MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL OF BETANZOS
The first Medieval Festival of Betanzos took place in July 1998. It was continuously celebrated on the second Sunday of July, so this year, 2018, we will celebrate its 21st edition.
It is, without doubt, the most important project in recent years, both economically and socially. We could say it experienced a dramatic rise in popularity, mostly due to the involvement of the Council (the organizer of the festival), the associations and the people from Betanzos and its surrounding area.
The idea of performing a Medieval Festival in Betanzos arose as a consequence of its history (Betanzos had a festival during the month of November, during the XIV and XV centuries) and to attain three objectives:
- Emphasise the cultural-historic heritage of the Historic Centre of a city that became the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia and that is made of countless elements, both religious and civil. It was even declared Official Complex of Historical-Artistic Monuments in 1970. It was the first step to achieve diversification of seasonal tourism, trying to boost a cultural version that would make people visit Betanzos during the low season.
- Encourage businesses and the creation of new commerce in an area of the city that has always been the most commercial. As time has passed, however, rehabilitation of private buildings has been lacking, which has been detrimental especially in recent years.
- Make the people from Betanzos remember its history and make visitors aware of it.
From these three objectives the fair has been developing through time and adding different features both at an organizational as well as at a structural level.
The Betanzos Council has been investing in materials that are only used for this celebration. The banners and cloths decorating the historic centre of Betanzos both before and during the celebration belong to the council and year by year they are increased and replaced if damaged. The Betanzos Council also has almost 200 costumes used by the volunteers to perform the acts. Items like the “zorra” (a carriage used to expel the lepers) or the different tack and weaponry needed to perform a medieval tournament on horseback also belong to the Council of Betanzos.
On the other side, the number of streets that are part of the event has been increasing, based on the growing popularity of the festival and thus, more effort has been put into the organisation. All this leads (taking into account the limited budget of a council the size of Betanzos) to the current situation of the Medieval Festival.
Perhaps the success relies on the representation of scenes from Betanzos’ history and is performed with the almost exclusive collaboration of the associations and people from our city. In other words, they are actors, dancers, noblemen, farmers, lepers, etc. with no intervention of a theatre company in those performances.
The Betanzos council obviously provides the costumes and items needed, as well as the instructors that rehearse the different plays with the volunteers.
Furthermore, the streets and balconies of the historic centre of Betanzos are embellished with cloths and flags that represent the emblems of the Betanzos families during the Middle Ages. In short, everything is arranged to make it as similar as possible to a journey to the splendorous past of the city.
FIG TREE BATTLE
On the third day, there are three main demonstrations. The first one is very important, even though it does not relate to the period, because it was one of the first performances of the Galician recapture. It took place in the middle of the VIII century and represents the denial of the nobles and plebeians to bring 100 maids to the troops of the Muslim king, Mauregato.
This denial provoked a bloody battle that the people of Betanzos won by using fig branches as weapons. This explains why the battle is called the FIG TREE BATTLE. Likewise, and to be faithful to the history, we represent the negotiation between both sides and the Moorish dances used to welcome the Muslim troops.
Another piece of history being recreated is the fire of the city that took place in 1569. The story goes like this: during that fire the families of Betanzos desperately tried to save their belongings from the fire. Some of the most valuable items of that time were wine barrels, because of their price and also how difficult the manufacturing process was. We represent this historical fact in a funny way, with a wine barrels race through the most famous street of that period (Travesa street). There are 20 volunteers in this race (runners and musicians).
The Medieval Festival of Betanzos officially starts with the demonstration of the arrival of Sir Andrade to the city. This performance represents the 1465 concession by Henry IV of Castille of the title of official CITY to Betanzos, and the ability to put on a yearly festival in November from 1467. This festival was likely the pillar to the festival that now takes place.
This performance needs almost 100 volunteers (Sir Andrade, his wife Sancha, the horseback entourage, the dancers that perform a noble and a peasant dance, the nobles, the plebs that arrive to make their claims, the musicians, etc.). The rehearsals start in May (which shows how complex it is).
THE EXPULSION OF LEPERS
On the third day the most complex demonstration takes place. It recreates the plague and illnesses that devastated the city in 1381. This scene concludes with the expulsion of the lepers out of the city.
The route of a couple of oxen pulling the carriage with the lepers, their escape and the arrests by the peasants delight the viewers throughout the historic centre. The diseased were exiled from the city and carried to the Magdalena district, where a leprosarium was placed.
The makeup work of the volunteers, the security measures along the route, and the continuous escaping and arresting of the diseased make this scene the most difficult and laborious of them all.
REVOLTA IRMANDIÑA (RIOT)
The Revolta Irmandiña represents how the citizens of Betanzos and their neighbors (both nobles and plebeians) rose up against the feudal lord, Nuno Freire of Andrade “The Bad”, because of the abuse of his vassals.
This riot was driven by Alonso de Lanzós, who headed an attack against the Castle of the feudal Lord, located in Pontedeume. To start this scene the Group Azougue of the School of folklore of Betanzos represents a historic dance.