Yonks ago in the middle ages, when the Romans ran amok in England building bath-houses, glorifying Gladiators and murdering masses of people under the banner of ‘The Crusades’, Spain was itself undergoing a transformation of kinds. At the bottom end of Spain lies the Mediterranean sea, and just across the pond, Morocco. It was then occupied by the so-called Moors, a misnomer for a mixture of peoples from Berbers to Iberian Muslims to Arabs.
Morocco and indeed, the continent itself since the earliest of times has seen its fair share of bloodbaths from invading Europeans, so it should come as sweet revenge that the ‘Moors’ managed to annex a part of Spain over a warring period lasting some 800 years. This is according to my oracle of truth, St Wiki. This Moorish part of Spain was known as Al Andalus, and the global table owes a debt of gratitude to these ‘invaders’ as they introduced sophisticated farming techniques like irrigation and rice farming, along with their architectural style that has merged over time into unique, Spanish Mediterranean designs.
The Moors brought Arroz Bomba (Paella rice), almonds and spices amongst many other things to Al Andalus. Probably the most notable of these are Arroz Bomba and this curious horticultural bulb called Saffron. Marry the two togather and we have Paella, so often badly represented globally by charlatans in the kitchen passing off shit as Paella. The best Paella I’ve ever had by the way, was at Restaurante Monastrell in Alicante on the Costa Blanca.
The regions of Valencia and Murcia were part of Al Andalus, and whilst their ancestors would have lived in constant fear of marauding attackers from the South, the modern Valencians and Murcians fear crop pests, unemployment and legions of hard-grafting latinos. Peaches, apricots, citrus fruits and figs now dot the roads in this sparse, hilly region and in thanks to the Moors for their contribution, they’ve come up with a smashing fiesta.
The Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos is when all and sundry line the streets to take part in an orgy of colour and sound. In celebration of the end of Moorish occupation in Spain, this festival commemorates their expulsion with lots of drinking, eating and street partying. I wonder how many of Moorish descent actually take part in these celebrations.
This is quite a big event held at different times in different cities throughout the region (End of April), and you get different groups of paraders, dressed in exaggerated medieval finery. It was really cool when the ‘Moorish’ representatives marched by accompanied by ‘Darth Vader’ like music.
I can see why this is one of the biggest events in city’s annual calender because in these secluded places, life is really different from what we are used to in big cities. In the sleepy town of Monovar, the bullfight was the biggest spectacle and talking point for weeks prior and after. Participants prepare for the whole year waiting for this day to take part in some Spanish pride. I’m sure if they win the world cup this year, there’ll be a marching contingent of football players in 2011!
This was one of the highlights of my time working in Spain, as life consisted of work, eat and sleep. Ecuadorian friends brought my flatmate, Joel and me to this festival, a welcome break from our mundane existence in a lonely apartment on Monovar’s outskirts. How pathetic was it that in this town of 12,000, we lived right on the edges on the way to Elda, a bustling city about 15 mins away by car? You can just imagine how much fun we had after a period of deprivation!