Events on the Almohad Castles Route
Nowadays, the convergence of the Christian and Muslim cultures that has had such an impact on the history of these towns can be seen in the Moors and Christians festivals, one of the most original and spectacular sights on the Mediterranean coast.
Biar holds re-enactments of the battles fought in 1245 between the Almohad occupiers and the troops commanded by king Jaime I the Conqueror, who took the town for the Crown of Aragón marking the old border between the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragón. Celebrations continue for over a week, culminating on the night of 10 May with hundreds of bonfires being lit on the mountains around Biar, illuminating the Baixà de la Verge, the procession carrying the Virgin down from the Sanctuary. Ball dels Espies (the spies’ dance) also commemorates how the Almohads dressed up and ambushed the Christians.
The procession of Ballà de les Banderes accompanies the Virgin, saluting the image with musket fire as it is carried along the streets during the Moors and Christians festival in Castalla.
The Moors and Christians festival in Villena has been held very year for over 150 years and is famous for the spectacular costumes worn by the participants. Thousands of local people take part in the festivities and Villena‘s streets are packed with music, colour and celebration, day and night.
The Moors and Christians festival in Biar is held in mid-May; in Castalla, where the festival has been running for more than two hundred years, it is held in the first week of September; in Sax, the festival in honour of San Blas is held during the first five days of February and Villena’s festival takes place from 4 to 9 September.
Another deep-rooted and very popular tradition in many of the towns along the Almohad Castles Route is the festivity of the Three Kings. Events related to this festival take place on the eve of 6 January, on Epiphany, or Three Kings Day.
In Biar, the Three Kings parade on 5 January is followed by a presentation of toys to local children in Plaza de la Constitución. Castalla also has a parade that ends at the Crib in front of the Town Hall and in Villena an original play re-enacts the Bible story, with two performances, one on Three Kings Day and another on the following Sunday.
Many religious festivals, like Christmas and Easter, and non-religious festivities, such as the San Isidro Fair in Castalla, take place along the Almohad Castles Route. The San Isidro Fair is held on the Sunday after 15 May and draws thousands of people to over 70,000 square metres of industrial machinery displays, craft workshops, gastronomy products, a Medieval market and an Arab souk.
At the Villena Rural and Crafts Fair, held in October, visitors can see displays of farming machinery and equipment and admire the local crafts and needlework employed in making the costumes, jewellery and accessories worn for festival parades and processions. Wine and vegetable growing are also featured, as the region’s various cooperative associations take part in the fair with samples of their excellent wines and fantastic locally grown vegetables.
Villena is also famous for its Medieval market, set up in the Rabal neighbourhood, an old part of town with palatial houses and coats of arms, the perfect setting for recreating the craftwork done by the many artisans and silversmiths who come into town for the event and rub shoulders with stallholders selling traditional local products.
There are also falconry displays, parades, guided tours and lots of performances that give you a flavour of what Medieval life was like. When it gets dark, you can watch and take part in the Corre-Focs, a parade accompanied by fireworks, flares, bangers and rockets to the rhythm of the dolçaina (a traditional local wind instrument) and drum.
Like the other routes described, there are also dozens of other smaller festivals and events that visitors can watch and take part in: cow running, bullfights, pilgrimages to chapels, open-air dances, traditional dancing, film shows and folklore festivals, some of which are internationally famous, like the festival in Villena.