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Although the official celebration is on December 10th, some Spanish towns and cities celebrate their patron "Mare de Deu de Loreto" on September 8th - the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. In Jávea, she is the patron saint of the port area and regarded as a protector of its fortune, both on land and sea. The full title of 'Our Lady of Loreto' refers to the house of Loreto where it is said that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born - hence the nativity element - and subsequently where the Annuniciation occurred and, later, the statue of "Our Lady" was discovered. Although Loreto lies in Ancona, Italy, legend says the house was miraculously carried by four angels from Palestine to Italy after the final expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land.

It's unclear how the image first arrived in Jávea. Stories talk of an Italian armada which tried to seek safety in the wide bay after being pursued by marauding pirates from North Africa; some of them floundered in a storm and sank. Depending on who you talk to, either one of the ships was called "Our Lady of Loreto" or one of them was carrying the image of "Our Lady of Loreto". However, long before this incident, there was a church in the historic town around which lived the fishermen who sought safety within the old town walls when pirates were a real threat along the coast. The church is long gone; the only indication of its presence is a small fountain in a modest little square next to Bar Trinquet as well as a road named Calle Virgen del Loreto running alongside it. Thus the veneration of the Virgin was already in place long before the Italian armada incident. Whatever the truth, the image has been venerated by Xabieros for several centuries.

A church existed in the port for some time before, in the late 1960s, a new building honouring the Virgin was built on the same location, an remarkable example of modern church architecture, ranking alongside Liverpool Cathedral in the UK and the Cathedral of Brasilia in Brazil. It was funded through contributions from local fishermen who vowed to build a new church for their patron saint if they saved them from a vicious storm that was threatening their lives whilst at sea. It has a very unusual design which resembles a boat crashing through the waves; wander inside and the ceiling resembles the wooden hull of that boat. It is inside this church that the religious elements of the fiesta of Mare de Déu de Loreto take place, such as the colourful flower offering.

Celebrations date back to the late 19th century and the centenary celebrations took place in 1996 - only for evidence to be discovered soon after that suggested that the origin of the festivities actually dated back to the 1870s when the first jetty was built as the port developed into an important gateway for the export of raisins to the rest of the world.

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So what happens during these two weeks of festivities? It is our favourite fiesta of the year so javeamigos.com hopes to be able to make things a little clearer so that more people can enjoy the celebrations.

Like most fiestas, everything is launched by way of a special ceremony which in the case of the Loreto celebrations now takes place on the wide Avenida Augusta close to the IES Nº1. It doesn't quite have the panache of the proclamation for the Fogueres of Sant Joan which takes up almost all of the Plaza de la Constitución but it is still an important part of the fiesta with the presentation of the 'mayorales', the main protagonists of the fiesta and effectively the carnival queens and their consorts, as well as other important individuals and, of course, those long speeches, normally by the President of the Organising Committee, the councillor responsible for the Department of Fiestas and the Mayor. Representatives of other fiestas, both in Jávea as well as surrounding municipalities such as Gata de Gorgos and Benitatxell, often file onto the stage to honour the 'mayorales' with gifts before the whole audience rises to its feet to stand in respect as the official anthem of the Comunidad Valenciana called "Himne de l'Esposició", composed in 1909 but based on a 16th-century anthem dedicated to Sain George who was the patron saint of the Kingdom of Valencia. The night concludes long after midnight with a modest firework display followed by music and dancing well into the early hours.

Quite possibly the biggest attraction of the festivities is the "bous al mar" - the "bulls to the sea" version of the popular but controversial bull-running event that is omnipresent in just about every fiesta in Spain. A special arena is constructed on one of the harbour booms, surrounded on three sides by a large temporary stand and on the fourth by a fairly long drop into the waters of the harbour. Unlike normal bull-running events, the "bous al mar" provides an additional means of escape from several tons of oncoming horns; the sea. And the general idea is to try and encourage the bull to follow you into the water. They can swim - to a certain extent - and there is always a safety boat on hand which rushes to the animal's aid and ferries it back to land. It may not be the most ethical way to enjoy the festivities but it brings together the community for a few days, who may well gather around the large temporary bar to enjoy a few beers and some freshly cooked seafood, such as sardines and small crabs. Occasionally a small band will provide music and, as the sun sinks behind Montgó, everything feels good for a while as life's troubles are set aside for a few hours.

However, the bulls are not the only attraction of the festival. Once the arena has been cleared, the youngsters come together to enjoy a few special games on the water's edge, such as the greasy pole, a horizontal beam which stretches away from the harbour wall requiring nerves of steel as one teeters a few metres above the water, trying desperately to keep balance on the slippery surface. In the main square, giant inflatables amuse the very young whilst a foam party covers everyone in cooling suds as the late summer sun beats down. Elsewhere, there is the meringue fight, a modest version of Buñol's 'Tomatina' with gooey meringue replacing the tomatoes. The sea off La Grava beach turns a strange shade of white as people take to the water to wash off the sticky covering and everyone is laughing. It's the ultimate feel-good experience!

javeamigos.com | JAVEA FIESTAS - PORT LORETO

Throughout the fortnight, there are community dinners, live music and open-air discos, paella competitions and sports tournaments. There is also the colourful float parade which creeps through the streets of the old town, the 'peñas' - groups of friends who come together specifically to enjoy the fiestas together - having spent some time in between drinking and eating to put together floats of varying themes and indeed varying standards. Like any other parade in Spain, be aware of low-flying boiled sweets and other confectionary thrown indiscriminately from the floats.

The crazy "correfocs" sees masked rabble-rousers whip up a frenzy with music and drums - and let off fireworks in the street. Literally meaning "fire running", the event is something that has to be experienced, even just for the one time. Don't wear anything of which you have a particular fondness; the streets are filled with sparks and smoke which can seem to be completely out of control at first but one can only get as involved as one wants to be. Our tip: wear a hat and a wet bandana around the mouth. The 'correfocs' wanders slowly through the darkened streets of the port until it reaches the central promenade where the event finishes with a final barrage of sparks.

The penultimate day is "el Día del Santísimo Cristo del Mar" - the Day of the Most Holy Christ of the Sea - is a mostly solemn day with a special mass with the Blessed Sacrement in his honour followed by a quiet procession through the port with his image carried high on the shoulders of the brotherhood. Things liven up a little later, normally with some sort of street theatre and

September 8th is the final day of the fiesta and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus it begins comparatively lightly with a solemn mass inside the church before the day bursts into life with the noisy 'mascletà', a firework display that is more about noise than colour and is very typical of this region of Spain. Pyrotechnic engineers will have spent the morning placing rows of launchers weighted down by sandbags and strings of fire-crackers hanging a couple of metres above the ground. In the early afternoon, it is normal for a single rocket to advise that the celebration of noise. And then the excitement begins. The 'mascletà' has several specific parts: the start which has both sound and visual effects, the 'body' which grows in intensity and volume until the 'earthquake' which is well-named as the explosions start to rock the ground. The display climbs to a crescendo with increasing intensity until a deafening aerial bombardment brings the display to a stunning end.

That night there is the iconic aquatic firework display. Massive crowds will gather along the coast from the port and all way down towards the Arenal, packing the stone beaches with chairs, tables and barbecues as well as providing the beach bars with a very welcome end-of-season boost to the coffers. Don't bother trying to park down there; leave the car inland and walk down for there are few free spaces and it's a nightmare getting out at the end of the evening unless one has a particular liking for lengthy queues. Everyone has flocked to the coast for the massive firework display which explodes from the surface of the water. It has a huge reputation and rarely fails to impress. Colour explodes in the night sky, forming distinct shapes, whilst other rockets bounce along the surface of the dark sea, seemingly exploding into life from under the water. It's a stunning display by the world-renowned Valencian pyrotechnic company Ricardo Caballer who have delighted around the world, not least for the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 2007 and Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011. Their passion for fireworks and technology means that the award-winning company can use the most innovative firing systems and software to create some of the most beautiful and captivating firework displays in the world. The loud applause that always follows their conclusion is credit to their popularity.

javeamigos.com | JAVEA FIESTAS - PORT LORETO

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