Santa Ponça's annual Festes del Rei en Jaume came to a close on Sunday after eleven days of festivities. Thousands of visitors flocked to the coastal town to see it transformed into a medieval stage where Christians and Moors reenacted the battle of 1229 with humour and gusto.
Throughout the week there had been plenty to keep both locals and visitors entertained. On Tuesday, the beach promenade was full of people waiting in anticipation for the Castellers de Mallorca. These are a group of locals who perform human castles, a tradition that began in the 18th century in Tarragona, Catalonia. At the base of the castle, the castellers push together to support the first people climbing up onto their shoulders. Then the next set climb up, barefoot, onto their shoulders. They performed four different castles, with the youngest in the group scrambling up four tiers of arms and legs to wave from the top. To me, the castellers manifest the wonderful solidarity of the community during these fiestas. The sight of three generations supporting each other can be really moving!
The atmosphere continued to sizzle with expectation because the Correfoc was coming next. This fire-filled show is repeated throughout the island at different fiestas. The beat of the drums marks the beginning of the madness. Those familiar with the tradition rushed to a safe place with a good view. The low wall along the beach was full of people craning to see. The devils arrived wielding their blazing pitchforks, sparks flying in all directions. Teenagers pulled their hood down and covered their faces with bandanas so they could get as close as possible without burning.
The demonic procession headed towards the main square. There, the drummers mounted the concert stage and beat their hearts out for a full hour, while down below the devils unleashed all their fiery ammunition. Smoke filled the air and firecrackers screamed in our ears. As soon as the crowd began to get comfortable, a wilder display would send them running back. If the flames didn't scare you, then it was the crazy devil with his electric saw which did!
On Friday, the medieval market came to town. Stalls lined the promenade selling jewellery and leather goods, herbs and sweets, toys and clothes. Some goods looked a little more medieval than others! There were medieval games to play and arts and craft workshops for children. The smell of barbequed meat wafted in the air mingling with that of freshly fried potato chips and the scent of cinnamon bread. A band of musicians, dressed in medieval garb, performed traditional music with their bagpipes and drums, oboes and trumpets. A smiling belly dancer with a sword balanced on her head hypnotised the crowd with her snake-like moves, and a juggler with a dreadlock beard impressed them with his tricks.
The main event took place on Saturday with the disembarkation of the Christian troops at La Creu de Santa Ponça. Despite a spell of rain, spirits remained high. There was a merry procession of Moors and Christians, each group in a different costume and with their own musicians. They were led by the King and Queen gegants, giant wooden figurines hollowed out to enable a person to carry them.
The wonderful thing about these fiestas is the humour with which they are carried out. The locals love and value their traditions and yet, at the same time, they don't take themselves too seriously. There was laughter as a group of Moors arrived dancing La Macarena. Later I heard them belting out AC/DC's Highway to Hell as they headed for battle.
The historic battle took place on the beach as the sun set. Between the crowds and the fading light, it's never very easy to see what's going on. That's why it's always worth coming early to watch everyone arrive in their costume. After all, everyone knows who's going to win! Despite a valiant effort by the Moor King, there was a roar of victory and swords were thrust in the air as King Jaume triumphed once again!
Moors and Christians joked and laughed as they departed the battleground. Families and friends lingered at the beach or headed towards the stage where a concert was beginning. As I soaked up the great energy of a fiesta well done, I thought to myself that I could really live in Santa Ponça. After the high of the fiesta, I bet more than one tourist was thinking exactly the same!