If you regularly visit Spain during the summer then you really should at least once watch a Moors and Christians parade. This mixture of history, tradition and sheer dressing-up madness is a must for all ages. It can also be a long night ahead if you have the stamina!
In virtually every town and city across Spain, the Moors and Christians make an appearance between the months of June and September. It really is a spectacular display of history, fabulous costumes and general pageantry that is followed by more entertainment and late night partying.
The festival has as its theme the conflicts between the Moors and Christians in Spain during the eighth to 15th century AD in the period known as the Reconquista. Eventually the Moors were defeated by the Christians which ended approximately 800 years of Moorish rule in Spain.
Although it is portrayed as a victory it should be recognised that during this period many national achievements were noted including in the fields of astronomy, art, mathematics and agriculture. Architecturally we still have evidence of the skills of the Islamic architects who built the Alhambra and mosques around Spain; many of these later being transformed into cathedrals and churches.
The Moors valued education and they were great proponents of a university education. They established public libraries and running water in hospitals. They constructed an aqueduct and developed a range of surgical instruments, to name just a few of their achievements.
Their occupation of Spain introduced many new and innovative ideas that surpassed those available in other parts of Europe. Their contributions to Spanish heritage are profound. The Moors and Christians festivities are a symbolic reminder of the rich and multi-cultural history that is Spain’s bedrock.
Processions and re-enactments
In most towns the festival continues from two to three days to up to a week. It includes processions over a number of days that often culminate with a historical re-enactment. There is usually opportunity to pay tribute to the town’s own patron saint and many festivals include activities for children.
Each town provides a unique, individual story and adds its own flavour to the celebration. Those towns situated by the sea often incorporate a sea battle into their re-enactments and this can be particularly exciting and different to watch. In some places a paella competition is held on one of the days and most events that are covered during the festival will have some significance that can be traced back through the town’s history.
For example, it might be that the Moors seize a religious relic during one event to be followed by its recovery and return to the church where it came from. Perhaps there was a battle out at sea with the final outcome being determined when a fog falls and a surprise victory follows.
The people taking part in these events are members of local associations called filaes or comparses. Each group represents one side – either the Moors or Christians and can have several hundred participants. In some towns the two groups parade on different days and then come together in a final procession or mock battle.
Although you will find the Moors and Christians processions in many parts of Spain, there are some areas where they are particularly well known and could be worth a special visit.
It’s not always in the summer that The Moors and Christians takes place. Alcoy is renowned for its version which is held in April. Over 5,000 people can take part in this procession dedicated to San Jorge and that dates back to the 16th century.
It is a major event in the Alcoy calendar and the whole city is decorated in a mock of the middle ages. As in most other parts of Spain, the festival takes place over a few days with processions leading up to the ‘battle’ in the Plaza de España square in the specially-built castle.
You can find out more about the Alcoy Moors and Christians Fiesta in Eurotourguide
The festival in Villajoyosa has been taking place for 250 years and is celebrated during the last week of July. It is considered to be one of the best in Spain and has been declared as being of International Tourist Interest. The festival takes place over a full week and includes midweek battles on the beaches.
Towards the end of the week the fight between the two groups continues at sea with the Moors eventually jumping in and swimming to shore to conquer the castle. Traditionally the penultimate day includes a paella competition and, of course, chance to sample some too.
Dénia celebrates its Moors and Christians in the middle of August. The town also has a battle out at sea and a celebration in honour of Dénia’s patron saint, Sant Roc. The town holds a paella competition, music concerts and children’s parade. Part of the enactment includes the ‘miracle of the fog’ which is said to have helped the Christians to victory.
These are some towns in Spain that are well-known for their Moors and Christians festivities but every town brings its own twist to the event and has local stories and legends surrounding what really happened.
If you would like to watch a Moors and Christians event for yourself then you will need to arrive early to get yourself a good position. Do your research as to which day might be the best day to attend and get some idea of how long it might continue for. Parking can be a problem, not only on arrival but to exit as well. Sometimes it is better to park a little way out of the town and walk to guarantee that you are not caught in a queue or blocked by a procession.
You don’t have to pay anything to watch but if you want a chair with a better view then you can pay for one on the day. For this festival it can be a good idea as the procession can continue for an hour or more depending on the town and with such elaborate costumes, it is worth having a good view.
After the processions have finished this doesn’t mean that it’s time to go home. Many people continue to stay around well into the night, eating together and partying in open-air bars and other venues that stay open until the morning. In most cases these are mixed-age events. However, check, as in some cases and increasingly the after-procession festivities are aimed at a younger age group.
Whatever the age group, you can expect a good atmosphere. You might be intrigued to see some of those who were taking part in the procession earlier, out and about in the bars, enjoying their refreshments and still in their period costume and makeup.
The Moors and Christians is a real feature of the Spanish summer and comes highly recommended for at least one proper viewing.