The Valley of Happiness, as the Moors called it, honours its name by being one of the areas of Spain with the most fiestas per square kilometre; to such as extent that, for party lovers (and in this valley almost all of us are), this involves a constant to-ing and fro-ing from village to village just like “Pura’s cart” (the Dúrcal sweet seller who used snow brought down from our mountains by mule to make her orange, lemon, nougat and tutti-frutti dairy ice creams, which she then took around the villages to sell). As if enough good fortune were not already heaped on the heads of the area’s inhabitants by the huge greyish canopies of the olive trees that protect the green sea of the orange groves beneath from inclement weather; the indigo-dun hues of its mountains with their bright white snow caps; the limpid and cooling embrace of its streams; the constant, warm and gay singing of its birds; the soothing balsam of its orange blossom, jasmine, lemon blossom, rosemary, broom and Spanish broom; as if all this were not enough, we also have the pleasure of being able to enjoy one fiesta almost weekly in this area, where the distance between villages is no greater than 15 kilometres at the most, and which are linked together by ancient horse tracks snaking around deep ravines where the poplar trees, standing straight as candles, trace pentagrams and codes of the sun into the air; nor do we lack gentile minor roads which always lead us to picturesque, delightful, beautiful destinations.
As if there weren’t enough days in the year for celebrations in the Valley of Happiness, Murchas has the head start on all the villages with its fiestas, which are attended by a great many local people and visitors to eat the traditional grapes on New Year’s Eve, the night before the fiestas begin, and to welcome the New Year with customary paso doble dancing. The dancing continues on the 1st and 2nd, and the fiestas come to an end on the 3rd day with the ‘Entierro de la Zorra’, which symbolises the burying of the previous year’s problems to start the new one afresh.
On New Year’s Day itself, the raffle of the Brotherhood of Souls takes place; one of the oldest traditions of the Lecrin Valley. It is an auction of products donated by its residents. A “crier” who must have a talent with words is chosen from among the villagers, and is put in charge of obtaining the best “bids”. In olden times it was the possession of the weight and the scale of souls which were auctioned. For one year, its holders became the weighers and brokers of the products sold or checked in the village and they received a small payment in kind. When residents went to knead dough, a pinch of dough was also delivered to the bread oven, the redoubt of the ‘poya’, the payment for the right to bake bread in the communal oven paid in our region. We have a saying: “As in the Padul oven, a lot of talk and not much payment”, that Luis de Góngora includes in his play “El doctor Carlino”. The funds collected through the raffle were used to pay for masses to intercede for the souls of the departed and for the candles used at funerals.
These fiestas close a long cycle of Christmas festivities in the Balcony over the Valley with a midnight mass attended by all the villagers, at which very old carols are sung to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments, with a Christmas concert and perhaps a tableau by the residents.
The Epiphany Processions take place in all the Lecrin Valley villages and towns, organised by their local councils, cultural associations and fiesta stewardships.
A celebration which first took place on January 1, 1984 on the same day as the Feast of Souls and that was moved to January 6 from 2007 onwards. Its aim is to publicise the village’s wines, quite renowned, and offered for tasting at the fiesta accompanied by the typical Cónchar ‘remojón’ dish, prepared using local oranges and sun-dried tomatoes.
This is possibly the fiesta that has the strongest associations with our rural past. It was used to bless farm animals and to fulfil the promises made to St Anton when swine, cattle, mules or donkeys fell sick.
A long-established tradition was the St Antón pig, which was raised loose in the village, eating what each resident left in their doorway for it. On the Saint’s Day it was raffled to raise money for the celebrations. There is a belief that if it is sunny on St Anton’s Day, then it will rain on St Blas’ Day, and vice versa. Nowadays there is an exceptional firework display, rockets exploding brightly in the night sky over the River Torrente ravine, which by day is a shady haven thanks to its profusion of trees.
The procession is one of contrasts, the solemnity of the religious act competing with the simplicity of the neighbourhoods through which it passes, the narrow white streets competing with the wide open green and blue spaces of the orange groves and reservoir. The procession is accompanied by the musketeers of the Holy Sacrament, who demonstrate their skill in firing the ancient blunderbusses.
Light, sound and aroma accompany this procession, along whose route hundreds of bonfires are lit, thousands of blank rounds are fired and the air is perfumed with the scent of the thyme, lavender, marjoram and rosemary that local residents have gathered the previous day from the hills to release a mountain incense into the sky.
In Albuñuelas, the Patron Saint is taken out on his Saint’s Day from the chapel in Lower Albuñuelas. He is also taken out on procession in August by the village youngsters. In former times, this procession was carried out by young conscripts.
A small, unassuming, quiet procession, like the basket of live doves that accompanies St Joseph through the secluded village streets or like the babies in their prams who also accompany the Saint and receive blessing at this fiesta.
Because this saint is the one to whom most miracles have been attributed in the region, some of recent occurrence (the storm and flooding of Porras Ravine, Juan Reyes’ lorry catching fire), these fiestas are some of the most popular in the Valley. They are attended by residents begging the Saint’s favour, obtaining the red band to ward off sore throats (St Blas was said to have saved a young man from dying from a fishbone stuck in his throat), and enjoying themselves at the dances, firework displays, clay pigeon shooting and motocross competitions.
Although this tradition has only recently been revived, thanks to the enthusiasm and participation of local residents it has become an outpouring of humour, originality and creativity where the visitor can laugh out loud and admire the musical groups performing satirical songs.
Adult centres have made the Carnival their own and since 1995 their Carnival meetings take place annually in the different villages of the Lecrin Valley. It is a pleasure to see the festivities and joy that these musical groups dispense so generously.
This is the town in Andalusia where the most religious floats take part in a single procession. It is as if the whole of Padul becomes a float, and all its inhabitants become supporting players in a Bible for the poor that night. Each resident, without exception, is part of the interminable stream of penitents, Roman soldiers, float bearers, mantilla-clad ladies, apostles, Hebrews and musicians upon which the golden thrones bearing Christ and Sorrowing Virgins, like boats lit by candles and carnations, seem to float. The perfect setting for mystical or aesthetic rapture is created by the heavy marching of the Romans, the dry sound of lances striking the ground, the drum rolls, the creaking sound of the float supports, the rhythmic swaying of the canopies, the voice of the steward, the sad music of the marches, the night and the spring moon.
Today it is Dúrcal’s turn to invite all the inhabitants of the area to three days of al fresco eating, either in family groups or with friends, where the star dish is the ‘hornazo’, a ring of bread dough baked with an egg in the middle, accompanied by freshly made sausage, homemade quince jelly, chocolate and raisins. The night before, Dúrcal men and boys will have been out in the town streets singing serenades and putting garlands and branches on the balconies of their female fancies, each type of branch and flower having its own meaning: olive, you are always on my mind; orange blossom, I want to marry you; vine shoot, I’m having regrets; bay, I want to see you; esparto grass, I’m leaving!
The conscripts of the village, having spent the night preparing the float of the Child, take the float out very early the next morning and run through the streets with it, searching for His Mother the Virgin hidden in some niche of the village, to tell her the joyous news of His resurrection.
This is the ‘hornazo’ day in Nigüelas, in olden times celebrated with dances in the countryside and comical plays improvised by the residents.
Traditional spring picnic in the countryside, celebrated by the villages of the El Valle municipality.
This festival has been taking place for barely five years but has already become a big event, attracting residents of the Province to sample the traditional dishes on offer and compete in the numerous competitions which are organised. Furthermore, it celebrates and publicises the orange, the Valley’s star fruit.
A Christ to whom many miracles are attributed and the first fiesta of the area with feminist overtones, since it is traditionally organised by female stewards. It is very moving to see the procession wind its way up the steep Cerro Chinchirina hill to the chapel at the top (the highest religious shrine in the Lecrin Valley at 1059 m.), men and women followed by a train of mules and residents carrying baskets of food, leaving the sleepy village far away down below, the heady scent of orange blossom being replaced by the fresh aroma of pine trees and rosemary.
The neighbourhoods are decorated and the streets adorned with copperware, Fajalauza pottery, plaster saint figurines, china dolls, green apples with scissors stuck into them to ward off bad luck, crosses decorated with carnations from Motril or tissue paper flowers (the children make them by the hundred), loudspeakers playing flamenco music and small stages for people dressed in typical flamenco costume to dance on. All this makes for a wonderful opportunity to have a fine time.
Unique exhibition of choral singing attended by the best choirs of Granada province, both adult and youth. A splendid opportunity to discover this beautiful corner of the Valley, where also at this time of the year there is a large exhibition of craft products.
Showy procession to Castillejo Hill where the chapel is located, with a parade of agricultural vehicles decorated with flowers and branches.
The Dúrcal procession is easily the largest in the area with a hundred or so carriages and riders and a multitude of processional walkers wearing the typical Cordovan-style dresses and hats. After the mass, at which the “Madrugá” choir sings, the procession makes its way to the Lobos Ravine where participants spend the day dancing, singing, eating and drinking together.
This is an enjoyable start to the summer season of fiestas in Lecrin Valley and the first date that its locals can enjoy a night of festivities in the open air. The firework display is impressive, better even than the “chariot of fire of idolatry” which was burned up by the divine fire of St Segundo when the relics of the saint were being taken from the chapel dedicated to him, on the banks of the Adaja river, to the cathedral of Ávila in 1594. In olden times, the choirs of the brotherhoods accompanied the procession with song and a rosary was prayed along the country path linking the two neighbourhoods of the village. On one occasion, a fox ran across the path of the procession scattering the formation of its pious participants, whence the saying “to end up like the Chite rosary”.
Talará comes out onto the streets for the procession, a dazzling display of white handmade trousseau, and the breeze carries the scent of fresh jasmine, orange blossom, sedge and mint, whilst children dressed in first communion attire cast white rose petals along the cobbled streets.
This procession takes place in many other Lecrin Valley villages, used to display the monstrances created by master silversmiths. The picturesque corners are turned into altars, where the exquisite trousseaus handmade by our womenfolk dazzle.
The balmy nights of June for the festive gathering and the narrow whitewashed streets flanked by orchards and green fields for the procession, make these fiestas a vision of paradise.
Eating nut brittle and dancing is the perfect finish to an ancestral tradition, which in Dúrcal used to begin at midnight of the night before with the breaking of an egg laid by a black hen onto a glass of water, which by the next morning the night damp had turned into the shape of a little sailing boat, and at dawn it was customary to wash one’s eyes with dew collected from the countryside and watch the sun come up, protecting one’s face with a flour sieve, to be able to see St Catherine’s Wheel.
In Mondújar, the celebrations are of the Patron Saints St John and the Virgin of the Rosary, which were moved back to their original date in June so that they could be better enjoyed. The images are taken out of the parish church of St John the Baptist and taken on procession around the village as far as its boundary with neighbouring Talará. There are horse riding tournaments, greasy pole competitions and dances. A musical band wakes the neighbours with the dawn reveille, signalling the finish of the endless volley of rockets.
In Padul, this fiesta has been getting bigger since it was organised to coincide with the opening of the municipal pool for the summer season.
The residents of Saleres would go down to the river for this tradition, where sweet sellers would set up their stalls to sell ice cream, nut brittle and nougat and the villagers would dive into the pools shaded by willow trees and surrounded by a lawn of rushes and clover.
By now it is the time of year for open air gatherings. Restábal offers its visitors a real oasis of water and greenery, a luxury to alleviate the first hot days and nights of summer. At daybreak, in the comforting golden light and with the fresh scent of the orange groves carried on the morning dew, its ancient Dawn Rosary can be captivating.
Since the beginning of the current century, Lecrin municipality has organised a night of dancing in its villages, making the most of the good weather for a leisure activity for its residents, who are on holiday at this time of year.
This is one of the area’s best attended fiestas since it takes place in a village situated between Lecrin Valley’s largest towns, Padul and Dúrcal. It is a very lively celebration, attended by numerous devotees of this Virgin believed to remedy ills of the head and mind.
Around these dates, fiestas reach their climax as various municipalities coincide with celebrations, so Lecrin Valley residents are divided and each village must offer attractive programmes to bring visitors in. Of course, arriving in Albuñuelas and gazing upon the village, which hugs the banks of the river as if making obeisance to the grandeur of the mountains which have been its succour for centuries, is a permanent pleasure which can outdo the celebrations themselves. Devotion to the Virgin of Sorrows and the celebration of fiestas in her honour owe much to Francisco Perea y Porras, former archbishop of Granada and native of this village.
The residents of the area know that Cónchar, like the famous pomegranates of its terraces, opens itself up on this date in a peerless show of hospitality. Its central location, an exceptional combination of river bank, valley and mountains, has turned it into an orchard. How pleasant it is to attend these fiestas, arriving with one’s rucksack on one’s back, rambling along its innumerable paths, sipping the water from its river bank springs, enjoying the shade of its poplar groves, breathing in the balsam of its pines and feeling the soothing breeze that comes down from the hills covered with esparto grass.
Pinos is not on the way to anywhere else, so if you go there it is because you have a specific purpose. For this reason, they take great care with presenting their fiestas. The tradition is that St Sebastián goes down to the church in Lower Pinos on the Day of St Roque and stays there overnight, whilst St Roque goes up to the church of St Sebastián in Upper Pinos. Originally this church was a shrine dedicated to the spiritual welfare of the faithful journeying to the coast along the old Royal Road, and then the Neo-classical style church was built on the orders of Juan José Bonel y Orbe, Cardinal Primate of Spain and native of Pinos. Special mention must be made of the “Waving of the Flag” before the image of St Roque to the sound of a waltz, following the presenting of arms by the standard bearers. The devotion may have been introduced by the French population who lived in the Street of the Francos and after whom a hill was named, the Hill of the Frenchman.
For this occasion, the entire area congregates in this pretty town which opens its arms, like the spans of its numerous bridges, to all visitors. Dúrcal adds all the ingredients to its fiestas to ensure a riotous time, with a cavalcade, an outpouring of happiness and participation, competitions, a fairground, performances by the best Andalusian orchestras and a concert by the most popular artist of the moment.
This is the oldest documented tradition in this area, telling the story of the Moorish rebellion. In 1566, the Moors were encamped around the Tablate Ravine and made a foray into Béznar, where they stole the Holy Sacrament from the parish priest who was taking the viaticum to a sick man in the lower neighbourhood. A group of neighbours and soldiers chased the Moors and recovered the Eucharist from them. Since that time, they were granted the privilege by John of Austria of escorting the Holy Sacrament both within and outside the church, carrying old blunderbusses. On the day of the fiesta they proceed through the streets of the village, firing off deafening volleys.
The popularity of the Virgin of Sorrows, to whom the entire Valley dedicates promises and petitions; the awareness of Valley residents, so keen on fiestas, that the summer festivities are coming to an end; the renown of the procession, a display of religious fervour; the village fiestas and the ‘Entierro de la Zorra’, mean Nigüelas is crammed to bursting point with visitors on these dates.
This is the Valley’s only livestock fair and is a clear reminder of our agricultural past. It is where pigs for the year were bought, replacement horses purchased and surplus corral animals raised by each resident sold. The traders would then continue their route, visiting fairs in Órgiva, Ugíjar… It is one of our oldest fiestas and has the honour of being termed ‘royal’.
In Melegís, the fiesta of the Virgin of the Rosary, so highly venerated in the Valley, combines the spirit of a traditional village fiesta with the attractions that a large town can offer.
Her image is taken out on procession and there is a fantastic fireworks display.
St James, the Virgin of the Rosary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus are taken out on procession, a different image presiding the procession each day. The intimate gathering in a small tucked away square gives these fiestas the eternal essence of small village.
Talará, the geographical centre of the area and the municipality with the greatest number of villages, gathers together a huge number of locals and close friends for these fiestas, which are long established and the first festive gathering of the winter season held indoors. The Immaculate is not alone, but accompanied by the Cristo del Zapato, whose image is taken out of his chapel on Alcudiatei Hill and proceeds to the parish church of the Virgin of Sorrows to share these days.
This rosary with Hail Marys is sung by the local men. The residents fire off volleys of blank rounds, recalling the earthquake of 1884 which forced their forebears to live under canvas outside the village, so that they fired shots into the air to scare off anyone hoping to sack the houses that had been destroyed.
In olden times, Restábal had a chapel dedicated to the patron saint of travellers on the Royal Road linking Granada and Motril. On this date, a dance is held in a covered marquee. The image of the saint is taken out on procession, and coin tossing games are organised.
Ízbor, like a nativity scene, is located on a steep slope descending to the river and combines the architecture and natural scenery of the Alpujarras, the coast and the Valley; it enjoys a pleasant microclimate which permits it to celebrate Christmas with open air festivities. In Ízbor, as in a nativity scene, the ancient and the modern, the normal and the extraordinary, live together in a happy, bold anachronism.
This fiesta used to take place in the patio surrounding the oven and would begin the night before. In the old kitchens with their large fireplaces, locals would dance around the pleasant heat of the fire. Early on the morning of the 28th, everybody was ready to begin the activities. They dressed in the attire of mayors and bailiffs to carry out the passacaglia, where youths and the entire plenary of the brotherhood would go from house to house asking for donations. They would be given strips of pork fat, blood sausage, spicy pork sausage and bread; everything that a house might have to offer. They would also carry cloth bags for people to put money into. Their rounds were accompanied by guitar and mandolin players.
The fiestas continued with a peal of bells at 12 o’clock. This was followed by the Holy Mass, celebrated by all with devotions to the Blessed Souls and the Holy Sacrament.
After the Holy Mass, people would go to the brotherhood premises to eat together, the meal being prepared from the annual pig slaughter products that had been collected from the houses that morning: blood sausage, spicy pork sausage, belly pork …
Following lunch, everybody would go down to the church square. A very old bench would be taken out of the church and placed in its doorway, and all the things that had been donated were placed upon it for the raffle, followed by dancing and strolling.
This is how these age-old fiestas were celebrated in the past and how they are celebrated today, albeit with certain changes to the details that have come about over time.
Autor: Antonio Serrano Jiménez