The principal Menorca fiesta takes place on the night of the 24th June, the longest day of the year, and celbrates San Juan (or Sant Joan) in the medieval town of Ciutadella on the islands western coastline.
Amongst fiestas in Spain the celebrations in Ciutadella are unique and have a heritage that goes back over 500 years! In fact the origin of the fiesta is now shrouded in mystery as to its origin, that doesn't however
stop over 100,000 people participating every year!
What is the Fiesta?
Each 24th of June the Esplka
in Ciutadella is filled by revellers from accross the Balearic islands and mainland Spain who've come to see three trials of horsemanship by natives of the town. Well that and to party in the biggest Menorca fiesta!
The Espla provides a magnificent setting being a steep sided, flat narrow valley of approximately 100meters in width with
the natural port of Ciutadella providing the backdrop. The step sides finish in a series of whitewashed walls and perched above
them is the historic quarter of the town on one side and the church on the other. The flat area quickly fills with people
from 2000 onwards with the fiesta officially begining at Sunset.
Once the sun is setting over the waters of the harbours the three trials begin. These horesback trials take place through the middle of the crowds... with no predetermined path! Revellers have to watch the direction of the horse and rider and take evasive action! The three tasks are:
- The lance
- The shield
- The embrace
Charging through the crowd atop black pure bred Menorcan Stallions the rider has to lance a small doughnut shaped marble eyelet supended on a cable strung from one side of the Espla to the other. 90% of the time the rider goes away disapointed!
This time in tandem one rider carries a wooden shield whilst the other has a rock in his right hand. The objective is to gallop, in parallel, through the crowd whilst hitting the wooden shield until it splinters. The packed crowd then jostles (and in some cases fights) to gain a few splinters of the broken and cast aside, shield.
The last of the trals sees the riders galloping in pairs with arms entwinned in which the object of the exercise is to plant the traditional mediteranean "Two kisses" on the cheeks of each rider. Sounds easy? Its not!
Once the last trial is completed by all the riders the crowd disappears off to into the old town Ciutadella to continue the party long
into the next day.
If you are thinking of attending the unique Menorca fiesta in Ciutadella two things to bear in mind are:
- Hotel accomodation and ferry trips are booked up long in advance of the 24th June.
- Listen out for the flute, this signifies the begining of the charge of each rider!
As stated the exact origin of this famous Menorca fiesta cannot be defined 100%. Its origin has been claimed by the Catholic church, by the townsfolk and even has links to the Knights templar! Its probably simplest for the visitor to enjoy the fiesta in Ciutadella and form his or her own interpretation but what follows is a brief resumen of the speculation that exists!
The Catholic church claims that the celebrations honour the re estblishment of Christian rule after the explusion
of the Moors from Menorca. Today the Menorca fiesta of Sant Joan contains religous elements however these could well have been incorperated due to pressure from the Catholic church during its 500 year hold over the townsfolk...
As a medieval fishing village and center of the Islands artisans its quite possible that the fiesta in Ciutadella
celebrates nothing more than the auspicous "longest day" of the year. Certainly something that townsfolk could all
remember in the abscence of Calendars in medieval times. Trials of skill and horsemanship that form the backbone of the
celebration certainly allude to demonstrations of masculinity as does the holding of principal posts by town artisans.
Being the most easterly point in Spain Menorca has a long history of conquest and interaction with other mediteranean cultures.
At the time of the earliest references to the fiesta the Knights Templar from their base in Malta certainly exerted influence over
smaller cultures in the mediteranean. The fact that the Maltese cross is the emblem of the fiestas in Menorca and the fact that horsemanship features strongly add some plausibility to the claim.
As always the truth is probably somewhere between a combination of all three!
The Menorca fiesta in Ciutadella whetted your appetite? Check out other Fiestas in Spain....>
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