Living traditions and popular culture
The Alpujarran festive calendar stretches across the whole year, starting with Semana Santa (Easter or, more specifically, Holy Week) and carrying on through the summer and autumn with regular ferias (local fairs, whether trade or artisan events or simply noisy festive celebrations), and moving on to Christmas and the Reyes Magos (Epiphany, or Wise Kings) on the 6th of January.
Here in Spain, the latter is a more exciting and colourful celebration than Christmas itself, with every village organising processions led by floats from which the three kings cast sweets and toys to the crowds of children lining the streets. It is also the day the Spanish exchange gifts. Each village celebrates its patron saint’s day (and some villages have two) with a religious theme, and most villages also have their annual fair or feria, normally a non-religious occasion. Whichever it may be, these celebrations are always noisy affairs with plenty of fireworks, mostly of the cracker variety (petardos, or traca) that sound like a car back-firing in your close vicinity, and liable to send terrified dogs scattering over a half-mile radius. However, in recent years more visually impressive firework displays have also become popular, some very sophisticated. One particular feature to look out for is the Entierro de la Zorra (burial of the she-fox) which, contrary to what the name might indicate, is a sort of pyrotechnics’ death-wish version of the Catherine Wheel, with a series of fireworks attached to a rickety structure timed (or not) to unleash multiple rockets off in a wildly unpredictable range of directions. It is wise to keep your distance...
Some of the villages have become particularly well known for certain fiestas and they attract numerous crowds every year. Torvizcón celebrates the day of its patron saint, San Antón Abad, in January with bonfires often dangerously lit in the narrow alleys between the houses. Trevélez celebrates San Antonio in June when they enact a fight between the Christians and the Moors, but the best of these Moros y Cristianos re-enactments takes place in Válor, the birthplace of Abén Humeya who was crowned king of the Moriscos in Cádiar.
San Juan in Lanjaron - Fiesta del Agua y jamon
One of the most original and fun fiestas is that held in the spa town of Lanjarón, on the day of San Juan, June 23 (also falling close to the summer solstice) known as the “feria del agua y del jamón”. Here, while the rest of Spain enjoys the traditional San Juan bonfires (notably on the beach) when midnight strikes the residents of, and visitors to, Lanjarón cast off their clothes, put on their swimming costumes and engage in 60 minutes of frantic water-fighting.
It is said that a girl whose face is splashed with water will be blessed with beauty for the year. And this is not hard to come by, given that half the town is armed with water pistols, while the local council workers man the fire hydrants drenching anyone not acting sufficiently festively with bursts of high-pressure water.
Wine fountain in Cadiar
There are also numerous pilgrimages, most famously being the one that leads to the Virgen de las Nieves, on the peak of the Mulhacén, the highest point on mainland Spain, where the Ermita (Hermitage) is located. The end of the grape harvest in Cádiar, is celebrated with a festival known as the“festival fuente del vino” where they have a public fountain from which the local wine of the Contraviesa region, known as vino de la tierra or vino Costa, runs continuously for anyone to drink.
One of the Alpujarra’s most unusual and interesting customs is el trovo, from which we get the word troubadour. This is a duel in which the “combatants” sing spontaneous verses at their opponents, with the accompaniment of music and dancing.
In 1982, in order to preserve the local traditional songs and musical instruments, a yearly festival was set up, the Festival de Música Tradicional. This festival, whose programme changes on an annual basis, takes place in a different town or village each year, during the first fortnight of August.
Made in Alpujarras - Hecho en la Alpujarra
Another popular event which is growing each year is the local trade and artisan fair Hecho en La Alpujarra, held in Orgiva during Holy Week.
This is an arts, craft and food trade fair and farmers’ market, initiated by the Town Hall in collaboration with the Office of Tourism.
Itand aims at the promotion of Alpujarran products and crafts, from cheese and hams to rugs and ceramics.
Medieval market in Orgiva
And another date for the diary taking place in the Alpujarran capital is the Medieval Market and fair which takes place in Orgiva each year around the bank holiday held for the Inmaculada, in early December.
Along with food, drink, entertainment and crafts, look out for the falconry show.
In short, regardless of tastes and season there is always something going on in the Alpujarras, and it almost always involves food, music and lots of noise...