Festivals and Fiestas are an important part of Spanish life and something we have definitely been looking forward to experiencing.
So, the Moors and Christians festival in our local town of Benamaurel was the perfect opportunity for us to start to embrace this Spanish culture.
And knowing we were going to experience the festival made me (Josie just shouted out ‘nerd’) want to learn a little bit about what it was all about. So, here goes….
A brief history of the Moors and Christians Festival
The first thing I learnt (a little off subject) was that ‘Al-Andalus’ is the Arabic name for the area that was ruled by the Moors from 711 to 1492. It is believed that this is where Andalucia got its name. The Moors rule covered most of Spain, most of Portugal and the southern part of France.
The festival itself commemorates the battles, combats and fights between Moors (i.e. Muslims) and Christians during what is known as Reconquista (from the 8th century through the 15th century).
It also turns out that the festival is a very old tradition, dating back to the 16th century.
The festival of the Moors and Christians (‘Moros y Cristianos’ in Spanish) is celebrated in many towns and cities within Spain. In Andalucia, the festival appears to be more popular in the provinces of Granada and Almeria. It takes place on different days throughout the year depending on the locality. The usual format is first a procession of the Moors and the Christians, then a theatrical enactment of verbal attacks and rejections by both groups, a battle enactment with skirmishes and dances, the conversion or the death of the moors, and finally homage to the patron saint.
Moors and Christians Festivals within the Altiplano de Granada
In our area, the Moors and Christians festival takes place during the final weekend of April, (this year it ran from 29th April through to 1st May), in the villages of Benamaurel, Cúllar and Zújar
Benamaurel appears to have the largest, most popular festival. I discovered that the festival of Moors and Christians in Benamaurel has even been declared of tourist Interest within Andalusia. They were winners of the “Traces of the millennium of the Kingdom of Granada.” All I can say for sure is that It is certainly the best advertised.
We only saw a couple of Facebook mentions of the festival in Cullar. Whilst we didn’t even find out about the one in Zujar until the following week. I suppose for us that just means there are other festivals to enjoy and compare over the coming years 🙂
The celebration here is timed to honour the patron saint, Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza. Like most Moors and Christians festivals, It takes the form of live street theatre, involving the people of the village, as well as actors and bands from all over Andalucia. Celebrations include the traditional floral offering, local pilgrimage and processions through the village with the image of the Virgin Patron Saint. The finale to the festivities is a union of cultures between the Moors and Christians.
The Moors and Christians Festival of Benamaurel
Whilst there were 4 full days of festivities, the key events (displayed on the Ayuntamineto de Benamurels Facebook page) seemed to be on Saturday evening, Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Monday afternoon.
The festivities in our area are meant to re-enact the kidnapping of the Virgin by the Moorish armies and her subsequent rescue by the Christians, based on a literary text entitled “Los Papeles” (The Papers). ‘Los Papeles’ is a comedy that relays the clashes between Moors and Christians; it’s an anonymous work, written at the beginning of the 18th Century, (an exact date is unknown).
Saturday evening involves a floral offering to the Virgin Patron Saint. Followed by the entrance of the Queens (both Christian and Moor) accompanied by their squadrons and bands. The parade makes its way to the Plaza Mayor and ends with the coronation of the 2017 Queens.
On Sunday morning there is a pilgrimage procession of the Virgin de la Cabeza , from the Plaza Mayor to her Ermita (hermitage). Whilst the evening is a representation of the first part of ‘los papeles’, resulting in the kidnapping (captivity) of the Virgin by the Moorish armies. The two armies march from their respective camps and meet on the bridge of the Salitres. Here a battle commences, ending with the triumph of the Moors and capture of the Virgin. Upon completion, the Image is escorted by the Moors Band to the parish church, where it is displayed.
Finally on Monday there is the enactment of the second part of ‘los papeles’. This ends in the defeat of the Moors and the rescue of the Virgin. The Christians then escort her to the Plaza Mayor.
Our Experience of the Moors and Christians Festival
We had planned on going along on Saturday evening. A whole day of rain and a cold overcast evening somewhat dampened our enthusiasm. Instead we decided we would go along on Sunday afternoon and see the first of the battles.
We were advised to park on the edge of Benamaurel and walk into town. We met our friends in a bar, which was cunningly positioned next to the bridge where the battle takes place 🙂
There were plenty of explosions in the run up to the procession and battle … Josie nearly threw her drink over herself every time she jumped 🙂
It turns out that gunpowder is a fundamental element in the festival. Benamaurel actually has sulfur mines that were exploited until the middle of the 20th Century, they were reported as being some of the most important in Spain.
As the explosions increased in frequency, the crowds started to gather along the side of the road. We managed to squeeze in just as the Moorish procession started … and what a spectacle it was. I cannot even begin to imagine the time, effort (and costs) that goes into the costumes. There were so many people involved that I am surprised there was anyone left to watch !
We only saw the Moors procession, which lasted about 20 minutes or so. At the same time the Christians were approaching from the other direction.
Everything suddenly went quiet (comparatively), and there was a meeting between Moors and Christians.
It obviously didn’t go too well as what followed was a very chaotic battle that amazingly led to no real casualties. The Moors triumphed and that was that !
We wandered up into the town, the main street was adorned with eateries, mobile bars, bouncy castles and various fairground attractions. Retiring to another bar, we relaxed and watched the Moors, Christians and Virgin pass by in procession.
It truly was a wonderful festival and my only regret is that we only attended one of the parades that took place over those 4 days. If our efforts had been a school report it would have said ‘must try harder’ – and next year we will 🙂
So … Who are one foot in the cave ?
We (Danny and Josie) have spent the last 10 years living and working in the Caribbean. In 2015 we decided we wanted to move closer to family and friends so bought a cave house in the Granada region of Andalucia, Spain. We moved there full time in January 2017. Now we write about our experiences of cave living and how we are adapting to life in Spain.
We also have a Facebook page full of pictures, experiences and information that we have found useful along the way. If its your thing, you can also follow us on Instagram 🙂
5 words related to this blog entry …
Culture – La Cultura.
Festival – El Festival.
Procession/Parade – La Procesion.
Pilgrimage – La Peregrinacion.
Battle – La Batalla.