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Home Adventure Travel Ideas Activities Cultural Spain’s Moorish-Christian Festival in Petrer

Spain’s Moorish-Christian Festival in Petrer

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Relive Spain’s Moorish and Christian Heritage at Petrer.

    We were in high spirits that day in May as my wife Freda and I and our two daughters, Muna and Leila drove through Alicante’s rice fields and orchards, first introduced and planted by the Arabs after their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. We were attending the Moorish-Christian Festival at Petrer near Spain’s eastern coast.
    Our first sight was a large fortress-castle overlooking the village.  We noticed not a soul around the well-preserved Arab built castle, and no flags flew from its high battlements.
    “Where are the actors who will relive the history of yesteryears?”  I asked as I drove our small Renault through tThe Fortress Castle at Petrer.he village.

     “Look down to the village, I see people in Arab dress!” Muna pointed to the streets below.  In a few moments we arrived and I parked the car in one of the town’s squares.

    “Donde esta la fiesta de los Moros y Cristianos (Where is the Moors and Christian Festival?”),"  I asked a passerby.
    “En el centro de la ciudad (In the centre of town),” the man smiled.  “Bienvenides a Petrer (Welcome to Petrer)!”

    We found the streets of the town filled with crowds of men, women and children dressed in the costumes of past eras in Spanish history.  The sound of gunfire echoed through the streets and led us to one of the main thoroughfares.  Here, an episode of the Moorish-Christian wars was being re-enacted.  The Moorish army moved up the street firing muskets and canChildren enjoy dressing in costume for the parades.nons, with real gunpowder, while in the distance we saw the Spanish were retreating.

    The colourful scene amazed us all. “Look! Arabs from history! The Emir!” Leila exclaimed as the Moorish legions marched before us, each group led by a richly dressed Emir.

    “Magnifico!  Magnifico!” Muna pointed to the emirs while we talked to a Spaniard standing by her side.
    “Come tomorrow morning, you’ll see the grandeur of Spain’s Moorish civilization,” the man advised in passable English.

    “Son Uds. ingleses (Are you English)?”  A young man asked us. Muna answered: “No somos canadienses pero nuestra origin
es árabe (we are Canadians but our origin is Arab).”  “Arabe!  Arabe!  Bienvenides! Bienvenides!”  The young man was excited. “Come with me!”The Moorish garments are elaborate and a favorite in the parade.

    The young man twined his hand through mine and steered us toward the older part of town. I had momentarily forgotten that the southern Spaniards had inherited the proverbial trait of Arab hospitality, and as I had observed when travelling through the vast Arab world, people do invite strangers into their homes.

    For the Festival, the town had been divided into two sections: Moors, and Christians.  The players of each group kept to their section of town.  The ‘Moors’ took us to their area to feast and be merry. In the two evenings we spent in Petrer we must have attended a dozen parties, always being introduced as the ‘Moros’ from Canada.  We wondered that our visiting family may have caused more excitement than the festival which we were experiencing.

    The next day, we waited in the brisk and chilly May temperature for the parade to begin. In the distance we heard the sound of drums and history began to unfold before our eyes.A Christian Noble Lady is proudly featured in the parade.

    “Christian” soldiers from Castile followed by those of Aragon, Leon, Navarre and Asturia marched in colourful costumes of past eras - a vivid re-enactment of Spain’s historic Christian history.  Following each provincial group, women and children dressed in the fashion of the past ages gave colour to this ancient world relived.

    “Listen, it’s Arabic music!”  Muna called out.  Sure enough, we heard strains of Arabic melodies in the distance.
    “Look!  Look!  What a marvelous sight!”

    The actors who portrayed the Spanish Christians passed and then a replica of the first Arab conquerors, the great Arab dynasty, came to view.  These soldiers of the Umayyads led by magnificently dressed amirs and amiras (noble men and women) marched together.

    We gazed at dark-bearded, sElaborate and brightly colored are the traditional costumes.trong, fine-looking men with ornamental headdresses and tunics of eye-boggling colours, a wonderful sight; their curved swords, simulating the swords of Damascus that were made from the finest steel in that era, shone in the morning sunlight. They twirled these large swords above their heads!

    Not to be outdone, the dark, proud amiras, the women awakening the past, were dressed in the finest silk robes.  They could easily have matched the most beautiful women of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  We were seeing a vivid re-enactment of the proud Umayyad epoch.

    When the Umayyad actors had passed I thought we had seen the ultimate in the portrayal of the Moorish age, but it continued when, next, the century of the tawa’ifs, or petty kingdoms rolled into view.  Kings, amirs, amiras, army generals and soldiers of these kingdoms all had their places in the parade.

    The petty kings had taken over Muslim Spain after the fall of the Umayyad dynasty.  With the disintegration of the central power, many ambitious men set themselves up as kings or sovereigns over whatever territory they could grasp.  These kingdoms then fought each other while the Spaniards occupied them one by one.  A redeeming fact during their internecine wars was that their rulers were enlightened and patronized the arts.
    Close behind in the magnificent parade came the legions of the Al-Murabitun (Almoravids), led by emirs dressed in dazzling clothing and riding decorated, prancing steeds.  These actors, representing a dynasty that had its roots in Africa, depicted, even by the colour of their skin and African dress, a true picture of that dynasty.

    Impressively capping the parade were the legions of the Al-Muwahhidun (Almohads) who were the last-ditch reinforcement from North Africa for beleaguered Muslim Spain. They came, fought and defeated the Spaniards iFamilies join in the parade dressed in traditional costumes.n 1195 at the battle of Alarcos, built mosques and fortresses, ruled for a period, declined and were defeated.  After them, this part of Spain was Arab no more, which was a fitting end to this colorful spectacle.
    In all, the Spaniards of Petrer must have done much research to produce such an authentic parade through eons of Spanish and Moorish history.

    Late in the evening our family departed the town of Petrer. We would miss the festival’s historic play the following day, in which the Spaniards would overwhelm the Moors. We would visit other areas of Spain’s eastern coast and return home to Canada.

    “I think we’ll always remember this colorful parade into the Moorish-Christian history,” said Freda. Muna, Leila and I agreed. 

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~Habeeb Salloum is a Canadian freelance writer and author who specializes in writing food, history and travel articles. Besides 7 books and 19 chapters in other books he has hundreds of articles published relating to these subjects.


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