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Celebration of the Fiesta del Pilar


Every year, on the 12th of October, the capital of the region of Aragon in Spain, Zaragoza, becomes a place of celebration and homenaje for the Virgin of Pilar, the patron saint of this historic and diverse region, located in the Pyrenees mountains, and surrounded to the north by Navarra, to the east by Catalonia, and to the south and west by Castilla León. 

Centuries of history, faith and devotion surround the Virgin of Pilar, and serve as the foundation for the festivities practiced in modern times.  Today, an abundance of music, dance, theater, parades, flowers and ambiance make the Fiesta del Pilar a fine example of the spirit of Spanish history and culture, as well as an internationally recognized event.  

The history of the Fiesta del Pilar begins in the year 40 A.D., when the apostle Saint James the Greater enters Spain with the task of converting the still largely pagan country to Christianity.  In Aragonese territory, while traveling on the eve of January 2, the Virgin appears to him, and asks him to build a church on the very spot where he stood at that moment.  Saint James delivered the wishes of the Virgin, and the result still stands today, and is known as the Basilica del Pilar.

The "pilar", or pillar, a symbol of the fortitude of the Catholic church, and the unity between heaven and earth, is the base for these elaborate and beautiful celebrations.  Perhaps the most important and widely recognized element of these weekend long celebrations is the offering of flowers to the Virgin in the Plaza del Pilar.  With gladiolous, orchids, roses, lilies, and just about every kind of flower imaginable, people create a trail of brilliant colors and fragrance as they carry their offerings to the Virgin. 

In addition to the offering of flowers to the Virgin, other parades, various kinds of music, Spanish theater, and traditional dance fill the streets of Zaragoza. One of these traditional dances, the jota, has much importance within these celebrations.  In fact, in the Plaza del Pilar, in addition to paying homage to the Virgin, they also celebrate the National Festival of the Jota simultaneously.  This dance, with its various styles, including one from the region of Aragon, is accompanied by two basic instruments, the gaita and the dulzaina.  No one knows exactly what the origins of this curious and varied dance are.  Some say that it comes from the medieval poetry written in the times of the King Aflonso X, the Wiseman, while others say that it has its roots in musical traditions of the  Muslims who once occupied the territory, while some believe that it comes from the fandangos of Andalucia, or from the Iberian tribes that roamed the peninsula long before recorded history, and still others believe that the Basques are responsible for creating these lively dances.  Others believe it comes from the Venecian Carnival.  Only one thing remains certain, that this dance has been around since the 1600s, and from this moment forward, it has changed and developed into the dance that you can see practiced today. 

One could say that the Fiestas del Pilar are also an independent music festival.  With music concerts of all kinds, including folk, jazz, hard rock, pop rock of the region, reggae, ska, in addition to singer songwriters, and classical music, there will be something for everyone.  In past years, groups such as Estopa, El Canto del loco, Paco de Lucía, Joan Manuel Serrat, Extremoduro, and the Flaming Lips have performed.   

And if you have not seen enough, plays and theater also have their place during the celebrations.  One can see famous Spanish actors and theater groups from all over Spain perform in plays and one acts of the highest quality in the streets and plazas of the city throughout the duration of the fiestas, turning the city into a veritable stage of Spanish drama.      

In the neighborhoods of the city center, and along the "tube" (its name originates from the fact that most of the bars in this area are underground), young people gather, during the day to eat together, and at night to go out to the many bars located there and celebrate. 

Of course, one must not forget to mention the presence of the the "toro", or bull, during the Fiestas del Pilar.  He must make his appearance here like he does in almost all Spanish celebrations, with bullfights and other spectacles which make him a prominent symbol in Spanish culture.

As there is something for everyone during these celebrations, children alike can enjoy a multitude of activities that have been created just for them.  There are many groups who dedicate themselves to entertaining children with magic tricks, larger than life clowns and characters, theater for children, lively music, and a festive cast of characters that continually pass through the city streets.

The celebrations continue into the night with much to see and do.  In the Paseo de los Bearneses there is a beaufiful display of lights, water, and sounds with a brilliantly illuminated fountain and celestial music.  There are also many neighborhoods that light up the sky with fireoworks throughout the nighttime celebrations.

Just like other fiestas that take place throughout Spain, the Fiesta del Pilar would not be complete without the presence of a multitude of "peñas", or groups of friends and family that gather together to help animate the crowds and put them in the spirit of celebration.  These groups often wear similar colors and special scarves to identify themselves, and help to energize people in the streets, and organize events.  Generally the "peñas" are open to visitors and strangers, and offer a tapa or a glass of wine or beer to those who pass by.

Zaragoza, capital of the province of Zaragoza and of the autonomous community of Aragón is situated 200 meters above the banks of the Ebro River.  Established between 19 and 15 B.C. by Ceasar Augusto, it was first called Césaraugusta.  Throughout the centuries it has weathered many battles and was conquered by the (Suevos), the Visigoths, and the Muslims, until finally in the year 1118, Rey Alfonso I the Warrior took back the city for the Aragonese region.  Again, in 1809, the people of Zaragoza steadfastly held on to their independence in a heroic and victorious resistence to Napoleon's noble and expert troups.

History, religion, and architecture combine to make Zaragoza one of Spain's true jewels, and the Fiesta del Pilar is Zaragoza's moment to shine each year.  Visiting the city during this time, you will find a city rich in culture, spirit, and beauty. Don't forget your flowers or your sense of adventure! 

Escuela Internacional Central Registration Office
C/ Talamanca, 10, 28807 Alcala de Henares (Madrid), Spain
Telephone: +34 91 883 12 64, Fax: +34 91 883 13 01
e-mail: info@escuelai.com


Cities in Spain
Salamanca - a walk
Shopping Salamanca
Nightlife - Malaga
Places to go - Alcalá
Excursion - Segovia
Excursion - Siguenza
Trip to Matavenero
Celebrations / Events
Semana Cervantina
Carnival in Spain
April Fair-Sevilla
San Isidro in Madrid
Fiesta del Pilar
Alcalá Film Festival
Christmas in Spain
Spanish Christmas carols
Picasso Museum
Flamenco in Malaga
Cervantes in Alcalá