Hot on the heels of the all-night party celebrating the official start of the summer (known as the Noche de San Juan) come the next festivities.
July sees one of the most important summer events in Malaga with the day of the Virgen del Carmen.
This is one of the most important occasions of the year and takes place up and down the Costa del Sol.
In this blog post, we take a look at what this unique event is all about and discover how you can join in the celebrations.
The Star of the Seas
This classic summer event in Malaga takes place on 16 July along every coastline in Spain. On this day, fishing communities honour their patron saint, the Virgen del Carmen.
This version of the Virgin Mary is also known as the ‘Star of the Seas’ (Estrella de los Mares) – her halo is a multi-pointed star – and she’s revered in all fishing ports.
On 16 July, the statues of the Virgen del Carmen (some of them larger than life) are brought out of churches and shrines to bless sailors and fishermen and their boats. The Virgin also honours and remembers those who have lost their lives at sea. Unlike the solemn Easter processions, this is a day for celebration and festivities, and very much a family occasion.
Celebrating the Day of the Virgen del Carmen
In most fishing communities, the Virgen del Carmen forms the central piece of a procession that parades through the streets from the church to the port.
Joining the Virgin are marching bands, choirs (known as coros rocieros in Spanish) who sing traditional seafaring songs and crowds of locals.
This video gives you a good idea of what this summer event in Malaga is all about.
The participants in the procession wear black skirts or trousers, a white shirt and a red cummerbund. Many wear espadrilles on their feet while the most devote go barefoot.
In Malaga, they’re known as marengos, the local term for fishermen. Some carry oars and walk in front of the Virgin or behind her, almost like a guard of honour.
Participants and spectators often shout out “¡Guapa!” (beautiful) as the statue passes by and occasionally a spectator will break out into a flamenco song in honour of the Virgin.
Did you know?
A giant sculpture on the Malaga seafront pays homage to a marengo. Check it out on our Alternative Malaga Bike Tour.
Once the procession reaches the port, the statue boards one of the fishing boats in the flotilla and sets out to sea for the blessing and floral offering. According to local customs, all fishing boats in the community join the entourage so there’s usually a big group of boats and ships of all shapes and sizes accompanying the Virgin.
Summer events in Malaga for the Virgen del Carmen
Malaga celebrates the Virgen del Carmen in three neighbourhoods: El Palo, El Perchel and Huelín, all traditional fishing communities. The biggest and brightest celebrations take place in El Palo (easy to get on your Malaga rental bike), but all three commemorate the Virgen del Carmen in style.
Virgen del Carmen in El Palo
El Palo, about 6km from the city centre, combines the Virgen del Carmen celebrations with its annual Fair. These summer events in Malaga take place between 12 and 16 July and include activities for all ages. Highlights include funfair attractions in Plaza de la Milagrosa, a giant paella and jábega boat races.
These historic boats built from wood, whose origins date back to the Phoenicians, join the procession on 16 July.
The day starts early in El Palo with firecrackers and a dawn mass at the local church. At around 5pm, the procession makes it way from the church to the beach – there’s no rush and the journey takes about two hours!
At the beach, hundreds of locals stand up to their waist in the sea waiting to see the marengos carry the Virgin out to a beautifully decorated jábega.
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 then rowed along the coast, accompanied by dozens of other boats. When the maritime procession reaches El Dedo beach (at the end of El Palo), she is taken from the boat and then paraded (very slowly) along the promenade. The locals link arms on both sides to form an official guard.
Did you know?
The Phoenicians founded Malaga in 800BC after they arrived on jábega boats from the eastern Mediterranean.
You can find out more about the origins of Malaga on our Malaga City Bike Tour.
Virgen del Carmen in El Perchel and Huelín
Both these neighbourhoods celebrate the Virgen del Carmen on the Sunday after 16 July (21 July in 2019). In El Perchel, the Virgin makes her sea journey from Muelle 2 (the Pergola on Malaga Port) on one of the pilot boats that operates in Malaga harbour.
She’s joined by lots of other boats and yachts as they sail out of sea for the service. See this procession from about 8pm.
In Huelín, the Virgin makes her way from the local church to San Andrés beach where an assorted flotilla (including pedalos and jetskis!) awaits her. She boards the jábega and is rowed out to the sea to bless the community’s fishing fleet.
How to get there on your Malaga rental bike:
Both El Perchel and Huelín are easy bike rides – ask our staff for directions and exact time of events when you pick up your bike. https://www.malagabiketours.eu/bike-rental-malaga/
Events on the Costa del Sol for the Virgen del Carmen
Almost all Costa del Sol resorts celebrate the Day of the Virgen del Carmen. Some of the biggest celebrations take place in:
Rincón de la Victoria
This traditional fishing town to the east of Malaga also celebrates the Virgen del Carmen, whose brotherhood is celebrating its centenary this year.
The town’s statue of the Virgin is in the area called El Tajo on the cliffs – look out for it when you ride past.
On 15 July, she is taken from her cliff-top shrine to the local church for the main events on 16 July. These include a dawn mass, floral offering in the morning and procession from 7pm.
How to get there on your rental bike:
Rincón de la Victoria is a very easy bike ride to the east of Malaga city centre. Discover exactly how to get there and what to look out for on the way (including the Virgen del Carmen shrine) here.
Los Boliches Fuengirola
Like El Palo in Malaga, Los Boliches holds its annual fair to coincide with the Virgen del Carmen. The four-day event includes funfair attractions, the traditional parade and a spectacular firework display on 16 July.
How to get there on your rental bike:
If you’re feeling fit and don’t mind the heat, you can ride to Los Boliches (allow 2 hours to make the 28km journey).
Or you can make it easy for yourself and pop your bike on the Cercanías train. Go first thing and bike along the seafront promenade and coastal walkway in Fuengirola before you watch the procession. Ask us for full details.
All you need to know about summer events in Malaga
Our friendly staff know their stuff when it comes to events so just ask them for all the details about the Day of the Virgen del Carmen plus other things going on in Malaga.
Contact us to find out more here or call us on (+34) 951 138 349 or mobile (+34) 606 987 513.