“What?!”, I can hear you spluttering at your screen. “Another festival? Is she serious? Surely after Sant Jordi, Sant Joan, Benicàssim, the Three Kings and the Renaixement Festival that is enough, at least for a little while. Do some work for goodness sake!”
That’s what I thought too. And believe me, I am trying to work. But this week, this was a big one. Possibly the most important one for Tortosa, because it contained two important days: the celebration of their patron saint, and a Catalonia’s national day.
The Virgin de la Cinta, or Virgin of the Ribbon is (from what I understand) a representation of the Virgin Mary, and she has been the patron of Tortosa for more than 150 years. Her statue sits at the entrance to the Cathedral at the end of our street, ribbon in hand, and at least 20% of girls in the town are named in her honour.
Every year Tortosis honour Cinta with several days of concerts, processions and activities, celebrating the city and its history. There are correfocs (which translates to fire runs I think, just watch the video), performances by local bands, a parade of floats, a competition between young community groups, and lots and lots of baldanas.
We only caught the last couple of days of the festival, but it was enough to see how important the party is to the community. On Sunday night there was a huge religious procession through the town, with all of the local dignitaries carrying candles. A statue of Cinta was carried behind a big marching band, as well as a small holy relic that was perched on a big heavy box (exact meaning of the box yet to be determined).
At the same time, there was another parade featuring the town mascots (including the cucafera, Tortosa’s resident dragon) and the ‘pubilles’ and ‘pubilettes‘, more than 100 young girls from Tortosa wearing traditional dress. Two are voted by the girls to be the Cinta Queen and Princess each year, kind of like a beauty queen I think (although traditionally pubilles were female heirs to rural estates). The parades were quite the sight, and a very warm welcome to my brother who was visiting from Australia!
The festival continued in the new part of town, where the park was transformed into a show ground, with rides and stalls everywhere. A stage was set up in the centre of the park for nightly concerts (nightly meaning, starting at 11pm and going until at least 3am). Some of the bands this year included local group El Mafio, as well as bands from Barcelona such as Els Amics de les Arts and Gertrudis. Lots of dancing, rumba and fun times.
We saw teenagers racing madly along the main street in home-made carts, performing an obscure collection of tasks that are designed by the competitors every year. After this race they were off to a 1am paella cooking contest. If you are familiar with The University of Melbourne’s tomfoolery, it reminded us of a kind of Prosh Week.
Monday was a local holiday, and the activities continued. Swimming races in the Ebro, police dog skill demonstrations and something called a Cosso Iris, which was sort of like a parade of floats for the pubilles.
On the final night, Tortosa’s famous traditional folk group Quico el Célio, el Noi i el Mut de Ferreries (who, it seems, have been at all Tortosa events for the last 20 years) played with a band of traditional instruments. They were accompanied by a troupe of dancers who performed ‘La Jota’, the traditional dances from the region. It was very similar to this (although our seats weren’t so good).
The park was packed with people of all ages, and there were so many people after baldanas in bread that the poor Barra Tortosina ran out of rolls! At the end of the performance, the Cinta queen and princess walked with the band through the crowd to a wick, where they lit a big line of fire crackers, to officially close the festival. As you do.
If that wasn’t enough, Friday was also a holiday in Catalonia for La Diada, Catalonian National Day. This day celebrates the date that Catalonian troops were defeated by Spain’s King Philip V in the 1700s, and (I’ve been told) is the only National Day in Europe that is commemorated on the day of a defeat. It was banned during Franco times, and reinstated in 1980. Today it is a big day for champions of Catalan independence, with rallies and demonstrations across the region. Catalan and Catalan independence flags and banners are also draped everywhere, from balconies to the top of mountains. I think most of the action occurred in Barcelona, but here we saw a candlelit procession on Thursday night, promoting Catalonia becoming an independent country.
So in the end, three processions and two public holidays in one week. How lucky are we?! Now, I promise, no more fiesta stories for two more weeks, at least.