Andalusian festivals and fiestas
If you live in southern Spain or you’ve been reading the VIVA blog recently, you’ll have realised that May is a boom time for Andalusian festivals and fiestas.
From now until September, the people of Andalucía (and the country as a whole) take full advantage of the incomparable climate and characteristically long, warm summers to - basically - celebrate at any given opportunity.
Spring time means party time!
To be clear, I’m not insinuating the Spanish are hedonistic or party animals by nature, but they certainly do know how to have a good time! When you combine (often) tight-knit communities, people of a sociable disposition, long-standing local traditions and great weather in southern Spain, it’s the perfect recipe for Andalusian festivals and fiestas.
Take the Fuengirola International Fair, for example. Running until this Sunday, the timing of the cultural fair is by no means accidental. Now that days are longer and nights are more temperate, the feria can go long into the wee hours of the morning without any nasty meteorological surprises.
The northern Andalusian city of Córdoba, within the province of the same name, is a place of reference when it comes to springtime Andalusian festivals and fiestas.
The ancient Roman settlement that became the capital of the Muslim emirate (which encompassed much of the modern-day Iberian Peninsula) before being reconquered by the Christians in 1236, is located 160 kilometres due north of Málaga (straight up the A-45, for those readers with a decent knowledge of the southern Spanish road map) and stands 106 metres above sea level.
Córdoba is blessed with one of the best average high temperature readings of any European city during the month of May (27.4°C)1 and this week temperatures will surpass 30°C2 at their daytime peaks.
This will provide a perfect backdrop to this week's Crosses Festival, which immediately precedes the Patios Festival, starting next Monday 6th May.
The Crosses Festival, or "Cruces de mayo", is a religious festival in veneration of its founder, St Helen (mother of St Constantine), and honours the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Nowadays, it is celebrated by the erection of elaborately-decorated crosses adorned with colourful flowers, which are entered into a competition and judged on their beauty by a specially-selected panel.
And there is fierce competition to win a prize at the competition, which sees 52 participating crosses dotted around the city at this year’s event. The architects of the winning cross will walk away with €1,200 prize money, while second and third placed entrants receive €900 and €700 respectively.
This year’s festival started on Wednesday and runs until this Sunday 5th May... and, from personal experience, is well worth a visit!
As I mentioned before, the Patios Festival, or “Fiesta de los patios” in Spanish, follows straight on from the Crosses Festival next Monday and lasts until Sunday 19th May.
Unlike las cruces, it is not religious in nature and instead explores the ways in which the townsfolk can decorate the courtyard areas of their homes or residential communities.
The cultural festival was inaugurated in 1918 to celebrate the artistic and decorative expression present in the furnishing of one's central patio – a typical Andalusian design concept featuring plants and water features for keeping homes cool which harks back to Roman times.
The result is simply sublime. Neighbours try to outdo each other every year by adorning their patios with more colourful and more sweetly-scented flowers, attractive ceramic ornaments, trees and decorative fountains.
Apart from simply aesthetic pleasure and celebrating the arrival of spring, new life and the blooming season there is – yes, you guessed it – a contest with prizes for the most elegant courtyards. And if you thought the crosses contest was pretty competitive, prizes range from €1,000 (for 7th and 8th place) to €3,000 for the winning patio!3
For a map showing the locations of the 50 participating patios, plus those not included in the competition (all of which are free to visit!), click here
More than just flowers
If I’ve made these two festivals out to be merely floral displays in the historic centre of beautiful Córdoba, I’ve done them a disservice.
In my opinion, these are two of the finest Andalusian festivals and fiestas in the calendar and there is plenty more to do and see besides the crosses and patios. Flamenco shows and dance workshops, live music concerts, locally-sourced food and drink and stalls selling artisan products all protagonise this festival period.
The Crosses and Patios Festivals, as well as being popular among native cordobeses, draw in an increasingly significant tourist following given the courtyard competition’s addition to UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List in 2012 and growing foreign media interest.
In short, a visit to Córdoba is very recommendable anyway, but you’ll find your trip that bit more special if you can go there at this time of year.
To combat the soaring temperatures, the most popular drink during the May festivals in Córdoba is “rebujito”; manzanilla sherry mixed with a soft drink (usually lemonade or soda water), topped off with a sprig of mint. It’s really refreshing and great if you’re not a beer-drinker!
Have you ever been to Córdoba or to either of its May festivals? Or do you intend to go this year? If so, do you need any recommendations? Let me know by leaving me a message in the comments box below!