
El Cipotegato, Tarazona
It’s uncertain whether being picked to flesh out the character of the Cipotegato, or jester, is a great honour or your worst nightmare come true: you’re the star of the show on the first day of the fiesta, but you also get pelted with thousands of ripe tomatoes.
Dressed as a harlequin, he runs through the town of Tarazona (Zaragoza province in the north-eastern region of Aragón) being bombarded with tonnes of salad fruit, along a route that is never disclosed to anyone but the human target himself but which always begins and ends in the Plaza de España, where he has a statue in tribute to him.
Behind him, the crowds carry on the tomato fight, but these do not start until he has run past them.
At the end of his ‘mystery’ circuit, the jester is bodily lifted onto his statue, which he ties a scarf around, and which marks the start of the patron saint festival in honour of San Atilano – six days of parades, live music, folk dancing shows, foam parties and all the usual high jinks that come with any Spanish town’s main summer fiesta.
The Cipotegato’s tomato-drenching is always on August 27, and the fiesta continues until September 1 inclusive.
Aste Nagusia, Bilbao
Basque Country tradition is brought alive during the fiesta whose name means ‘Big Week’ in the regional language, euskera – stone-carrying and log-chopping competitions, a giants’ procession, the scary-looking Gargantua who eats kids (they climb up into his mouth, but then are released intact down a slide inside him and pop out from his backside), and folk music and dancing mean the streets of this international port city on the north coast are bursting with colour and craziness practically round the clock. Fireworks are let off every night, live bands and discos play on into the early hours, and food and drink stalls spill out onto every pavement.
The main fiesta character is, unusually, female, but not actually human; she’s Marijaia, a papier mâché figure who looks like a colourful farmer’s wife with rosy cheeks and a big smile. The Aste Nagusia never officially starts until Marijaia (second picture) is unveiled on the city hall balcony to greet the crowds. Unfortunately, she’s set fire to on the last night, but manages to smile all the way through it – probably because she knows she’ll be rebuilt in time for next year’s festival.
Starts on Saturday, August 17 and continues until Sunday, August 25.
Semana Grande (‘Big Week’), San Sebastián
With the same name (except in Spanish rather than euskera) as its counterpart in Bilbao, the version in the neighbouring province is radically different – the main events include the professional International Firework Competition on La Concha beach, whose name means ‘The Shell’ and comes from its semi-circular shape, and where the public rarely manage to prevent their jaws from dropping and eyes goggling at the spectacular sight of the colourful explosives reflecting off the sea (first picture). Others include the horse-racing at San Sebastián racecourse – a rare opportunity to watch it, given that the sport does not have any particular presence in Spain – and a series of brilliant concerts featuring live bands, some of them pretty famous, in the Sagües district.
It started yesterday (Saturday, August 10) but you can still catch it until this coming Saturday (August 17).
Horse-racing on the beach, Sanlúcar de Barrameda
More fleet-footed quadruped action, but not as you know it – this one takes place on the shores of the Cádiz-province town, with over 80 horses competing in different categories, and in the evening to ensure it’s at low tide, typically from about 18.30 to 21.30.
The equines are the same type as you’d expect to see in ‘mainstream’ horse-racing – English thoroughbreds – a breed not often spotted in Spain, and you can place bets the way you would on traditional racecourses, although the panorama before you is unrivalled and somewhat more postcard-worthy than anything you’d catch at Newmarket or Ascot: horses tearing flat-out in the sunset, the crimson rays reflected in the sea, and the vast, beautiful Doñana National Park in the background.
Dates change annually, dictated by the tides; there’s one tonight (Sunday, August 11) and it’s on again between Sunday, August 25 and Tuesday, August 27 inclusive.
If you thought the poor old Cipotegato had a raw deal, spare some sympathy for the 15,000 who will cram themselves into the main square in Buñol – about 20 kilometres west of Valencia - and spend a full hour being bombarded with, literally, lorryloads of tomatoes.
But they’ll have brought it upon themselves – the Tomatina is world-famous, and tourists travel from as far away as Japan and Australia to join in. So many of them, in fact, that the council recently started issuing tickets and limiting numbers to 15,000 (plenty enough, considering that’s 150% of the town’s population).
You can’t start the tomato-hurling until the horn sounds, and have to stop when it goes off again, but by then, the streets will be several inches deep in tomato juice, giving a brand-new take on the expression ‘rivers of blood’. Participants are liberally coated, too, and are advised to wear goggles, and clothing they never intend to put on again, because it’ll be irreparably ruined by the end.
Takes place on Wednesday, August 28.
Fiesta del Agua (‘Water Festival’), Vilagarcía de Arousa
A highly-refreshing and completely accidental tradition in the Galicia province of Pontevedra, the celebration known in the regional language as A Festa da Auga is probably one of the most recently-created in Spain: it only dates back to the year 1984.
On the date of the town’s co-patron saint, San Roque, after the pilgrims had made the usual trek to the chapel of the same name from the Santa Eulalia de Arealonga church carrying a life-sized and hefty statue of the subject of their devotion, the tired and sweaty paraders called out to the public to give them some water.
Some comedian chose to misinterpret this reasonable request and, instead of bringing a bottle outside to them, poured a huge glass of water over them from his or her balcony.
Nobody has ever identified the culprit, only the address – C/ San Roque, number 15, above the bar El Peñón – but whoever it was (rumours abound that it was María Isabel García, who owned the Estevez Videoclub) unwittingly started something: a festival that’s now world famous.
After the usual patron saint parade, the pilgrims stand in the square and shout, ¡Agua! ¡Agua!, which is the public’s cue to start pouring. Buckets, glasses, hosepipes, and even the Civil Protection squad with their firefighting hoses drench the achy saint-carriers; a bit like a collective ice-bucket challenge, except from a great height.
The water-hurling takes place on Friday, August 16, although the night before a huge party with live music goes large on Vilagarcía beach.
Batalla de Flores (‘Flower Fight’), Laredo
One of the most fragrant fiestas you’ll find this month, there’s no actual ‘fighting’ happening – unlike with tomatoes and water, as in other towns – the ‘battle’ is merely that of netting first prize for the most creative giant floral arrangement.
Massive statues made entirely from flowers are loaded onto floats and paraded through the town in the northern region of Cantabria from around 17.30, and a panel of judges awards the rosettes. Street markets selling food, arts and crafts, and live music, ensue, plus the obligatory firework display at the end of the night. A stunning, artistic and imaginative open-air display that’ll have you flooding social media with your snaps the next morning, the float parade is a treat for the senses and a source of wonder at just how much you can do with those pretty things that grow in your garden.
Takes place on Friday, August 30.
Misteri d’Elx (Mystery of Elche)
A dying-out European tradition that the city of Elche keeps alive, Mediaeval Mystery Plays are thought to be some of the earliest forms of scenic drama and feature re-enactments of biblical tales complete with Psalm-singing. They were normally staged in churches, performed by local craft guilds, and could last for days. Typical stories fleshed out would be the ones that even non-Christians are familiar with today, such as the legend of Adam and Eve, the Creation, the Final Judgment, and the murder of Abel.
Although Mediaeval Mystery Plays are thought to have been acted out since around the fifth century, Elche’s UNESCO heritage version is believed to have started around 800 years later. Performed in the Basilica, the show reproduces the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The first act, La Vesprà (‘The Eve’, or ‘The Vigil’) depicts the Virgin’s last hours and her death when her soul enters the Kingdom of Heaven and the Apostles grieve over her body on earth, and the following day, act two, La Festa (‘The Festival’ or ‘The Feast’) displays the burial, Assumption and Coronation of Mary in heaven. Nowadays, the play follows a musical score, props guide and stage directions originally written in the year 1625.
Whilst in this city just south of Alicante airport, don’t miss a trip to its UNESCO-certified palm forest – the biggest in Europe – and the designer shoe factories and outlets.
Act one is on Wednesday, August 14, and act two, appropriately, on the bank holiday for the ‘Assumption’, August 15.
Festa Major de Gràcia (‘Gràcia Festival’), Barcelona
As well as the usual live concerts, open-air shows and food stalls, what makes the festival in Barcelona’s Gràcia district so splendid and world-acclaimed is the incredible transformation of its streets: one minute, you’re walking beneath a canopy of trees and multi-coloured umbrellas turned into light shades, the next you’re strolling through a Jurassic-era dinosaur scene, round the next corner you could be in a haunted house with bats on the ceiling or sharing air-space with Roman soldiers, and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll end up underwater with fish, corals and seaweed floating above your head, given that this is one of the most-repeated themes (see fifth photograph, by Canaan on Wikimedia Commons).
Shopkeepers and residents work with papier mâché, balloons, tissue paper, and any other props they can get their hands on, and let their imaginations run riot in a bid to win the top prize for best-decorated street. Once you’ve witnessed this lot, you’ll feel sorry for the judges, faced with an impossible choice.
Fira d’Agost (‘August Fair’), Xàtiva
Probably one of the oldest celebrations in Spain, the Fira d’Agost in the inland Valencia-province town of Xàtiva – one of the homes of the notorious Borgia dynasty, reputedly the site of Spain’s first paper mill, and famous for its huge hilltop castle – has been held almost continuously for the last 769 years.
It was first launched by kind permission of King Jaume I in the year 1250, and was mainly a livestock fair – which still features, but is now just one more of many activities on the programme.
In its modern-day format, the Fira d’Agost includes a huge daily market selling arts, crafts and traditional, handmade food, a fairground, live music, open-air shows, and a children’s theatre festival.
Among its most famous permanent fixtures are the street-circuit motorbike rally, the Festival de la Cançó (‘Song Festival’), and the traditional Albaes, or folk song night.
Starts this Thursday, August 15 (a public holiday in Spain), and runs until Tuesday, August 20 inclusive.
Feria de Málaga (‘Málaga Fair’)
In theory, this huge, cosmopolitan and multi-national festival in the Costa del Sol capital started 528 years ago, but its format has changed dramatically since then. After Málaga was officially incorporated into the Kingdom of Castilla on August 19, 1487, the city cathedral would give a mass on that date every year in commemoration. On the fourth anniversary, mass was followed by a public fiesta – technically, the first Feria de Málaga – although it did not catch on as a regular summer celebration until the year 1887, when the city held special events to mark the 500th anniversary of joining the Kingdom.
Since then, it has spread out to nine days, and features live bands, a fairground, hundreds of colourful casetas or market stall huts, music in the streets, wine- and tapas-tasting, fireworks, and the famous pilgrimage to the La Victoria Sanctuary on horseback and in carriages with riders in traditional costume.
Starts on Thursday, August 15 and continues until Saturday, August 24.
More Leisure/Entertainment content
actor Mel Gibson is on holiday with his family in the northern region of Asturias, and tells reporters he is fascinated by the history of the area and is planning to take a tour across the neighbouring regions. Gibson,...
SUMMER is the season when Spain seems to wake up in earnest – despite the heat making its inhabitants want to go back to sleep – and streets that were quiet the rest of the year start to overflow with people,...
IF YOU'RE nowhere near a beach and don't have a swimming pool, summer in Spain can be somewhat uncomfortable – although if you do, it's paradise on a plate. And happiness is there to be shared, according...