Famous 'Nit dels Focs' - the magical night of fires
2012 was a special year for Jávea. Not only did
the town celebrate 400 years of administrative independence from Denia but the
fabulous 'Nit dels Focs' was afforded the distinction of ‘Fiesta de Interés Local de la Comunidad
Valencia’ with the Valencian authorities acknowledging its draw for
tourists and visitors from the surrounding region. It’s a wonderful, magical
night of fires, a reminder of our ancestors spiritual obsession with the sun
and their fear of the dark and the unknown.
There is little documentary evidence of the
origins of the ‘Nit dels Focs’ in Jávea. Earliest records talk of a pilgrimage
to the chapel of Sant Joan (which still survives, hidden up a long set of steps
from the bus stop in Avenida d’Ondara behind Silvasol) where villagers offered grapes and figs
to their revered saint and then jumped over fires, surely a strange eclectic
mix of Christian and pre-Christian rituals. There is evidence that these fires
were placed in several important positions, such as at the gates of the high
wall that surrounded and, for the most part, protected the village until it was
demolished in the latter half of the 19th century once the threat from raiders
had diminished. Young people wore crowns of plants which were thought to have
mystical powers and carried roasted beans given to them by the old folk of the
village which were believed to prevent and cure infections and diseases.
When the cemetery was built next to the chapel
of Sant Joan in the early 19th century, the celebrations moved to the Placeta
del Convent and the offerings of fruit were made to the image of Sant Joan that
had been placed in a niche in Carrer Teuleria (which is still in existence).
Although there is little written evidence, it is known that the custom
continued into the early 20th century as entertainment for children and young
people but nothing like the sort of celebrations that soon developed.
The current festivities of the Fogueres de Sant
Joan have their roots in 1950 when a group of men sat chatting around a table
in Bar Noi in the Placeta del Convent. They talked about popular fiestas in the
Valencian region and decided that Jávea needed its own celebrations. And thus
was born the Sant Joan fiesta. Yet it was not until the 1970s that the ‘Nit
dels Focs’ became really popular and then in 1990 when Penya l’Escaldŕ began to
organise this special night as part of the general Fogueres festivities. For
more than two decades, the penya has been responsible for collecting the wood to
make the fires and the plants, usually Clemmatis
Flammula which is native to southern
Europe, to make the crowns.
Yet the fire-jumping is only part of this
special night. In 1987 the Quintŕ La Moguda decided to build a bonfire of old
furniture in the Placeta del Convent around which they danced and sang songs.
The following year, five penyas – 'Desculats', 'Pensat i Fet', 'Rebolica',
'Moguda' and 'El Gerrot' – all located in the Raval del Baix began to organise
this special bonfire and since 1989 Penya El Gerrot has been responsible for
collecting the old wooden furniture and junk to build the huge bonfire in Raval
del Baix at the end of the fire-jumping.
The final act of the night is the correfocs
which has been a valuable part of the 'Nit del Focs' since the 1990s. At first,
the parade made its way through the narrow streets of the historic centre to
finish in the church square but its popularity forced a change to the wider,
longer streets of the perimeter roads which follow the old course of the old
So, enough of the history lesson and what
happens now? Close to midnight, a large crowd begins to gather at
Portal del Clot. As the night has become more popular, the number of people
has increased and in recent years it has been estimated
that more than 10,000 people participate. Most already have the floral crowns, picked up from large
piles placed during the morning at the points where the fires will be placed.
You'll need to be quick. As the night has become more
popular, so has the demand for the crowns and the piles
quickly diminish. More greenery will appear in
the evening but you'll have to be ready to claim for
enough to make your own crown.
Explosions in the night sky herald the arrival
of the main bulk of the organisation which has travelled along the Ronda Sur accompanied by the standard beat of drums
and the pleasant sound of the ‘dolzaina’. A huge crowd has gathered, people
jostling to see as the first pile of wood and pine branches is placed on the
road just by the stone cross. The pile is lit but just before the flames really
take hold, it is traditional that the Fogueres queen makes the first jump,
usually accompanied by either the president of the Fogueres Comission or the
town councillor responsible for Fiestas. The pushing and shoving continues as
people line themselves up to take a jump. The most brave jump first through the
towering flames, often reaching two or three metres into the air. They rock
gently on their feet and then, eyes and mouth closed, they leap as high and as
fast as they can through the flames, accompanied by cheers from those waiting
to jump themselves or from those content to watch from the sidelines. Most people
hang about and wait until the flames die down a little bit and then make their
jump. Sometimes the crowd is so big that you really don’t have any option but
to wait, inching yourself along the road to get yourself into the right
position to jump. There are normally many hundreds of people waiting to jump.
a night for agoraphobics.
There are five more bonfires to cross. The next
is at the stone cross next to Bar Trinquet which marks the site of the old
Portal del Mar gatehouse; then we climb up to the Plaza de Marina Alta for the
third fire before dropping down the Avenida Principe de Asturias to jump the
fourth followed by the fifth on the edge of Placeta del Convent. The last
bonfire is at the junction between the Ronda Sur and Calle Virgen de la Merced;
quite quickly this usually becomes a smouldering pile of greenery with the
remnants of the crowns which some people have thrown into the fire for good
luck. But hold on to yours and continue to follow the crowd as it makes its way
through the dark narrow street of Calle de la Fuente to the Raval del Baix where
the huge pile of old wooden furniture and junk is probably already well ablaze.
Try and push your way through to the front and fling your floral crown into the
inferno for good luck.
The atmosphere is electric as more and more
people push their way into the small square. Music may already be playing
over large speakers placed on the roofs of the surrounding buildings, pumping
out the 'Fogueres' song as the Quintŕ joins hands and begins to dance around
the huge fire. Firemen spray down the
surrounding buildings and open areas to reduce the risk of the fire spreading;
put it out of your mind very quickly that there’s a petrol station just a few
hundred metres away. The powerful hoses provide brief showers of cooling water;
it may be well past 1am but it’s hot around that raging inferno. The ground
beneath your feet becomes a wide but shallow river so don’t wear your best
shoes or those beach shoes that fall apart at the very hint of water.
And indeed it’s best not to wear your best
party clothes for the next act. It’s 2am and the party’s still not over for a
rhythmic pounding of drums begins as we prepare ourselves for the correfocs,
literally "running with fires". Xarxa Teatro from Castellón are considered one
of the best in the business and, after this experience, it’s not difficult to
see why. The drums are accompanied by the ‘dolzaina’ as a hooded figure, often
a monk, pushes its way through the crowd, spraying the area in front of him
with sparks from type of Roman candle. The atmosphere rises a notch as the
drums change to a faster beat and sparks seem to explode from all corners of
the square as the monk’s associates, dressed head-to-toe in white protective
clothing, ignite their own arsenal. The crowd can often be heard chanting “NO
HI HA COETS!” over and over (it roughly means “there are no rockets”), taunting
the purveyors of fire over their assumed impotence and encouraging them to
reach into their protective boxes slung around their shoulders and prove them
wrong. No-one escapes; if you are strolling along amongst the rest in the
cavalcade, expect to be chased by bright white sparks. It hurts but only
briefly; carry a bottle of water with you and if you feel a burning sensation,
wash it quickly with the liquid to alleviate any pain. Don’t
wear your best T-shirt – it will finish the day with small burn-marks – and
it’s very much advisable to wear a hat of some sort and tie a damp handkerchief
or bandana across the face as the smoke can be quite choking.
As the parade progresses around the outskirts of
the historic centre along the same route as the fire-jumping earlier in the
night, keep an eye on the balconies above for there are strings of firecrackers
hung across the road at several locations. With a loud bang, the strings are
set alive with cascades of burning sparks whilst the crowd jumps and chants
below them. On occasions, huge frames are carried into the path of the crowd;
they explode like giant Catherine Wheels as the people run through the shower
of sparks to continue around the route. If these are not bad enough, watch out
for the ‘toro de fuego’, a bull-resembling metal frame which has fireworks
attached to it which are then set alight to provide a moving hazard; it’s
probably developed from the controversial "toro embolado".
After about an hour or so, the procession makes
its way into the Plaza de la Constitución where the fun continues for a few
more minutes; watch out for the "bull" and maybe even a bicycle. As the square
fills, the theatre company moves onto the large steps on one side and reveal
themselves to cheers from the ground. The drums continue to pound the beat as
everyone jumps up and down together, the floor beneath bouncing under the
weight; who knows what it sounds like in the underground car-park below? The
drums will stop; there is an air of anticipation as its not quite over yet.
Suddenly, a little demon of fire flies through the air above them and ignites a
huge framework of fireworks on the steps behind the theatre company as the
drums start up again and everyone begins to jump up and down once more. This
happens at least once more as the finale is delayed over and over again. And
then it comes. It’s all over.
not quite. If you have any energy left after a
spectacular few hours, a live band bashes out its first number of the night from
the stage to one side of the square. It’s 3am, probably later, yet there’s a
chance to party until dawn and ensure that the ‘Nit dels Focs’ will be an event
that will remain with you for a long, long time. It certainly will be a special
night to remember.
4 - Nit dels Focs · the magical night of fires
5 - El Día de Sant Joan · the symbolic bonfires