At my previous job, I worked with two guys from this part of Valencia. We’re staying with Ferran in Alfarrasi, and the other, Luis, invited us to the festival in his hometown of Alcoy.
This is the reason we’ve been pushing so hard the last three weeks, to catch what was described as a festival with tremendous costumes. The Moros y Christianos (Moors and Christians) festival is a huge street parade, with large ‘armies’ of decorated Moors (north African Arabs) and Christians from the Middle-Ages walking through town. Wikipedia can explain it better than I could, so I won’t embarrass myself further – here is a link
We heard that it was a rather serious festival. We found out just how serious when we arrived in town, and found cars parked in any available park – or just left in the middle of the streets, because they clearly think that the ticket inspectors are preoccupied with the festival. We circled the inner-city for far too long, narrowly missing out on several spaces. Eventually we realised it was nearly impossible to find a park in the city, and went a few blocks further out to the edge of town – where we immediately found a place to park. The joy of it being such a small town is, the centre of town was still only a 15-minute walk from the edge of town.
The festival is spread over three days, and today was the opening day. It featured street parades of both sides, with the Christians starting in the morning, and the Moors taking place after a lunch siesta. We were a little worried that we were going to miss the Christians, as we didn’t get into town until around 1PM. This fear wasn’t helped by the sights of people walking back home in their Christian costumes.
Fortunately, our fears were misplaced. We chanced upon the end of the festival, giving us great views of the approaching armies. We might have missed the main sights of the Christian side (their captains and their opulent entourage), but we were still blown away with what we saw, with dozens of gilded warriors, as well as horses doing their best low-rider impressions, bouncing up and down, rearing their front legs towards the sky.
It wasn’t just a visual spectacle, the backing music was almost more important, with each ‘army’ accompanied by fantastic brass band, playing some really powerful music – though, I didn’t quite place the Superman theme.
Like with most things, there were diminishing returns over time. Each group represented a different regional army. These ‘armies’ started to feel a little repetitive, with them occasionally having hundreds of men in the same outfits, marching down the street.
This was broken up with the occasional special groups – like dozens of cute geese strolling through the city, or these giant floats.
The Christians finished, so we ducked off for some food. This gave us the opportunity to walk around the town a little, find some new positions for the Moors that would be starting shortly. I noticed a few apartments that had English flags – then I saw entire buildings with every window showing an English flag… then I realised that it wasn’t England, it was St George – and tomorrow is St. George’s Day. Still, it kind of looked like a chav housing estate with all those flags!
Of course, there was much drinking that accompanied this festival, and the drink of choice seemed to be these buckets. Inside, it was a cocktail of a local coffee liquor, mixed with slushy ice and lemon/and-or Coke. Everyone was walking around with one – including our group. I wasn’t a fan (though it was refreshing at first), but the consensus was it was delicious – though a little rough on your stomach.
As scheduled, later in the afternoon, we saw the first of the Moorish groups. And, as our friends told us, they were generally more impressive to see – especially the music, which seemed to have become even more dramatic!
It was a little shocking to hear just how much money it costs to participate – especially if you want to be in one of the special roles. Our friends told us that it can be thousands of Euros for a basic participant, with the price skyrocketing to hundreds of thousands of Euros for the ‘captain’ roles, as they have to pay for all of their supporting entourage, including animals, dancers, floats, musicians etc. It blows my mind that people have the money to spare to do this.
And, just like the Christians, the Moors began to become repetitive, too. There were large groups with similar outfits, broken up by the occasional ‘special’ group, with extraordinary costumes. These were incredible, and truly demanded attention. Then the regular groups passed by again, and our focus drifted off.
The sun was setting. We could feel a build up starting, with a chain of special groups, unique dancers, women on camels, aerobatic dancers, and then came the final ‘captain’, finishing off the parade.
The streets were chaos, and a mess of confetti that had been raining down from the balconies all day. The small side streets turned into medieval raves, with participants in their costumes partying around small bars blasting out cheesy 80s tunes. It was such a bizarre sight – I just wished I was drinking those alcoholic buckets and was also feeling in such a festive mood.
Our friend had organised for us to join a post-festival dinner. It was a mix of regular people, and members of the parade, still in costume/character. The night turned into an impromptu percussion session, with table banging, tapping on plates, bottles – really anything that would make a noise. There was a DJ playing music, which we only realised in the brief interludes when they stopped to eat one of the new plates that were brought out!
The food was decent, though nothing exceptional. There was however bottomless alcohol, including that local coffee liquor.
The whole day, there were vendors walking the streets selling various products, including the usual hats/sunglasses. But, the strange item were these monkeys with glowing red eyes. It was bizarre to see so many people with these monkeys hanging from their necks.
Dinner finished, and a dance party erupted. More local spirits came out, including a local citrus treat, which was refreshingly delicious. We didn’t have the stamina to keep up with the locals, and by 2:30 AM, we were ready for bed. It was early for Spanish standards, but nearly a record for us.
It was an epic day, which we were incredibly lucky to attend – and would gladly recommend anyone else that has the opportunity to do the same.