Hogueras in Alicante: A Tale of Tradition, Evolution, and Festive Splendor

Hogueras Alicante 2022 Plaza Seneca

Picture yourself in the vibrant city of Alicante, Spain, during the magical dates of June 20th to June 24th. It’s time for Les Fogueres de Sant Joan, or Hogueras in Alicante, a festival that has deep historical roots and has transformed into a spectacular modern-day extravaganza. Let’s delve into the captivating journey of how this celebration began, how it has evolved over time, and discover its unique characteristics and contrasts with its sister festival, Las Fallas in Valencia. Along the way, we’ll explore the materials used, uncover the significance of terms like La Mascleta, ninots, falleras/falleros, falla, and casal, and immerse ourselves in the rich traditions that make Hogueras an unforgettable cultural experience.

Origins and Evolution of Hogueras

Hogueras traces its origins back to ancient times when people celebrated the summer solstice by burning their old belongings, symbolizing a fresh start and the triumph of light over darkness. In Alicante, this tradition took root and evolved into a vibrant fiesta where neighborhoods competed to construct towering monuments called “hogueras.” Over time, Hogueras has grown into a grand festival, showcasing Alicante’s rich culture and becoming an integral part of the city’s identity.

Now, let’s rewind to the olden days. We won’t go all the way back to the origins of fire worship and its subsequent Christianization under St. John the Baptist. Instead, we’ll focus on more recent times when historical records provide us glimpses into how the coastal towns of Spain, particularly those along the beautiful Mediterranean coast, celebrated the summer solstice with cleansing bonfires.

In Alicante, the tradition of fire endured through the centuries. It originated as an agricultural festivity, where farmers marked the longest day of the year for bountiful harvests and the shortest night for dispelling evil forces. Over time, this custom made its way into the city, as Alicante and its countryside were inseparable companions. Interestingly, the first documented evidence of these early bonfires dates back to 1822 when the Mayor issued a decree forbidding their lighting. However, the people remained faithful to their traditions and continued to ignite the bonfires, disregarding the authorities’ prohibitions.

In 1881, due to a slight oversight by the City Council, no decree was published that year to ban the bonfires. Seizing the opportunity, the peaceful inhabitants indulged in the festivities with bonfires and firecrackers. Neighborhoods came alive with “festes de carrer” (street parties) featuring popular games, the enchanting melodies of “dulzaina y tabalet” (traditional instruments), and the appearance of early versions of the “ninots” – comical figures representing individuals who were subjected to public criticism.

Year after year, despite authorities’ repeated prohibitions, the neighborhood bonfires continued to light up the streets of Alicante. They must have been quite rowdy affairs because documents from wealthy families of the time, like the letter from Mr. Pobil to the Mayor in 1887, pleaded for measures to prevent “scandalous events” during the San Juan and San Pedro celebrations, events that painted an unfavorable picture of the city’s culture. Even though the authorities and aristocracy imposed restrictions on the bonfires for over seventy years, the people persisted in their cherished traditions.

It was in 1928 that a significant turning point occurred, forever changing the fate of this long-persecuted tradition. An association called Alicante Atracción emerged, dedicated to promoting tourism in the city, which, at the time, played second fiddle to the popularity of the Cantabrian beaches. Enter José María Py, who, inspired by the success of the Fallas festival in Valencia, suggested that the Hogueras of Alicante should receive the same recognition and prominence. This idea aimed to attract tourists and gain official recognition for the festival, found favor among the city’s ruling class, and the Alicante Atracción association was authorized to organize the “first Hogueras de San Juan” officially sanctioned by the City Council.

Little did they know that their efforts would achieve both goals simultaneously – the festival’s official recognition and the influx of tourists. The inaugural year was a resounding success, with over one hundred thousand people witnessing the grand “cremà” (burning) of the bonfires, as reported by El Día newspaper in 1928.

Of course, this newfound fame brought with it its fair share of critics from Valencia. In 1929, one Falla mockingly referred to the Hogueras as “Monos de repetición” (repeated monkeys). But far from being disheartened, the people of Alicante were spurred on even more. Within a few years, the number of Hogueras skyrocketed, surpassing thirty in total. The celebration expanded to include the concept of “Barraca,” an enclosed space set up in the middle of the streets. Adorned with allegorical entrances, these Barracas became the epicenter of vibrant street parties, offering delectable culinary delights that showcased the best of Alicante’s gastronomy.

Another significant development occurred in 1932 when the Hogueras introduced the prestigious title of “Bellesa del Foc” (Beauty of Fire). Each year, a representative from each Foguera Commission is crowned with this honorary title, symbolizing the utmost embodiment of the festival.

With the passage of time, the number of Foguera Commissions grew to nearly ninety, spread across all areas of the city. The Barraca Commissions also emerged, totaling over ten thousand direct participants in our beloved celebration.

From being declared of National Tourist Interest and later International Tourist Interest, Les Fogueres de Sant Joan have now become the official City Festivals of Alicante. In 2014, they were designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Valencian Government, providing protection to the Hogueras monuments and all the elements that contribute to this vibrant fiesta.

Comparison and Contrast with Las Fallas

While both Hogueras and Las Fallas share a common thread of fiery celebrations, they possess unique characteristics that set them apart. Las Fallas in Valencia is renowned for its large-scale sculptures, satirical ninots, and La Mascleta, a daytime pyrotechnic spectacle. In contrast, Hogueras in Alicante embraces the symbolism of bonfires, vibrant parades, and the spirit of community. While both festivals ignite the senses, they offer distinct experiences that showcase the individual cultural identities of their respective cities.

Types of Materials Used in Hogueras Sculptures

Similar to Las Fallas, the materials used in Hogueras sculptures have evolved over time. Originally, wood was the primary material for the bonfires, representing the festival’s humble origins. However, as artistic ambitions grew, papier-mâché, polystyrene, and other lightweight materials became popular choices. This allowed artists to craft intricate details, ensuring that the hogueras captivate spectators with their artistic brilliance.

Key Terminology of Hogueras

a. La Mascleta: Just like in Las Fallas, La Mascleta holds great significance in Hogueras. It refers to the explosive daytime spectacle that fills the air with thunderous booms, vibrant colors, and a symphony of sound. It symbolizes the celebration of Alicante’s passion for pyrotechnics and adds a thrilling element to the festival.

b. Ninots: In Hogueras, ninots represent the individual figures and sculptures that adorn the hogueras monuments. These intricately crafted pieces often depict satirical or comical scenes, portraying characters from popular culture or political satire. Just like in Las Fallas, visitors have the opportunity to vote for their favorite ninot, saving it from the flames during the “Nit de la Cremà.”

c. Falleras/Falleros: Similar to Las Fallas, Hogueras celebrates the participation of falleras (women) and falleros (men) who actively engage in the festivities. Falleras dress in traditional Valencian attire, showcasing embroidered dresses, ornate hairstyles, and intricate jewelry. Falleros accompany them, donning traditional attire that symbolizes their cultural heritage.

d. Falla: In Hogueras, the term “falla” refers to both the festival and the individual monuments. These stunning structures, often reaching impressive heights, are crafted by talented artists and represent the artistic prowess of the community. Like Las Fallas, Hogueras fallas sculptures tell unique stories and embody the spirit and identity of Alicante.

e. Casal: Casals serve as the gathering places where fallas commissions come together to plan, organize, and create their hogueras sculptures. These community centers foster camaraderie, creativity, and a sense of belonging, serving as the heart of each neighborhood’s Hogueras preparations.

f. Barraca: An enclosed space set up in the streets where celebrations take place. The “Barraques” are lively places for festivities and socializing. Each Foguera commission can have up to two Barraques, occupying streets within their respective districts. What sets them apart is the entrance to these enclosures, which is adorned with a decorative “portada.” These portadas, crafted by skilled artisans of the fogueres, are made of materials like cardboard, cork, and wood. They often feature themes ranging from local traditions of Alicante to social critique and satire. Just like the monuments, these portadas are also ephemeral works of art. They are categorized based on the budget, compete for prizes, and are ultimately burned on the night of June 24th, alongside the main bonfire (foguera).

The Floral Offering to the Virgin of Remedio

The Floral Offering to the Virgin of Remedio is one of the most crowded events held during the central days of the Fogueres festival. It is considered one of the oldest in Spain, as it has been celebrated since 1941.

The foguerers, barraquers, and people of Alicante parade along the official route on June 21st and 22nd to pay tribute to the patron saint of the city, the Virgin of Remedio, who resides in the Co-Cathedral of San Nicolás, the final destination of the procession.

Around 10,000 people participate in this event, carrying bouquets of flowers that come together to form a representative floral mosaic that changes each year. Many Fogueres and Barraques commissions also carry allegorical catafalques depicting Alicante motifs or religious themes, which are placed in Abad Penalva Square, at the entrance of the Co-Cathedral.

On June 21st, the Children’s Bellea del Foc of Alicante, along with the Dames of Honor of the Children’s Bellea del Foc of Alicante, and representatives from sister festivals and regional associations, will conclude the offering. After the parade, a mass takes place in the Co-Cathedral. On the following day, June 22nd, it will be the turn of the Bellea del Foc of Alicante, the Dames of Honor of the Bellea del Foc of Alicante, the representatives from sister festivals and regional associations, and the Federation of the Fogueres de Sant Joan.

La Palmera

The “Palmera” is a breathtaking pyrotechnic spectacle that takes place at midnight on June 24th, launched from the summit of Santa Bárbara Castle. It involves the simultaneous firing of over 1,000 rockets that explode in the sky, forming a magnificent fireworks palm tree with sparkling lights spreading across the city. Its impressive diameter makes it visible from every corner.

The Palmera serves as the signal for the start of the “cremà” (burning) of the fogueres, fogueres infantils, and barraques. As the vibrant fireworks display illuminates the night sky, it marks the beginning of the eagerly anticipated moment when the bonfires, children’s bonfires, and enclosures will be set ablaze. It’s a captivating sight that symbolizes the culmination of the festivities and the celebration’s grand finale.

Ninots y Gigantes

Get ready to have fun watching these amusing characters dance. Experience the tradition.

The Fogueres de Sant Joan festival is based on the traditions of the city of Alicante. It showcases the clothing, festivities, and artistic expressions of our ancestors.

In the effort to preserve these traditions, les Fogueres share traditional expressions with other towns, such as the Nanos i Gegants, which are giant or big-headed figures that dance through the streets of the city before each mascletà and during certain parades.

Gigantes and cabezudos at the entrance of Alicante City Hall in 1944
(Alicante Archives)

Ninots and Gigantes line up in Alicante

gigantes in Alicante City

Present-Day Celebrations and Cultural Significance

Hogueras in Alicante has evolved into a magnificent spectacle that captivates locals and visitors alike. The festival showcases Alicante’s deep-rooted traditions, artistic brilliance, and the vibrant spirit of the community. From the mesmerizing glow of bonfires to the rhythmic beats of parades, Hogueras invites everyone to embrace the joy and cultural heritage of this enchanting city.

Hogueras in Alicante is a celebration of tradition, artistry, and the indomitable spirit of the city. As we delve into the festival’s history, witness its evolution, and explore the unique elements associated with Hogueras, we find ourselves immersed in a world of fiery enchantment. From the bonfires that illuminate the night sky to the spirited parades that fill the streets with joy, Hogueras stands as a testament to Alicante’s vibrant cultural heritage.

Postcards from the Road

From Booze to Bulls: The Osborne Legacy Along Spanish Roads

From Booze to Bulls: The Osborne Legacy Along Spanish Roads

Explore the rich history of Osborne bulls, from their origins as a brandy promotion to iconic symbols of Spain. Join us on a journey through the Osborne legacy, their enduring cultural significance, and where to find these majestic silhouettes across the Spanish landscape.

read more