In Ciutadella, Menorca, every year there is a big festival of Sant Joan that is celebrated from 17th till 25th June. Last year I went there to see it but I didn’t mention it on my blog. This year I realized that I should probably tell you more about it.
The festival and its protagonists
The festival has been held almost without interruption for centuries. Its origin is religious. The festivities are dedicated to the Menorquin horse breed, which, in perfect teamwork with its rider or “cavaller”, defy the laws of gravity with “Bots” (the horse stands on its back hinds and lift their front hoofs for number of seconds) while practising spectacular equestrian games.
The main protagonists of the festival are the “caixers” and “cavallers”. The Committee of Caixers is composed of representatives of early Ciutadella society:
– Lord Caixer (nobility)
– Chaplain Caixer (clergy)
– Flagbearer Caixer (artisan or farming apprentices)
– Artisan Caixer (the craft sector)
– two Farmer Caixers from Migjorn and Tramuntans (the farming class)
The “cavallers” are the remaining men who go on horseback, and who come from the farming class. The processikn is led by the piper (fabioler), a public official who plays the drum and the cane flute (fabiol).
Day of the Lamb
The festival starts on 17th June with the “Día des Be” (Day of the Lamb). The Committee of Caixers meets in the home of the Lord Caixer, who hands over the flag to the Flagbearer Caixer. At 9 a.m., the piper sounds the drum and the flute for the first time. Then the procession visits on foot the Town Hall, the headquarters of the Bishopric and the lodgings of the nobles, the cavallers and the farm owners who provide horses for the cavalcade.
The main character of the day is the Lamb Mam (Homo des Be). He represents the figure of Sant Joan the Baptist. He is barefoot and dressed in lambskins, with crosses painted on his feet, arms amd forehead,and he carried a lamb.
At sunset the first hazelnut toss takes place on the Avenida Constitució, and the Municipal Band plays the first “Jaleo, without horses.
Sant Joan’s Saturday
It’s on 23rd June and it’s the first of the two great days of the festival. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the piper goes to the Lord Caixer’s house riding a donkey to ask permission to begin gathering the caixers and cavallers. Once granted permission, the piper begins to gather the cavalcade, which proceeds on horseback behing the donkey.
The main act of the day is the “Caragol des Born” (a parade route on horseback). It takes place in the square that bears the same name, and serves to launch the festivities, with horses jumping to the music of the jaleo. They take three turns of the square, after which the procession moves to the Sant Joan de Missa hermitage to pray Vespers. While this happening, the hazelnut toss is held at the Contramurada. At sunset, the cavalcade returns to the streets to celebrate the Corregudes (runs) de Sa Plaça and the Caragol de Santa Clara. Sant Joan’s Saturday concludes with a refreshment at the Lord Caixers’s manor house.
Sant Joan’s Day
At 8 o’clock in the morning, the piper returns to the Lord Caixer’s home to ask permission to begin the replec of caixers and cavallers. From that moment on, the horses take over the city’s streets and all throughout the day “replec”, “caragols”, and the des Pla games. These games have been celebrated since at least 1661. They are:
- The ring games (L’ensortilla) – The horsemen, at a gallop, must get with a lance an iron rig hanging in the middle of the arena from a cord.
- The shields (carotes) – A horseman carries a carota (a wooden shield with one side painted) on his arm, while another horseman breaks it with a clay object called a “lladriola”.
- The embracing run (Córrer abraçats) – Two horsemen gallop alongside each other, hugging and trying to give each other a kiss as a symbol of fraternity.
The festivities’ most important religious event takes place on Sant Joan’s Day. It is the Caixers’ Mass, which is celebrated at noon in the Cathedral. The day’s events end after midnight, when the procession, already without the noble, takes its leave of the Chaplain and the fabiol is sounded for the last time.
Experience from last year
Last year I went to the festival the second day so I saw the horses in the streets followed by the games in the port of Ciutadella. I was just watching the games on the big screen that was placed on the main square. It was so overcrowded that I decided to avoid the crowd. I was just watching the games on the big screen that was placed on the main square. To feel like a part of the festival, I also bought the typical Sant Joan’s T-shirt that was sold everywhere. They even cut the T-shirt for you in order to wear it as a top which is much better in the heat.
Last year I also went out in the evening with my colleagues from the hotel. The port, the main party place with many clubs, was completely full with people in Sant Joan’s T-shirt. The entrances to the club were overpriced so we just went to have a drink on the terrace of one bar.
This year I went to see the “Caragol des Born”. The main square got completely full by people, the cavallers with the horses were going through the crowd around the square. The band was playing the music and people were singing. Later on I also saw the hazelnut toss, there were hazelnuts everywhere and people were throwing it to each other. This year I didn’t go to see the events on the second main day of the festival, I decided to have a rest on my day off.
Anyway, if you come to Menorca during the Sant Joan’s festival, I definitely recommend you to go to see it. It’s worth seeing it at least once. You just have to be careful because it can be a bit dangerous when the horses are jumping in the crowd of the people and the whole crowd is moving. The people easily step on your feet and if you’re not careful even the horses can hurt you. That’s why it’s also recommended not to wear flip-flops or sandals, it’s better to wear sports shoes. Don’t get scared though. If you don’t get to the middle of the crowd, you can probably enjoy it better by watching everything from the safe distance.