In the year 711 Tariq ibn Ziyad led a strong Muslim army across the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco. His army quickly defeated the ruling Visigothic forces of King Roderick and faced little resistance in taking control of their capital, Toledo. With the fall of Cordoba an Islamic state known as ‘Al-Andalus’ was formed under direct control of Damascus which was the capital of the Islamic world. Only a few years later the Christian Reconquest of Iberia began in the mountains of Asturias and a 700 year battle began to evict the occupiers. Whilst the Moors far from controlled the whole territory it wasn’t until 1492 that the Christian Reconquest was complete when the city of Granada fell to ‘Los Reyes Católicos’.
And that snippet of history can be used to explain the many ‘Moros y Cristianos’ festivals which take place in Spain every year. Locals dress up as either Moors or Christians and enact battle scenes between the two groups that took place during the Reconquest. If you’re only able to see one of them then it must be the one in Alcoy in the province of Alicante which commemorates the Battle of Alcoy in 1275 when St George helped defeat the Moorish forces lead by Al Azraq. Although there is no attempt to achieve historical accuracy this is one of Spain’s great festivals, or the greatest of all Spanish Fiestas if you ask any Alcoyano! In Alcoy the festival takes place from April 21st to April 24th.
Noise, colour and fun abound as the Christian and Moorish armies march around the town all day long accompanied by their own bands. The Spanish love of fireworks is evident during the fiesta and the balconies of the whole town are decorated with the red cross flag of St George. In the streets mock battles take place between the armies of the Moros y Cristianos and the city is covered with the fog of gunpowder.
On the final day the Christians are defeated in the morning then after the appearance of St George they surround the Moors in the afternoon and defeat them.
For the people of the city the fiesta is serious business. All year round they prepare for their four day festival in which a total of 28 armies do battle. This means a never ending task of fund raising, planning for the next April and preparing costumes. The end of the fiesta is a sad day for the town, the only consolation being that it all begins again in a year’s time.
One of my best friends in Spain is from Alcoy and her love of her town’s annual fiesta is so typical of how Spanish people in general feel such an affinity for their local festivals. She no longer lives in Alcoy but every year she’ll try to be there to take part in the festivities with her childhood friends. If she can’t make it she spends every day just wishing she was there. The fiestas become an integral part of the person and throughout Spain you’ll find that many people experience this lifelong attachment to the annual celebrations in the place where they were born.
There are hotels in Alcoy but you’d need to make reservations a long time before the festival. If you can’t find accommodation in Alcoy then you can book a hotel in Alicante and drive up to Alcoy for the day or stay in Benidorm and travel from there.
Many other towns, especially in the Valencia region, celebrate this festival on different dates including Villajoyosa, near Benidorm in late July and Bocairent in early February. There are also many small towns throughout Andalucia which stage similar events on various dates throughout the year.
If you’re interested in a more detailed account of the history behind the Moros y Cristianos festival please refer to: