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HOT Attractions - Carnival in Cádiz

Think of Carnival, and the chances are that exotic images of Rio de Janeiro and the Caribbean immediately spring to mind. But much nearer to home —in fact less than a two-hour drive from Marbella — the provincial capital of neighbouring Cádiz is also hosting one of the world's largest and most extravagant of annual celebrations this month... and you're invited!

Colourful processions, lavish costumes, spectacular fireworks, contagious rhythms and riotous revelling in general are just some of the contributing factors to a successful carnival. And while many towns and villages across mainland Spain hold their own editions, nowhere knows how to party quite like the historic city of Cádiz on the Atlantic coast. Widely acclaimed as the third largest carnival anywhere in the world, and declared of International Tourist Interest, this year the Cádiz Carnival starts on 23 February, and scarcely pauses for breath before its dazzling climax ten days later on 5 March.

Carnival (Carnavol in Spanish), is all about unwinding, letting your hair down and forgetting about routine; providing a chance to catch up with friends and family and literally eat, drink and be merry. Or is it? Like many popular festivities that take place throughout the year, the true meaning of carnival, its history and origins, have been somewhat misplaced.

Satire plays a major part in the Cádiz Carnaval

The carnival season traditionally takes place during the first two weeks prior to Lent. However, in Ancient Rome, for example, it was known to start as early as Twelfth Night. Today, it most commonly begins on the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday. There are several theories as to the origin of the word 'carnival', the most popular being that it comes from the Latin for 'meat' (camern) and 'farewell' (vale), thus literally meaning 'farewell to meat'. The celebration of carnival itself originally stemmed from a need for households to use up all the remaining meat and animal produce, such as butter and eggs, before the fasting period actually began. Carnival therefore ended on Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French), also known in the UK as Pancake Day.

Although the traditions of carnival began in Italy, it quickly spread to other European Catholic countries, including France, Spain and Portugal. Later, with the colonisation of the Americas and the Caribbean, it travelled even further, this time taking on African influences with drums, dance and music customs typically transforming the early celebrations. Large puppets, stick fighters and stilt dancers also became regular features. Today's tradition of processions of floats and performers parading the city during carnival time is also said to have had African origins, as many ancient tribal celebrations involved the circling of villages which was believed to bring good fortune and cast out evil spirits.

A major sea port for centuries, although the Carnival in Cádiz is very similar to those of Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, its festivities actually date back to the XVI century when they were imported from Venice — famous for its masked balls and parades originating from the XIII century - with whom the city had established important trade connections. And in common with its Canary Island cousins Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (whose own Carnival celebrations are also legendary), satire plays a major part in the provincial capital's festivities, as local minstrels and groups of satirical singers known as murgas and comparsas, lampoon politicians and leading celebrities both national and international in a series of competitions which officially take place at the Gran Teatro de la Falla theatre and are televised for all to see and appreciate on national television. For Spanish-speakers, these wickedly-worded songs, or chirigotas, are one of the most popular aspects of Carnival.

Under Franco rule, carnival was abolished throughout his dictatorship. The remote Canary Islands neatly side-stepped the prohibition by renaming it the Winter Festival. In modern Spain's democratic and highly liberal society, the Cadiz Carnival is perhaps the most significant event on the social calendar. In order to ensure that everything is just right, preparations and rehearsals begin as early as the previous September. One of the biggest, most vibrant, and longest of free parties on the planet, it's not to be missed!

The biggest event on the social calendar

If you have the time and the stamina, take the opportunity to experience Carnival in Cadiz from start to finish. But if ten days — and nights — of non-stop partying sounds like too much of a good thing, the most important dates to put in your diary are 25 and 26 February, 5 March, and as Shrove Tuesday (28 February) this year coincides with a public holiday throughout Andalucía... you already know the only place to be!

For further information and a comprehensive programme of events, contact the Cádiz Carnival Committee: Tel: (+34) 956 277 256; Fox: (+34) 956 227 I I I; or log on to If you're planning to stay overnight, contact the Cádiz Tourist Board: Tel: (+34) 956 807 061; Fax: (+34) 956 274 635; or log on to


Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 56 - 2006

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