The Corpus Christi Red Carpet on Tenerife

It’s June 1936. Francisco Franco is Governor General of the Canary Islands and is in La Orotava watching the Corpus Christi procession as it passes over the floral works of art.

Well known as a dissenter, Franco has been posted to the furthest and quietest outreach of Spanish governance to keep him out of harm’s way. If only they’d known then that most powerful of idioms – keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. The authorities are expecting trouble, there have been whispers of an assassination attempt and the Guardia have a heavy presence, their cars parked beneath the magnolia frontage of Casas de Los Balcones. In the event, the procession passes quietly without incident.

Fast forward 75 years and on the 30th June 2011, the alfombristas of La Orotava will unveil the 106th carpet to be constructed in the Plaza Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square). During its existence this most fragrant of Canary Islands traditions has seen some important feet passing over its cobbled streets, not least those of the Corpus Christi procession to whom it owes its existence.

Rolling out the carpet
The feast of Corpus Christi had already been celebrated for over 300 years in Tenerife, predominantly in La Laguna where the day was marked by theatre, dancing and traditional games as well as pious acts, before the first petals were ever laid in La Orotava. The honour of being the first is attributed to Leonor de Castillo Monteverde who, in 1847, thought it would be a nice idea to decorate the road outside her home for the Corpus Christi procession to walk over. So successful was Leonor’s idea that the practice quickly spread to other parts of the island and her descendants still complete that section of road outside her home today.

In their 164 year history the La Orotava flower carpets have only twice been suspended, once in 1891 and again in 1897. Last year, despite the persistent rain that marred the whole proceedings, the people still turned out to make their flower carpets and to ensure that their 120 year unbroken record still stands.

The La Orotava Town Hall tapestry
Despite the popularity of decorating La Orotava’s streets for the procession, it was to be almost 70 years after Leonor’s radical gesture before the Plaza Ayuntamiento stained its face in the name of religious devotion.

The Corpus Christi procession began passing through the Town Hall plaza in 1913 but it wasn’t until 1919 when Felipe Machado and Benítez de Lugo took it upon themselves to carpet the square in flowers and vegetation that the tapestry tradition began. Before then, the only time the square had seen decoration was in 1905 when a floral carpet tribute had been laid to honour the Spanish Navy ensign.

On the 21st May 2011, work began on this year’s tapestry, the theme of which is the 26th World Youth Day which will once again bring the Pope to Spain. This year’s design will use 21 different colours to create 20 individual tapestries as a nod to the 20 years that this particular group of alfombristas have been the creators of the carpets and the latest generation of artists to continue the ethereal tradition that has characterised the town for so long.

The La Orotava Corpus Christi flower carpets take place on 30th June 2011.

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Watch Los Tres Reyes (The Three Kings) Parade, La Orotava 2011

Tenerife Magazine was in the beautiful old quarter of La Orotava to film the arrival of the Tres Reyes (Three Kings).

In Spain, it isn’t Father Christmas who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve, but rather the Three Kings who, just as they brought gifts to the baby Jesus, bring gifts to children on the night before the Epiphany – January 5th.

In main towns all over Spain the Three Kings arrive bearing gifts of sweeties which are thrown to the crowds of excited children for whom sleep will be slow to come on this magical night.
In the morning, if they’ve been good they’ll find presents left by Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. If they haven’t been good, they’ll find a lump of coal, but remarkably it seems no children are ever less than as good as gold 🙂

In La Orotava, as in many places on Tenerife, the Three Kings arrive on camels and this year Balthazar got a bit of a scare as his seat threatened to slip off and his camel decided he was going no further until it was all sorted out.

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Fiestas Del Carmen ““ A Wild, Wet and Distinctly Fishy Affair

When I think of fishing and fishermen, I think idyllic streams in the Scottish Highlands where the gentle rushing of water over stones, the hum of bees and the swish of a lone fly fisher’s line blend imperceptibly into the silence; or a quaint Greek harbour where a bearded Adonis sits silently mending his nets to a background soundtrack of cicadas and the tide slapping the boards of lazily bobbing fishing boats.

Cut to Tenerife where these images are shattered by the audible battles of dance music blasting from the speakers of beer stalls and the open air rave; the screams of girls being cannoned by high powered water pistols or thrown from the harbour wall into the chaotic water below; the deafening cacophony of splashing as a thousand hands churn up the harbour waters and the horns of dozens of small fishing boats as the Virgen Del Carmen ( Our Lady of Mount Carmel) takes to the waters for her annual jaunt around the bay.
Welcome to the wild, wet, fishermen’s Fiestas Del Carmen in Puerto de la Cruz.

Puerto de la Cruz may be a thriving tourist centre and one-time premier resort of Tenerife but it has never lost its fishing village roots. Arguably the prettiest natural harbour on Tenerife, Puerto is home to a strong community of fishermen and mariners. Annually they treat the Virgen Del Carmen and San Telmo (Saint Elmo), to whom they feel indebted for their livelihoods, to a trip around the bay in order to ensure safe voyages and full nets for the coming year.

It’s a tradition which takes place in many of the coastal resorts of Tenerife in and around the 16th July; Virgen Del Carmen‘s Feast Day.
A feature of each of them is the central role played by the fishermen who carry the statue of their Saint on their shoulders to her embarkation point, sail her around the headland and then return her safely to her permanent church home amidst fireworks and celebration.
The difference with the fiesta in Puerto de la Cruz is that somewhere in the region of 35,000 – 40,000 people descend on the town for the day turning it into one of Tenerife’s biggest festivals.

I have a sneaky feeling that the weather God is a fisherman at heart because in all the years I have been attending Puerto’s Fiestas Del Carmen, it has always, without exception, been a red hot, cloudless day; regardless of how many days before or after have fallen prey to the cloud that trade winds bring to the north coast in early summer.
And yesterday was no exception.

With Tenerife at the tail end of a heatwave, the harbour saw temperatures tipping 34ºC as the sun beat mercilessly down on the thousands of revellers who took to the harbour waters in their droves to stay cool. Those who preferred to stay on dry land had running battles with high powered water pistols turning Plaza Charco, Calle Perdomo and the Muelle into an arena of water cannon cross-fire where escaping without a soaking was not an option.

With everyone heat exhausted and soaked to the skin (voluntarily or otherwise), the Virgen and San Telmo finally arrived at the harbour where they were given an emotional rendition of Ave Maria before being carried to their waiting boats. A few squeaky bum moments later they were both safely ensconced on board their vessels and heading off towards the horizon. While the party continued to rage, some of us trod our weary way homeward, safe in the knowledge that there would be fresh dorado (bream), cherne (grouper) and chiperones (small squid) for the coming year.

Fact File:
Fiestas Del Carmen take place in Los Cristianos, Bajamar and El Médano.
Some of the larger celebrations are in Santa Cruz and Las Galletas.

Santa Cruz – Friday 16th July 2010 ““ a full programme of music and concerts takes place in the city centre. Mass is held at 6pm in Iglesia de la Concepcion followed by a parade of the statue of the Virgen del Carmen through the city (Plaza de España, Marina, Avenida Marítima) to the harbour at Muella Ribera (near the junction with La Rambla) for embarkation and a trip around the harbour. Fishermen lay a wreath on the water in commemoration of fallen colleagues.
On the Virgen‘s return, she’s paraded back through the city and is greeted in Plaza del España by the traditional firework display.
Another day of celebrations, concerts and festivities follows on Saturday 17th July 2010.

Las Galletas – Sunday 16th July 2010
Amidst a whole week of events which includes parties with live bands from 11pm on the nights of Friday 16th, Saturday17th and Sunday 18th July 2010, the Virgen is taken to sea on Sunday 18th July amidst a noisy flotilla of small fishing boats. On her return at 9.30pm there’s a large fireworks display followed at 11pm by the final party.

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