Every October, the streets of Zaragoza fill up with music, entertainment and shows to welcome its biggest celebration, the Fiestas del Pilar (or the Pilares, as they’re affectionately nicknamed by the locals).
There are few European cities that can boast such a lively, busy celebration, and for almost 10 days (this year from 6 to 14 October), the whole city throws itself into the dozens of activities and festivities taking place across the Aragonese capital, filling the streets with people from near and far. On certain days, such as the main feast day on 12 October, the city’s population doubles, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the fun party atmosphere.
The festival’s origins are rooted in religious tradition, which holds that the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to the apostle Saint James in 40 A.D., when Zaragoza was part of the Roman Empire. According to that tradition, the Virgin appeared at the spot now occupied by one of the city’s undisputed icons, the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar. The city has commemorated the visit by its patron every 12 October since 1640. Today, however, the festival’s religious nature has taken a back seat, although it continues to be a core element of the celebrations, and in recent decades the event has become a true festival for the people, dedicated to music, shows, fun and happiness, all enhanced by the locals’ friendly, cheerful nature.
The main feast day, 12 October, sees the Offering of the Flowers, a spectacular procession during which hundreds of thousands of people– last year more than 280,000 took part– pass through the streets of central Zaragoza in regional or national dress (as well as Zaragoza, participants flock from other regions and countries), offering flowers to the Virgin, whose image is gradually covered by a beautiful, giant blanket of flowers in Plaza del Pilar. A similar Offering of the Fruit takes place the next day and, as its name suggests, consists of offering fruit and other food to the Virgin.
But beyond the offerings and other religious and traditional activities, such as the Glass Rosary, there’s room at the festival for many other activities that fill the streets with fun, day and night. Concerts and music events are undoubtedly one of the festival’s strong suits, with gigs (many of which are free) taking place in many spots across the city, including Plaza del Pilar. They showcase national and international talent and styles to suit all tastes, from pop to rock, jazz, electronica and hip hop. This year, posters advertised concerts by artists including Kase.O, Ara Malikian, Steve Aoki, Izal and Vetusta Morla, among many others.
The festival’s exceedingly long and tremendously full agenda also makes room for street entertainment, plays, cultural events, kids’ activities, parades, processions of giant floats and traditional large-headed characters, food tasting, street food, shows by folklore groups and spectacular fireworks, such as the ones that mark the end of the festivities. That’s in addition to the fairground, entertainment by members’ clubs and other attractions, such as events with young bulls.
If you’re not afraid of crowds, fun and endless nights of partying, Zaragoza and the Fiestas del Pilar await. Dig out your cachirulo (a traditional Aragonese scarf) and join the party!
MORE INFORMATION: Fiestas del Pilar (Zaragoza Council)