If you visit Spain you won’t want to miss the amazing sights, sounds and, in some cases, smells of the Spanish fiestas. There are dozens of events and each one is in honour of the many patron saints. Every community has some form of celebration. Now, the most interesting have been documented in a guidebook, Spanish Fiestas: The Wild, The Wonderful and the Downright Weird, by Dublin-based author Dave Murphy.
Dave told Keri Jones from The Great Destinations Radio Show that he wrote the book to encourage people to travel outside the tourist areas and discover local colour. “You could be on holiday at a resort in Catalonia or the Costa Brava and five kilometres up the road there’ll be a troupe of men performing a human tower. They form a base, which could be up to fifty people and then they go up as high as ten storeys,” says Dave. “It’s a spectacular event but it’s also quite dangerous as some of these human towers collapse,” he warns.
Dave says the incredible spectacle is an expression of Catalonian culture. “If you are visiting Barcelona, Girona, Lloret de Mar or the Costa Brava it’s worth checking out the website ccc.cat to see whether the human tower is happening during your holiday,” he advises.
A few of the fiestas documented in the book are quite odd. Whilst Dave says he first became interested in Spain because of its food, some of the celebrations involve throwing as much of it as possible. You might have heard of La Tomatina at Bunol near Valencia. That’s the world’s biggest food fight! “Truckloads of ripe tomatoes are poured onto the streets and there’s a massive battle with them, which lasts one hour exactly,” says Dave.
In Haro, in the Rioja region, there’s another messy event. “La Batalla del Vino is like the tomato fight only the weapon of choice is red wine. Everybody ends up completely soaking wet,” he says. What a waste! Similarly messy fiestas include throwing meringue or sweets but the cleanest is on 23rd June. There’s a midnight water fight in a town in Andalusia. “Lanjaron chose water because their patron saint is John the Baptist, a man who was not unfamiliar with water himself,” says Dave.
Some of the fiestas could be quite frightening to watch, like the one in which babies are laid on the street and a guy dressed as the devil – El Colacho – jumps over them. Dave explains, “On the main street of Castrillo de Murcia mattresses are laid down and babies that have been born in the previous year are placed on them. They could be in rows of four or five and up to fifty babies. Then the devil runs and jumps over the mattresses, following which young girls shower the babies with rose petals. The local clergy officiate over this. The church hierarchy have tried to distance themselves from the ceremony because the devil jumping over the babies is meant to represent removing their original sin, but the locals still go ahead and arrange the event,” Dave says. This bizarre ritual dates back to the 1600s.
At the end of July there is another peculiar fiesta celebrating near death experiences and held in Las Nieves. Anyone who has had a narrow escape during the preceding year becomes one of the key players in this fiesta, during which locals count their blessings. “People are carried in real, open coffins. Their relatives bring them into the church and place the caskets in the aisles during a mass. Afterwards they are lifted up and carried to the cemetery. After another service, everyone retires to the town, where there’s wine drinking, storytelling and festivities.”
In Córdoba there is a happier event – the Patio Festival. Many homes are built around courtyards, which you can’t see into from the street. During this fiesta, locals open these enclosed spaces and try and outdo each other with the most colourful displays of flowers. “If you’re visiting the city during the festival you can download an app which can direct you around the city to the patios,” advises Dave.
Dave’s book also features some of the more controversial fiestas, which involve animals and especially bulls. Last year, bulls at these events killed thirteen people across Spain. The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona is the most well-publicised.
Spanish Fiestas: The Wild, The Wonderful and the Downright Weird by Dave Murphy is available on Amazon.