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javeamigos.com | FIESTAS IN JAVEA - MOORS AND CHRISTIANS

javeamigos.com | JAVEA - MOORS & CHRISTIANS

Whilst the colourful fiestas of the Moors and Christians, which is celebrated mainly in the southern Valencian region, serve primarily as a reminder of a period of history when much of Spain was under the control of Muslim powers, they also recall the daily struggle against Muslim Barbary pirates who prowled the Mediterranean coast between the 15th and 17th centuries. Indeed, the village of Jávea was once a walled stronghold to protect its citizens against such marauders, tall defences that were only removed in the mid-19th century once the danger has passed. In essence, the fiesta celebrates the success of the “Reconquista”, the ultimate triumph of Christian forces over who were considered as Islamic invaders in 1492, and the strengthening of the Christian faith, whilst also acknowledging the culture that controlled much of Spain for over 780 years. The land that the Berber soldiers from North Africa invaded in 711 was a Christian Visigothic kingdom and the remnants of the defeated would give birth to the Kingdom of Asturias, whose founder Pelayo is credited with kick-starting the Reconquista after defeating Muslim forces at the Battle of Covadonga. After conquering much of the Iberian peninsula, internal disputes and civil wars across the Islamic state of Al-Andalus fragmented it into a number of minor states and principalities, allowing Christian kingdoms in the north to gradually overpower their Muslim neighbours in the south. By the end of the 11th century, Al-Andalus was in decline and with the fall of Córdoba in 1236, the Emirate of Granada was the only Muslim territory left. On January 2nd 1492, Emir Muhammd XII surrendered the Emirate to Isabella I of Castille.

The roots of the Moors & Christians stretch back more than 500 years, beyond the success of the “Reconquista” and in some areas have developed from older traditions over 800 years old. Almost exclusive to the southern Comunidad Valenciana, the biggest event takes place in Alcoy around the feast of San Jorge (St. George) in late April / early May, celebrations which were declared a ‘Fiesta of International Tourist Interest’ in 1980. According to legend, Jaime I of Aragon - el conquistador - had reconquered the city but Muslim forces had launched an offensive to try and recover it. As the two armies faced off, San Jorge appeared and the frightened Moors scattered in defeat. Other traditions talk of the appearance of St James (San Jaime or Santiago) during battles against Islamic forces, particularly at the decisive Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in July 1212 which was an important turning point in the medieval history of Spain. The feast day of San Jaime is July 25th so some festivals, like that of Jávea, take place during this month. Other renowned Moors & Christians events include that of Bocairent each February, Villena, Oliva, Ontinyent and Concentaina, which is one of most ancient festivals dating back to at least 1586.

Each town has its own peculiarities but in general the fiesta is celebrated is very much the same way. The participants split themselves into the Moors and the Christians. These two sides are then split into components known as "filaes" or 'companies' which are funded primarily by membership fees and fund-raising. The cost and thus commitment can be incredible; those in Alcoy can expected to pay around 1,500 euros per year to be part of a fila; we understand that those in Jávea contribute considerably less but it's still a huge financial responsibility. Membership is a year-long commitment, raising funds, organising banquets and planning the activities that will make up this fiesta. Each company creates its own base of operations known as 'kábilas' if you're a Moorish fila, or 'cuarteles' (barracks) if you're Christian. Like the penya casals of Sant Joan, most are these headquarters are temporary affairs, the company members renting a vacant premises for a week or so, although most rent the same space year after year. Those well-established 'filas' such as Fila Trabuquers, Fila Ballesters, Fila Almoradins and Fila Jalufos have more permanent bases with bars and fully-equipped kitchens, the walls decorated with photos from previous events.

MOROS

CRISTIANOS

Fila Al-Tarik's
Fila Almoradins
Fila Almoriscos
Fila Baharis
Fila Jalufos
Fila Schaitans

Fila Ballesters
Fila Contrabandistes de Xàbia
Fila Faciners
Fila Pirates de Sant Jaume
Fila Trabuquers

A Rough Guide to the Moors and Christians in Jávea
Click here for the 2016 programme of events.
The festivities open with the ubiquitous inauguration, a long drawn-out evening of speeches and presentations that test the patience of the most enduring of characters. A procession passes through the port collecting the representatives of each of the companies before arriving at the decorated stage that has been constructed in the centre of the port. It seems quite disorganised to the outsider; participants mingle quite aimlessly with friends and family, sipping the odd beverage and drawing on long cigars whilst belated light and sound checks continue apace in the centre of the square. Its not unusual for a sudden burst of distorted music to almost rock the speakers from their stands and a handful of unaware spectators from their seats. What follows is almost two hours of bum-numbing speeches and set-pieces. Each company is presented with their standard and a representative who is usually debuting the costume that will be worn during the gala parades at the end of the week. The official business is interspersed with dance numbers, speeches from the president of the organising committee and officials from the Ayuntamiento, normally the mayor and the councillor responsible for the Department of Fiestas, and there is almost always a presentation for long-service or something similar. Most of the ceremony is presided over by the outgoing 'Capitana' who is seated on the stage at the back who will be replaced during the evening's proceedings by the incoming. Captaincy switches between the sides, Moors and Christians. In 2016, it was the turn of the Christian Filà Faciners to provide the captain and married couple
Maria José Fernández Llobell and José Manuel García Barragán wer chosen to so. They were be accompanied by two 'abanderadas' - two young ladies who act as the standard-bearers, accompanying the half-crescent of the Moors and the cross of the Christians, each of whom will have been selected from the companies who work on a rotating basis much like the captaincy; in 2016 it was the turn of Fila Xibia (Mar García Pastor) and Fila Contrabandistes de Xàbia (Carmen Torres Salvador) to provide them. As the presentation draws to a close, representatives from other fiestas welcome the new captain and the standard bearers; these include those from the Fogueres de Sant Joan, Jesús Nazareno and Mare de Deu de Loreto (port fiesta), amongst others.

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The celebrations begin steadily, working towards its explosive conclusion a week later. Following the presentation, there is normally a concert of Moors & Christians music performed by the musicians of the band of the Centre Artistic Musical de Xàbia who play ten or so classic songs, many of which will be heard during the gala parades at the end of the week, and many of which will be directed by the composers themselves, such as Mario Roig Vila who composed the Moorish march 'Moro de Plata' and Saul Gómez Soler amongst others. It's a popular event and seating is provided, although on a first-come, first-served basis so you have to be fairly on the ball to claim a seat. The event includes the ubiquitous presentation of photos / certificates / plaques and always ends with a rousing rendition of the pasdoble "Xàbia" during which audience participation is expected and encouraged. The event demonstrates once again the huge musical talent we have in Xàbia.

Although the fiesta is based in the port area of Jávea, it does once move into the Historic Centre when representatives of the companies make their way in a modest procession to Calle San Jaime to make an offering of flowers at the shrine of San Jaime that sits in a small niche at the eastern end of the narrow well-preserved street. One of the twelve Apostles of Jesus, Jaime was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 CE and legend claims that his body was taken up by angels and taken to Iria Flavia in Iberia (modern-day Padrón in Galicia, north-western Spain) where a massive rock closed around his relics. Tradition states that he miraculously appeared to fight alongside Christian forces during the legendary Battle of Clavijo (844 CE), a clash in which the vastly out-numbered Christians defeated the Muslim forces of the Emir of Córdoba, and thus he became known as ‘Santiago Matamoros’ – St. James the Moor-slayer – whilst “Santiago y cierra España!” (“St. James and strike for Spain”) has become the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies. The parade is a fairly informal affair and the companies gather at the end to applaude the flower offering made by the two standard bearers and the captain and then share some mistela and doughnuts offered by the residents of the street; everyone is welcome to take part and enjoy the food and drink so don't stand on ceremony - there's no better way to get to know others. Sometimes the bands break into a bit of spontaneous playing at the end of the street, prompting some spirited dancing from the companies which inevitably ends up with a slow march down the road, different units' joining together with locked arms to either sway majestically like a Moor or march purposefully like a Christian.

Throughout the week-long fiesta, a number of attractions are available; sometimes there is a street market and various traditional games are played in the street, such as Valencian pilota. Music features heavily and there are a number of live performances throughout the week as well as several open-air community dinners; as always, fiesta is a great excuse to come together and have a great time, forgetting for a moment those day-to-day pressures. Look out as well for children's activities, including giant inflatables and special hot chocolate and buns. You may well find a giant paella blocking one of the side streets; take a plate - everyone is welcome to join in.

A crescendo of noise shakes the foundations of the surrounding buildings and the nerves of the watching public as at least a dozen ‘blunderbuss’ are carried through the streets in the Alardo, a simulated battle which is really just half an hour or so of enormous noise generated by their explosions. There's not a great deal to see; representatives walk down the street which has been hosed down, firing off the guns. And that's it. Splendid for those who love a bit of noise; a bit drawn out for those who don't. However, the explosions signal that the noisiest part of the fiesta is approaching and those with a bit of foresight will have already been to the pharmacy to purchase a set of earplugs; they are going to be needed in the days to come.

As the week slides towards a conclusion, another offering of flowers is made to San Jaime, his image placed in the parrochial church of Nuestra Señora de Loreto back in the port area of Xàbia. There is another procession - isn't there always? - which starts under the archway in Calle Pio X , the companies' dressed in their colours alongside representatives from the Ayuntamiento and other fiesta comissions. They process around the streets of the port, accompanied by the bands, taking the long route right back to where they started - almost. The reinforced concrete church of Nuestra Señora de Loreto was built in 1967 and appears to be supported by twelve huge pillars which represent the twelve Apostles (one of which was San Jaime) who are holding a boat above the waves; step inside the building and the ceiling represents the keel of a boat. It's a stunning design which won its designer Fernando Garcia Ordoñez an award. 

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Outide the church, each company waits patiently to hand over their bouquets in a solemn offering of colour to this special saint. In 2014, as the economic crisis in Spain continued to affect millions of people across the country, the decision was taken for the companies to donate food to Caritas, a Catholic Church organisation which assists those in trouble, without any distinction. Consequently there were fewer flowers to be offered to the image of San Jaime but plenty of food was collected for the food bank that will reach people in desperate need. Entrance to the church is available to anyone so if you want to watch the proceedings, you can slide into the building through one of the several openings in its side - or indeed through the main door, although this will be largely occupied by the companies. Be aware that the first few rows are normally reserved for the companies themselves. Each will make their offering and poses for photographs; the members of the Ayuntamiento and the other fiesta comissions do the same. This is followed by a short blessing made by the priest.

And then the invasion of the Moorish forces begins! It all takes place on La Grava beach, an evening of colour and noise generated by more large ‘blunderbuss’ that shatter the relative peace in the port. Don’t expect a David Lean epic with hordes of blood-thirsty Muslim warriors sweeping up the pebble beach for the landing is merely symbolic, a reminder of the conquest of Hispania by the North African Berber troops who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and brought much of the Iberian peninsula under Islamic control within a decade. However symbolic they may be, the landings on La Grava beach will be marked with plenty of noise and action as the Muslim forces attempt to lay siege to the 'castle' that has been erected on the promenade and defended by the Christian forces. Traditional boats will make several passes before some of the occupants will leap from them into the water and make that symbolic landing; other Moors will have already gathered on the pebble beach. Get there fairly early if you want to secure a sitting spot on the sea wall; it really is a bun fight for the best spot to watch the action. A thunderous exchange of gunfire ensures; remember those ear plugs! You might also be showered by remnants of the gunpowder which is blasted out of the wide muzzle of the guns. Gradually, in a choreographed move, the Christian troops are pushed back towards the castle where the Captain and the standard-bearer take position on its battlements. The members of the companies will sit on opposite sides of square; they will be seated now but in years gone by they used to stand which meant very little of the action could be seen. From their positions, they will encourage their respective ambassadors who will engage in lengthy negotiations, exchanging various pleasantries with gusto. Sparks may fly as professional performers work through millimetre-perfect routines with razor-sharp blades before the final battle sees the Muslim invaders victorious. The Christian Captain will leave the safety of the castle, whose key will be laying on a red cushion carried by the standard-bearer. It is exchanged for their lives; the Muslim ambassador leads his standard bearer into the castle and onto the battlements; sometimes the Christian flag is flung from them. To great applause from the Moor companies', Xàbia has become Muslim. And then they take part in a short parade to leave the scene as loud stirring music is played through loudspeakers; the Moors sway proudly, leading away the victorious ambassador whilst the Christians bounce quickly along the street, already making plans for re-taking the castle.

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We normally don't have to wait long for the Christian reconquest of the castle. The Muslim troops will leave the castle, aware of the impending attempt to re-take it, and move along the square firing their guns. Christian troops have already gathered on the pebble beach and begin their advance, urged on by the Christian 'filae' behind them. Gradually the Moors are pushed back up the steps; on the battlements of the castle, the ambassador and the Moorish standard-bearer have already taken their place. There is another exchange of words; the Muslims don't want to leave, the Christians want their castle back. There's another battle, a bit longer, it could go either way. But ultimately the Christian troops are successfully, the key to the castle is handed back and the flag of the half-crescent moon is flung dramatically from its battlements - Xàbia es Cristiano! Jávea is Christian! Once again, there is a procession of all the companies' as they leave the square.

To finish the celebrations, there are the colourful gala parades, thankfully restored to two evenings after funding problems had reduced the event to just a single procession for a couple of years. They are essentially the same: wide ranks of superbly-dressed participants marching along the road, encouraged by their captains and, more often than not, their friends and family in the crowd that lines it. There are always a few colourful floats and mounted animals, including horses and, on occasion, elephants and camels; in 2014 there was a superb gaggle of trained geese who more or less stole the show!

Music plays an important part of the fiesta and you may hear the famous pasodoble Paquito el Chocolatero and its great potential for audience participation throughout the week’s festivities. Each side has its own style of music, with the Moors swaying majestically from side to side at barely 55 steps per minute (listen to “Als Moros Vells” and particularly “Als Berebers” and you’ll get the idea) whilst the Christians bounce quickly along the street at a swifter 85 steps per minute (“El Honor de un Caballero” is a perfect example).

Gathering in the narrow streets beyond the archway, the companies' make their preparations, helping each other out to make sure that they all look as fantastic as possible. It looks chaotic but there's definite organisation. As one company heads down under the archway to face the public, cheered on and applauded by the others, the next swiftly takes its place, the captain hurriedly arranging the lines, usually in height order to create an impressive impact. Once the volume of the previous band drifts away up the street, the next bursts into life, the drummers furiously beating out familiar patterns on huge drums whilst the lines in front begin to sway - or in the case of the Christians, bounce ever so gently. Final checks are made, other Captains help out directing the rhythm of the sway or bounce, faces become pictures of concentration, there are many wide eyes and plenty of nervous energy. By the time the director waves them down through the archway, everything is in unison and they all look fabulous.

A good place to watch is at the start as the companies drop down the slope through the archway in Calle Pio X although it can seem quite chaotic. If you want a bit of space, head up the road (Calle Santisimo Cristo del Mar) opposite the dirt car-park and you'll get some great photos as not only has the parade sorted itself out but also, a little further up, the companies sometimes take a break and mingle amongst the crowd, excellent for discovering those candid fiesta shots. Be aware that you have to pay to sit in the plastic chairs which line the route for a few hundred metres at the start and then the last few hundred metres to the finish line in Avda. Jaume I. Charges have dropped in the last couple of years to reflect the continuing 'crisis' but the alternative is to take your own chair and set yourself up at one of the less in-demand locations (such as that above) where you can watch this long procession (it can take over three hours for all the filas to process past) in relative comfort.

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On the second night, the parade is slightly more formal. The companies parade in a different order, some might have been able to afford a second set of costumes but others use the same as the previous night but maybe with different make-up on their faces. Once again, it takes a fair while for the parade to complete the short route and each does so with increased enthusiasm for they are well aware that their fiesta is coming to an end.

Just a few minutes after the last company crosses the finish-line, a rocket will burst into the darkness off the coast, a ten minute or so warning that the fireworks that bring the festivities to a close are imminent. Crowds gather on La Grava beach and all along the seashore. Usually eyes are fixed on the far port boom which can just be made out in the darkness but in 2014 the fireworks were launched from the coast just by the port bridge after the Valencian authorities decided that the launched was within the 500m exclusion zone of protected areas - by just ten metres! This also affected the famous aquatic firework display which brought to an the end the port fiesta celebrations in September; there is some talk of pontoons for 2015. Wherever they are, the night is filled with tremendous colour, explosions briefly etching out patterns in the sky; look out for palm trees and birds - they will suddenly become obvious during what at first appears to be random bursts of colour. Then, with the last peace-shattering explosion, the festivities come to an end and the crowds shuffle home whilst the companies are already making plans for next year ...



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