Valencia is one of many parts of Spain to have a strong Moorish (or Muslim) influence, as it was under Moorish rule from the 7th century until the 15th century. The festivities commemorate the period known as the Reconquista, or reconquest, of Valencia by the Christians in the 15th century, and the battles that were fought between the Moorish and Christian armies. The events are also held in honour of the city’s patron saint, Vincent of Saragossa, who is said to have intervened in the final battle, in which the Christians defeated the Moors despite being greatly outnumbered.
The festival gets off to a spectacular start. The two armies march into the city in the early hours of the morning, a grand entrance accompanied by loud music from their own bands, fireworks and much pomp and ceremony. The Moorish and Christian armies march in procession, dressed in colourful, elaborate costumes, each side attempting to outshine the other. The participants can number in the hundreds or, in some cases, thousands. Their arrival is eagerly awaited by the assembled crowds, who pack into the streets and onto balconies draped with the flag of St George before the sun even comes up.
Afterwards come the religious ceremonies in hour of the patron saint, and the negotiations, or embajadas, held in the town’s castle or another important building, in which each side reads out a text in an attempt to persuade the other to surrender. Then the grand finale begins: a reenactment of the final battle, a riot of noise, colour and smoke, ending in victory for the Christians.
The festivities usually last for three days and involve all the street parties and paella cooking competitions you’d expect from any celebration in this region.
Curiously, there’s no fixed date for the celebration. Two of the most popular places to enjoy the festival are the towns of Villajoyosa, which celebrates in late July, and Alcoy, which holds the festivities in April, with up to 5,000 people taking part in the morning procession.
Other towns celebrate this festival at different times of year, and there are also many small towns in Andalucia which hold similar events on various dates. But wherever and whenever you go to see the festival of Los Moros y Cristianos, you’re sure to have a truly unforgettable experience.