With blunderbusses and real black powder, shots are heard everywhere day and night in the streets during fiesta in Althea.
We are awakened at dawn by music and shots. At late night it`s repeating itself. When do these guys sleep? We wonder! Adults, children and adolescents occupy the streets and squares in Althea, as the fiesta Moors and Christians marks the liberation from Arab rule with great fanfare the last week of September each year.
We have chosen a holiday week in Althea on the Costa Blanca coast just to be part of this fiesta in Althea. Having participated in several Spanish Easter celebrations, we must of course also have with us such a fiesta.
Preparation for the fiesta in Althea takes place throughout the year. You can join a Pena, either Moorish or Christian, and in the respective Penas, the members gather for socializing and planning throughout the year. It costs quite a bit, around 400 Euro per year, I was told, but it includes many meetings with food and drink and costumes for both everyday celebrating and the parades. During the week, there are two big parades in the evening, one with the Moorish side and the other with the Christian groups. The groups compete for the finest costumes and some groups have also put much effort into rolling fleets with stunning tableaus. Outside the parade, they dress in simpler costumes, with the exception of the queen and kings and their court. They walk through the town many times a day in their beautiful costumes. The most common route is up and down to the church with the two blue domes.
A queen is elected for the festival and a king from every side is elected as well. On the square in front of the church of Althea, they build a castle. This belongs to the Christians, but will be conquered by the Moors during the week. Fiesta in Althea is a playfully game where the city is re-experiencing historic events. The Christians take the castle back the day after. It’s not just Moors and Christians that parade in the city. The festival is managed by a committee of 32 members who solemnly walk through the streets to and from the church several times during the fiesta in Althea. Each group has its own banner, which will also be carried through the streets at least once a day. In addition, the many bands are out playing all the time and when they stay in the many Pena’s around town, they play most of the time there too. The city literally reverberates with Spanish music all day and night.
James 1 of Aragon recaptured althea from the Moors in 1244. He started quickly to build walls around the city to stand against Moorish pirates. The coast here was very vulnerable to such attacks for many centuries to come.
We rented an apartment through Air BnB midway between church and the beachfront. All the marchers walked right past us. The neighboring building featured a Moorish Pena and there they sat and played and drank around the clock, when they were not out marching. I became acquainted with Paul Benavent playing drums in one of the orchestras. He said that the genre they play during the fiesta in Althea is pas-doble. It is Paul’s orchestra that plays on both our videos and they play the second most famous pas-doble in Spain; Amparito Roca by Jaime Texidor. Moreover, Paul told that Spain’s most famous pas-doble is Paquito el Chocolatero by Gustavo Pascual Falcó and it is played many times during the fiesta week in Althea.
Here you can see a video of the processions and games taking place during fiesta in Althea:
Highlights during the fiesta in Althea are of course the two big parades on Saturday and Monday night. On Saturday all the Moorish groups are parading through town and Monday are the Christian day. The city set out chairs in several rows along the main street. It is advisable to get there early to get a good seat. If you stand behind the rows of seats, you may not see as much. The luckiest ones have balconies facing the main street or get to sit in the stands reserved notables.
Video from the Moors parade on Saturday night:
Great is also the light procession on Sunday night. It runs from the church and down the narrow streets in the old town. Two fleets with figures, one a Christ figure is part of the procession. Little girls in white dresses walk with lights and behind comes the ladies dressed in black, the morning widows. People with candles and lights join the procession along the route. The fiesta queen is part of the procession and so are the designated kings from each side, all wearing their magnificent costumes and accompanied by the band, and of course they play pas-doble music.
It was difficult to find information about the fiesta in Althea before we went. But when we arrived, we got hold of a program, unfortunately only in Spanish. In retrospect, I found the program in English on the web: http://www.eurotourguide.com/en/costa-blanca-north/events-calendar/altea-moors-and-christians
On the whole it seemed that this fiesta was an internal Spanish matter, where very little information was geared towards tourists. Thus, the result was that most tourists only at random were joining the celebrations. If you stayed on the beachfront, it is not certain you understood that a spectacular parade took place just 3 streets inside the city! If you sat on the square by the church, you would catch what was happening there, but we saw few tourists that accompanied the processions through the city. Although I love these parades and celebrations, so I hurried after the parades and marches like a child with star in my eyes of amazement.
If you love fiesta like me, go to Althea in September or Villajoyosa (a post about Villajoyosa) in July and enjoy the Spaniards’ ability to party until the wee hours. However, if you are sensitive to noise at night, stay at home while the Spaniards have their fiestas!