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GUIDEPOST cover, 17 February 1987


17 February 1987

by Conchita Burman

During the last ten years, Carnival festivities banned under the Franco regime have been revived in Spain. Now it is greatly and widely celebrated; almost every city, town or village celebrates Carnival.

The traditional Carnival festivities of Ciudad Rodrigo, a town in the province of Salamanca, have been declared of Tourist interest. These celebrations comprise a succession of the most varied public festivities, revolving around the bulls, famous encierros and capeas conducted according to local custom. The festivities begin with a charity bullfight on Carnival Saturday (this year it will be February 28) attended by the Queen of the festivities and her court. On Sunday the traditional capea* begins. The capea is preceded in the morning by the “encierro” as in Pamplona.

The start of the encierro, or arrival of the animals, is announced by the ringing of the bells on the Town Hall, whereupon the crowd takes up position. . . Falls, bruises and fights are the order of the day. The encierro is quite spectacular. People dressed up in fancy Carnival costumes and grostesque masks [run] and [dance] in front of the bulls. One can well image the pandemoniumn when these runners are surprised by the rushing bulls.

When the morning capea is over the animals are returned to the country with characteristic excitement and gaiety. Once the animals have made their way back local trobadours serenade and people begin to dance in the streets and squares giving an added attraction to the festivities.

In the evening, during the four days of festivities that last until Ash Wednesday, raffles, verbenas, booths and stalls add yet further life and animation to these celebrations .

The encierros and capeas are usually attended by many famous bullfighters as well as novilleros and becerristas, willing and wishing to demonstrate their ability and knowledge since these festivities are among the first bullfights of the year and many empresarios go to watch and contract for the coming bullfight season.

Ciudad Rodrigo.was named after Count Don Rodrigo González Girón, who reconquered and populated it during the reign of Alfonso VI in the 11th century. Ciudad Rodrigo. . .still conserves part of its 15th-16th century splendour. From the Agueda river a splendid panorama can be contemplated [especially] the silhouette of the medieval Alcázar built near the turn of the 14th century. which is now a luxurious Parador Nacional.

Carnival is also celebrated at Villanueva de la Vera in the province of Cáceres, a little town at the northeast of La Vera on the south foothills of the Gredos mountains. La Vera, is famous for its pimenton (paprika) and tobacco. The first vegetables harvested in the year come from this region. . . The carnival festivities are called after Pero Palo and like those in Ciudad Rodrigo are declared of tourist interest. The whole town. participates. These festivities date from the time of the Inquisition.

Pero Palo

These celebrations were authorized after a trial by the tribunal de la Inquisición of the town of LLerena, in Extremadura, where the people of the town of Villanueva de la Vera were accused of heterodoxy. The tribunal not only absolved the inhabitants of Villanueva and authorized the fiesta but presented the people with drums and flags to enhance it. The festivities commence on Saturday 28 February when a group of people called pero-paleros prepare and put up the pointed pole kept by the City Hall on which Pero Palo is to be exhibited during the four days the celebrations last. Pero Palo (nick-name for Pedro Palo) is a huge puppet dressed in the regional costume. At evening and night the pero-paleros roam the streets and select the site where the effigy is to be set up. This spot is kept a secret until the moment comes to prepare land to erect the puppet.

Should anybody reveal the secret. . .he can be beaten with sticks. During the night of Saturday to Sunday, Pero Palo is dressed in situ with the torn garments from the previous year being repaired on the spot. It is a general belief that the people who take part in dressing Pero Palo will have a very successful year. Once dressed, the puppet is displayed to the public amid the singing of folk songs and accompanied by dances and of course drinking and wining. Pero Palo is then carried through the streets by the pero-paleros. . . Songs are sung punctuated by tremendous shouts until they reach the pole where Pero Palo is tied. On Tuesday (Mardi-Gras) the trial takes place presided over by the authorities. Pero Palo is found guilty, beheaded, and the hay used to stuff the effigy is strewn around the square.

Then follows the burial which is quite a dramatic affair. The body is carried on barrows while the doleful beating of the drum creates an atmosphere of oppression and tragedy. The celebration culminates in a banquet attended by the whole village above which floats the flag used throughout the ceremonies. This flag is of Moorish origin and bears the crescent moon in the centre.

There are other cities where Carnival is celebrated with the more modernistic copying of the famous Carnaval de Rio de Janeiro, like in the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canry Island and Cádiz. There are parades of the brilliant cavalcade with many floats. Performancesof amusing troupes of clowns with Bullfights and rondallas contests. Competition of fancy-dress, of decorated floats, gaily bedecked carriages, street bands, are all part of these Carnival’s festivities which remain a mini-Río.


*Capea: An event in which small bulls or heifers are released into the arena and members of the audience can interact with them.