Having just recovered from the hangover of the all night beach party marking the official start of summer (la noche de San Juan), we are now setting our sights on the next local ‘fiesta’ and tradition with la medalla Virgen del Carmen and the special day of the Virgin.
La Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors and is celebrated every year on July 16th on coastlines all around Spain. It is a day for the virgin to bless sailors and fisherman and to honour those who have lost their lives at sea. In Málaga, several neighbourhoods celebrate the day, with the most popular one being in El Palo, a small fisherman´s neighbourhood approximately 6 kms from the city centre, easily reachable by bike cycling along the promenade.
Around 5 p.m., a procession starts from the local church and the image of the virgin is carried by the locals, many walking barefoot, and dressed in their traditional costumes of ‘marengos’- the Malagueño name for people who worked in the fishing industry. Hundreds of others take part in the parade too, walking in front of and behind the virgin carrying long wooden oars, almost like a guard of honour.
The procession, accompanied by local bands, is not in a hurry to arrive at the beach. A couple of hours later, on arrival at the beach, hundreds of locals wearing the mentioned medal, standing up to their waist in the sea waiting to see the ‘marengos’ carry the virgin into the sea in order to place her in the middle of a beautifully decorated ‘jábega’- a traditional wooden fishing boat. As the boat is rowed out to sea, a frenzied water fight breaks out among all the locals so be prepared to get soaked if you are standing on the shore!
The Virgin is rowed along the coast, accompanied by hundreds of other boats of all shapes and sizes. When the procession on the sea reaches the end of El Palo, the image of the virgin is taken from the boat and then another procession makes its way- slowly- along the promenade. The locals link arms on either side of the promenade in order to form an official guard either side of the virgin. As the procession goes along, cries of, “Guapa! Guapa! Guapa!” can be heard from the crowds- hailing their patron as beautiful.
This is definitely a local tradition and fiesta not to be missed! So why not rent one of our bikes and head east to join in the festivities?
Other neighbourhoods that celebrate this day (but the weekend after the 16th) are: Huelín, the Malagueta and the city centre. Ask our friendly bike rental staff for more details.