Spain loves its festivals and celebrations. And even with knowing that, my expectations were exceeded by far. After having experienced Moros y Cristianos I know how weird some of my questions might have sounded. I was expecting a spectacle in one place, comparable to Oktoberfest in Munich or just a big fair. But this was different. The first weekend of June we went to the town of Elda to visit “Moros y Cristianos”. The festival is all about the “Reconquista”, when the Spanish reconquered the Iberian Peninsula. Between 711 and 1492 the Peninsula was part of the Islamic Empires, only a small part way up north was not included in the Umayyad Caliphate. For more than 700 years the Muslims ruled over the Christians.
The festival “Moros y Cristianos” is mainly celebrated in the area where I live, in Comunidad Valenciana. You can find it in other parts as well but here it is really traditional. Every town celebrates it at a different date, some in the fall like here in Benidorm and others in the spring. The festival in Elda is one of the largest and best-known and has become a Fiesta de interés turístico nacional.
Elda is my boyfriend’s hometown with around 50.000 inhabitants. And all of them are on the streets during those days. Moros y Cristianos consists of five (!) official holidays, from Thursday to Monday you cannot find any normal life. The streets are crowded, people are all dressed up and stay out until the next morning. The festivities are divided into different parts, as they have to cover 700 years of history. It starts with the Entrada de Banda on Thursday and they have kids parades and many different things. We only went on saturday and were greeted with extremely loud gunshots and gunpowder. Around noon the Moros conquered the castle of the city and overthrew the king. The whole city was assembled around the city hall and the different groups of Moros y Cristianos were fighting and reenacting the whole scenery.
At night, which appears to be contradictory, the Christians enter the town in a huge parade, followed by the Muslims. Both groups are divided into different subgroups, 4 Muslims and 5 Christians. They are inspired by the society back in the days:
Moros: Realistas, Musulmanes, Marroquíes, Huestes del Cadí
Cristianos: Cristianos, Piratas, Estudiantes, Contrabandistas, Zíngaros
The parade is live on TV, a huge event that takes hours! To watch you need to reserve a seat and I was told that the first row usually sells out in January… So we watched from the second row and cheered for the different groups, some super colorful, others more traditional. Each group walks with lots of different lines and all of them wear a different outfit each year. The groups have some similiarities, but all of them are completely different. People either buy or rent the costumes and spend a fortune. There is even a competition for the best group! The parade usually takes place for almost 5 hours and passes through the whole city. Around 7.000 people participate in the parade!! And the earliest documentation of the festivities is form 1754. There is one part along the track, where we sat next to, where the local government is seated. Funny side story, the city mayor of Elda is still pretty young and has led his row for a while now. Why stop? So then the mayor parades in front of you and the people cannot stop cheering and waving. Bonus points!
While my boyfriend had never been involved in the parade, he usually dressed up with friends and wore some related clothes, for example the colors of his favorite group. His family participates, though. How cool is that, when you think you don’t know many people in Spain but then you wave to five different people in a parade!? That never happenend before.
On sunday I was told that the parade is repeated, only that this time the Moros start and usually people buy tickets for both days and just watch half. Because it really takes forever. The festivities ended on monday with a procession.