Spain History: the Moors and Christians Festivals
Streets decked out like the Middle Ages, magnificent processions, exciting mock battles… You are in the middle of the festival of Moors and Christians: days filled with magic, legend and spectacle.
For over four centuries, this festival has recreated the historic clash between two cultures in many places along the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. Come and get involved in this unique festival in which thousands of people take part year after year, all trying to outshine each other in splendour and brilliance.
The festival of Moors and Christians is a very old tradition that dates back to the 16th century. It commemorates the confrontation that took place between Moorish and Christian soldiers in the 13th century over the rule of Spain. The events are held in honour of the city's patron saint who also played a decisive role in the battle. Thanks to the saint's sudden and unexpected intervention, victory went to the Christians in spite of their being outnumbered by the Moors.
The attraction, grandeur and popular nature of these festivities have caused them to spread to many parts of Spain, although they are especially popular in Valencia and Alicante. The festivals of Alcoy and Villajoyosa stand out for their spectacular nature and both are recognised as being of International Touristic Interest. In Villena, the number of participants –more than 11.000- results in never ending parades as one third of the city population takes part in it. By taking part in this festive re-enactment, you will have the chance to discover an important piece of Spanish history, at the same time as you enjoy a festival which never fails to outshine that of previous years.
The start of the festivities is marked by the arrival of both armies in the city. Beginning in the early hours of the morning, the streets, balconies and windows fill with people intent on not missing a single thing. To the accompaniment of music and with all the pomp and majesty you could hope for, the various groups that make up the Moorish and Christian factions march in a martial parade, desperately trying to outshine each others sumptuous costumes. It tends to be one of the most popular and impressive events and in certain cases, such as that of Villena, over 10,000 people take part in the march.
Another part of the festivities are the religious ceremonies held in honour of the city's patron saint. Yet there are still many more exciting moments awaiting you, such as the spectacular final battle. It follows the so-called "embajadas" (meeting of envoys) in the castle, in which each side reads a text in an attempt to persuade the other side to surrender. Once negotiations have failed, a mock battle ensues in which thousands of kilos of gunpowder is used, ending in victory for the Christians. This battle has a particular flavour in Villena, where the fight actually takes place in the Castle of La Atalaya which adds realism and spectacle.
In Villajoyosa, the Moors and Christians festival has been held for over 250 years in honour of Santa Marta (St. Martha) and commemorates events which occurred in 1538, when Berber pirates led by Zalé-Arraez tried to attack Villajoyosa. According to legend, St. Martha came to the rescue of the townsfolk by causing a flash flood which wiped out the enemy fleet, thus preventing the corsairs from reaching the coast. To show their gratitude, the town made her its patron saint and hold this annual festival in her honour, the main event being a re-enactment of the Moorish landing.
Villajoyosa is brimming over with fun and merriment during these festivities. There are also many activities to enjoy, such as gastronomic competitions, open-air dances, firework displays and music concerts. Althoug the Moors and Christians is a popular festival in many parts of Spain, such as that of Banyeres, the re-enactment of the landing is unique to Villajoyosa and sets it apart from all other festivals of its kind.
In Alcoy, history, legend and spectacle join hands in a celebration full of sparkle and fantasy to commemorate events that took place in the 13th century.The festival of Moors and Christians is the biggest event of the year in Alcoy. It is dedicated to Saint George, a figure steeped in age-old tradition. The festival dates back to the 16th century and commemorates a battle which was fought in 1276. At that time, Alcoy stood on the border of the Muslim-held territories of Spain. There were frequent skirmishes between the two factions until, on 23 April 1276, the Moorish troops of Al-Azraq attempted to storm the town. According to legend, St. George appeared during the battle and, thanks to his intervention, the Christian army won the day, forcing the Moors to retreat and never to return. In recognition of his timely intervention, the townsfolk of Alcoy made him their patron Saint and promised to hold a festival in his honour on 23 April every year.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fernando Maciá is Human Level Communications CEO and a writer for Viva-Spain.com: Spain from a tourist's perspective.