We wondered what all the black handprints were on the walls of Baza when first visiting in 2015, unaware that we had just missed the Fiesta de Cascamorras.
Our annual holidays were always mid September, so again in 2016 we also managed to miss the fiesta by a couple of days.
This year though the wait was over. We finally got to experience the Fiesta de Cascamorras in our town of Baza.
So we thought we would share our experience and for the uninitiated give you a little history behind this popular fiesta.
The Fiesta de Cascamorras is a 500-year-old epic battle between the neighbouring towns of Guadix (the ‘Accitanos’) and Baza (the ‘Bastetanos’). It’s a battle between 1 Accitano (El Cascamorras) and 1000’s of Bastetanos !
The fiesta takes place annually on September 6 and has grown enormously. Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s there were only about 50 ‘painted’ Bastetanos, nowadays there are closer to 10,000.
In 2006, the festival was declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest of Spain.
So how did the Fiesta de Cascamorras come about ?
Back in 1490, the construction of a church begins on a small chapel in Baza. Juan Pedernal (nicknamed ‘Cascamorras’), a worker from Guadix is chipping away at plaster when he hears a voice calling “have mercy”. Continuing to dig he uncovers a small statue of the Virgin Mary (now known as ‘Virgen de la Piedad’ or ‘Lady of Mercy’) . Encouraged by his Guadixan countrymen, he attempts to carry the sacred image to Guadix, but Bazans snatch it before he arrives, punishing what they consider a sacred theft.
A conflict arises, one so serious that King Felippe II has to intervene and send a commissioner to mediate. Both Baza and Guadix claim the find as their own. The tribunals decide that the image should remain in Baza, except one day a year when it could be taken to Guadix, but it seems that neither town trust the practicalities of this decision.
As a result, the two towns decide that once per year on the Saint’s day, a representative from Guadix would come and try to take the statue from La Igelsia de la Merced (Church of the Mercy) in Baza.
If he succeeds then he can take it back to Guadix.
There were however 2 conditions:-
– He has to reach the church on foot, and
– He has to arrive ‘unpainted’.
Who is the Cascamorras ?
The Cascamorras is the representative sent from Guadix to try to reclaim the statue. He must have been born in Guadix and is chosen by the ‘brotherhood’ or Cascamorras guardians. The guardians are supposedly relatives of Juan Pedernal (the man who found the statue).
What happens during Cascamorras ?
The Cascamorras must run from the hills on the outskirts of Baza to the El Merced Church (which houses the Virgin) without getting ‘painted’. A distance of 4 km with a run time of 2 hours (lots of stopping and flag waving takes place).
The Bastetanos cover themselves with black oil, so that they are well prepared to ‘paint’ the Cascamorras (by simply rubbing against him) once the race commences. The Cascamorras has a porra (rubber ball tied to a wooden stick by a leather cord) to defend himself. His team try in vain protect him through the Baza streets.
In the past the Bastetanos covered themselves in old engine oil, nowadays though a black dyed bio oil is used. Firstly though they coat themselves in a layer of olive oil to make it easier to clean themselves later.
A rocket signals the start and tradition dictates that even if the Cascamorras is ‘painted’ during the run he must still fight to the very end.
There has never been a successful Cascamorras and the word on the street is that neither towns want one after so many Centuries of tradition.
Apparently once in the 1950’s the Cascamorras almost reached the church unpainted. He had been sheltered by the Civil Guard (people were terrified by them during the Franco years). However as he was mounting the steps a fellow Accitano (Guadixan) ‘painted’ him, thus maintaining the tradition.
At the Fuente de los Canos Dorados (Fountain of the Golden Pipes) there is an ode to the flag. Here the Cascamorras waves the flag over the crowd in a blessing. There is a further blessing in the Plaza Mayor.
Once he reaches his destination, he is allowed to enter the church and see the Lady of Mercy.
The preparation of the town of Baza
The town of Baza lives and breathes the Fiesta de Cascamorras and the Bastetanos are extremely proud of their ancient traditions. As the day of the fiesta nears, the shops decorate their premises in celebration of the approaching day.
The morning of the Fiesta sees the buildings on the route through the town being protected from the worst of the oil with sheets of black plastic.
Experiencing the Fiesta de Cascamorras first hand
To run the Cascamorras or to be a spectator ? – that was the question for us.
We decided that for our first Cascamorras we would watch the run, choosing to line the street along with hundred’s of others in the Plaza de Eras.
It seemed a fitting place to be as it is the location of the fountain of Cascamorras. It’s also next to the Fountain of Golden Pipes where the ode to the flag occurs.
Arriving in plenty of time we had a couple of sneaky beers with friends whilst waiting for the hordes to descend. Just after 6PM we heard a couple of small explosions (rockets ?) and at about 6:30 people started to line the street (behind the barriers). We found a likely spot and waited in anticipation.
After about 15 minutes small groups of people, almost the reverse of stragglers started to appear, liberally doused in black oil.
Then in the distance we could make out a mass of black bodies and a flag being waved.
Then the mob descended down the street, with a well-painted Cascamorras in their midst. You really have to be there to experience the sight, as well as the sound of so many people running and the unexpected smell of the olive oil !
I have to be honest, I felt a little envious that I was a spectator and not a participant . Well I suppose that there’s always next year !
Just past us they congregated at the fountain for the ode to the flag. I’d had enough of being a spectator by now, so climbed over the barriers to go join in the fun. I got in among the crowd whilst managing to remain ‘unpainted’. To be honest, I think that they were too busy getting their breaths back to worry about ‘painting’ me 🙂
There was lots of chanting and jumping up and down and I could just make out the flag being waved by an exhausted looking Cascamorras.
That done, I returned to Josie and our friends. At the same time I met up those of us who had taken part in the run.
We walked to the Plaza Mayor to see a further waving of the flag before heading off for another cerveza.
A truly unique, crazy and wonderful experience.
Two days later there is a ceremonial procession in Baza when the Lady of Mercy is carried around the town. The following day there is a second run in Guadix that involves lots of coloured paint instead of oil. These however are stories for another day 🙂
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 it’s your thing, you can also follow us on Instagram 🙂
5 words related to this blog entry …
Battle – La Batalla.
Pintar – To Paint.
Race – La Carrera.
Olive Oil – Aceite de Oliva .
Flag – La Bandera