Sunday, 16 September 2012

Moors & Christians Masquerade in Peñíscola

Yesterday afternoon I was invited with four other members of the congregation to lunch at Les and Brenda's in Peñíscola, prior to going down the the north beach promenade to watch the annual 'Moors and Christians' masquerade, a parade celebrating the re-conquest of this part of Spain in the fourteenth century by the army of King Jaume I. The lunch was a most enjoyable triumph of good food and conversation, putting us all in festive mood for the evening's events.

The north beach promenade was lined either side for a kilometre by green plastic chairs for spectators available for the evening at €5 each. We arrived about seven, allowing us time to park, and then wandered up and down looking for an advantageous place to sit, close to a bar selling drinks to clients to outside customers. An hour of waiting amidst the gathering crowd was occupied by the passage of town and village marching bands heading up toward the starting assembly point.
I counted nine bands, six of them coming from villages inland on the coastal plain, several of which I've visited. Each band had between thirty and forty musicians. Over half of the players were under 20. All, without exception played to a high standard, and marched with pride. Each band had a standard bearer, and there were a variety of transport devices for the accompanying percussionist, as the big bass drums were too big to be moved any other way. I estimate there were around four hundred musicians involved all told. Moorish and Christian bands each played a shared theme tune. The Christian one I didn't recognise, but the Moorish one was the theme tune from the move 'Exodus', about the creation of the state of Israel. Was this something of a tongue ion cheek musical tease, I wondered?
It was an impressive testimony to the strength of local community life in an agricultural region, not least because of the participation of people of all ages. Some masqueraders walked to the start line, and among these were kiddies in costume pushed by mums or dads in buggies. When the parade eventually sauntered past, I noticed two babes in arms being carried in slings on a costumed masqueraders mum's tum, right in the middle of the ranks of soldiers.
Saturday's parade has groups of those dressed as Christian knights, backed by their village band, leading the procession and the Moors coming behind, 'chasing' them towards the castle. On Sunday there is apparently another parade in which the Moors go first, 'chased' away from the castle by the Christians. I was amazed at the splendour of the ranks of knights, each village with their own variation of costume design. The ages of participants spanned four generations, and despite playing at mediaeval soldiers, there were more women masqueraders than men. 
In any other European country at this time of political tension generated by the islamist 'protest' attacks on US embassies in the wake of the latest You Tube insult to the Prophet Muhammad, one could imagine anxious consultations and security risk assessments nervously carried out. There were thousands on the streets, and the best part of a thousand in the parade. The only Guardia Civil officers we saw were two in a patrol car, who seem to have mis-timed their return to base, driving carefully against the flow of people walking to the start point. The only raised voices were those cheering on the paraders or greeting friends exuberantly. The masqueraders and crowd were a sea of good humour and good will.
After sunset lighting conditions, even under extra floodlights and street lamps made good photographs difficult to obtain, even with a decent modern point and shoot digital camera. But by late evening, with a lot of flash usage, the battery was low and sensor reaction time noticeably diminished. Nevertheless it was great fun to try and capture such a special occasion.
It was an unique expression of community cohesion and voluntary enterprise, rooted in local history and civic pride. People having fun with their differences, not fighting over them. People enjoying being together, being part of their village and their family. After the parade finished just after 11.00pm, Peñíscola's hundreds of bars and restaurants were all packed with people eating out together. It took us a quarter of an hour to find a place with an empty table for a drink and bite to eat before the fireworks began at 12.30pm, another spectacular show, and not surprising since one of Spain's premier fireworks factory is located in adjacent Benicarló. I was pretty tired by the time I got home at 1.15am, but so glad to have witness such superb festivity.

The rest of the photos I took can be found here


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