La Feria de Málaga

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The ultimate Andaluz street festival

Every town in southern Spain has a week set apart and dedicated to celebrating their traditional fiesta and Málaga is no exception. Its vast and vibrant street festival is only surpassed by that of Sevilla. However, Málaga can lay claim to its feria being one of the oldest and most significant. Its origins are in the celebrations held in 1491 to celebrate the reincoporation of the city into the Kingdom of Castille. That's as big an anniversary as you can have almost, for a town.

This year it starts on Saturday 11th August and ends finally on Sunday 19th!

The modern feria means many things, but mostly music and dancing, drinking and eating, sort of in that order. It also means horses and fabulous traditional costumes, it means throbbing, gyrating fun fairs with atomic level impact rides. It means very very late nights. It means noise. Lots of it. Whether its the din of several thousand sound systems cheek by jowl in the feria ground, or the thunderous firework displays, or just the ability of the Andaluzes to talk and celebrate at top volume, the feria is an assault on the senses: aurally, visually and alcoholically!

The feria as a cultural phenomenum evolved in the nineteenth century. One of the first was the large agricultural fayre launched in Seville in 1847. As it became a huge focal point, the entertainment side of it grew and grew. Spanish fayres are still a means by which local businesses show off and entertain their clients, town halls show off their town, history and civic pride. Being a hangover of an agricultural fayre, there is usually bullfighting. In Seville, actually 30 fights, one for each day of April! Malaga will have two or three even. These celebrations were co-opted by towns and cities to celebrate local patron saints and virgins, historical events, and commercial opportunites. Make no mistake, the ferias are very big business for all concerned. In Andalucia, there is no business quite like partying. The gigantic fairgrounds that are erected are made up of travelling shows that tour the country from April to November, an itinerant micro-economy in itself. At he Málaga feria it is estimated that an olympic sized swimming pool of sherry is drunk, and that's without reckoning for the beer, rum and whiskey, the other staples of the feria.

So how do you do Málaga fera? With stamina and deep pockets! After all you can't party from lunchtime till dawn without spending a few bob... It kicks off on the Friday evening with an opening ceremony on the Malagueta beach followed by the first of the firework displays. The follwing day, Saturday, things kick off in the old town, which is where it differs from Seville, as theirs is strictly on the feria ground. In the narrow streets, musicians and bands are everywhere, bars set up counters on the street, sound systems play the raucous folk form of Sevillanas, or just as likely, Reggaeton, and the crowd throngs around, going from sound to sound, bar to bar.

Meanwhile, over on the official feria ground next to the grand Exhibition Centre, a mini city of tents has been erected. Various businesses and social clubs, political parties, unions and the municpality have all created a 'caseta', a kind of temporary structure which is a bar, social club and restaurant. It's hot in the afternoon, so people come out slowly here. The horse carriages and 'caballeros' will parade their wealth and social status, gathering, in the saddle to drink and socialise outside certain casetas. The women will sit side saddle behind the caballero in a fabulous spotty dress, or very likely be in the male clothing riding their own horse. Either way, it is the quintissential Andalucian image, and well worth strolling around to see the elegance, pride and poise with which they hold themselves. By sunset, horses are ushered away, the crowds from town have nipped home for a short siesta and shower, and they then hit the feria gorund in their hundreds of thousands. Its a vast tented city, brilliant with light, sound and colour. Next door is the vast funfair. The whole affair carries on until dawn almost, and then starts again back in town a few hours later. This year the feria runs eight full days!

Our recommendation is to check out the horses mid-afternoon on the feria ground mid-week when its not too crazy. You can brave the crowds in the centre at lunchtime, and it is fun, but it is crowded. The firework displays on the first and last night are always utterly spectacular.

Our recommended tipple? The rebojito. Sold by the jug, it is a mixture of dry Manzanilla sherry with lemonade, on ice. It goes down rapidly and easily, and is just what you need in the summer temperatures.

And of course, in large crowds, stay safe. Don't give the pickpockets an easy meal. ¡A por ello, viva la feria!