In a country known for colorful, sometimes bizarre festivals, few can rival tonight’s reenactment of the battle between the Christians and Moors in Gualaceo.
The annual event includes a cast of 150 actors who will parade through town on horseback this afternoon. The parade ends at Belén Stadium, near the Santa Barbara River, where the battle reenactment will take place.
In the past, the event has attracted large numbers of curious Cuenca expats who take the 25 mile trip to Gualaceo. “It’s great fun and absolutely wild,” says Jack Helms, who plans to attend for the third time. “Can you image a public festival in the U.S. where the Christians kill all the Muslims? It would be totally politically incorrect but here it’s a traditional festival.”
The reenactment pits the Christians, led by Charlemagne, against the Moors. According to legend, Charlemagne receives a valuable assist from Santiago “The Moor Slayer,” who is the patron saint of Gualaceo.
Similar reenactments were popular in Europe until the 1980s when they were discontinued for political reasons. A statue of Santiago, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, was the focus of controversy in 2004 (see story). Santiago, or St. James, is also the patron saint of Spain.
According to Gualaceo mayor, Juan Diego Bustos, the event is part of the Christian heritage of the city and dates back 130 years.
“The battle is one of the biggest events of the year,” Bustos says. “Besides honoring our heritage, it allows our craftspeople to sell the goods that make Gualaceo famous.” The town, in northeast Azuay Province, is known for the production of clothing, shoes and the indigenous ikat fabrics.
Helms advises expats who plan to attend to arrive early for the parade and to get a good seat in the stadium, which has seating capacity for 7,000. “Everyone who goes, has a blast,” he says.
Source: El Tiempo