For three days in late April, everything comes to a stop in Alcoy, as the city celebrates its famous festival of Moros y Cristianos. Local groups parade around the city center in a series of exuberant and colorful processions which stretch, from Saturday morning to Monday. We visited on the first day of the festival, to see the entrances of both the Christians and the Moors.
I was initially uneasy about the concept of a “Moors and Christians” festival. In 1492, after the Reconquista, the Christians viciously expelled the Moors from Spain. And although that might be ancient history, it’s still real history, which many remain bitter about. To celebrate it seems insensitive, at best. Just imagine the outrage if Oklahoma City held an “Indians and Settlers” event, with jolly white people parading about town in feathered headdresses, brandishing tomahawks. It’s unthinkable.
Our Valencian friends were surprised by my concerns, and assured me that Moros y Cristianos is a positive event, honoring a shared history; that there’s no rancor or gloating sentiment behind the processions. And now that I’ve attended Alcoy’s festival, I suppose they’re right. There wasn’t any real difference between the groups dressed as Moors and those as Christians; both wear flamboyant costumes, both smile and wave at the crowd, and both are cheered equally. It’s just another excuse to get dressed up and have a party.
Of course, I might have simply been won over by the sheer scale of the event. Like Fallas in Valencia, this is an annual fiesta for which groups called filas spend all year preparing. And the results are spectacular.
The sidewalks along the route are lined with rows of plastic chairs, and it’s worth paying for one of them. Without a dedicated place to sit, you’ll be on your tip-toes a lot, because you’re going to want to see everything that passes by. There are elaborate floats, marching bands blaring out rousing music, camels and prancing horses, dancing troupes, and of course the costumes. The best place to watch the parade is from Alcoy’s central Plaça Espanya, where a mock castle has been erected — this is the fortress which will symbolically change hands between the Christians and Moors throughout the weekend.
The first day of festivities consists of the entrance of the Christians in the morning, followed by the entrance of the Moors in the afternoon. Sunday is the Day of San Jordi, and although there is more of a religious overtone to the processions, they’re still colorful and entertaining. And Monday is the day on which the battles are reenacted, with rifles booming and swords clashing. In the evening, San Jordi appears and inspires the Christians on to their destined victory.
Accommodation is practically impossible to find in Alcoy during the festival, so we only stayed for the first day and returned to Valencia in the evening. That was fine by us, although it meant we’d miss the crazy, drunken parties which rage all night long. The most popular drink during Moros y Cristianos is called Mentira, Spanish for “lie.” This is a blend of coffee liquor and crushed lemonade; it sounds disgusting, but is delicious and dangerously easy to knock back. I’d say I drank just one, but that would be a … well, you know.