When most people think of Carnival, they think of sequined samba dancers, non-stop street parties and Brazilian heat, but one of the most important Carnivals actually takes place in the south-western tip of Spain – and it has a very different take on the celebration.
A party for the pious
Carnival is technically a religious (Catholic) celebration, although images from Carnival capitals like Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans tend to highlight instead what appears to be complete and utter debauchery. Really, it’s two weeks (usually at the beginning of February) when the pious are allowed to feast and indulge their desires before the six weeks of fasting and other penitential practices of Lent.
Carnival was brought to the Spanish port city of Cadiz in the 1600s by Venetian merchants. Since then, Cadiz residents have given their version of Carnival a distinctive slant towards intellectual expression. Of course, the costumes, music and drink are present – in abundance – but so is a level of satirical wit and artistic genius that’s hard to match.
Dancing to a different drum
Now, it may be because Cadiz in February is a bit chilly, but Carnival-goers in this southern city will see far fewer bare bottoms – and far more caricature-like costumes depicting politicians, artists and celebrities – than in Brazil or the Caribbean. And instead of sweat-inducing Latin beats, the air is filled with strumming guitars and wicked lyrics created by the different groups of musical satirists.
There is an order to Cadiz Carnival musicians – there are chirigotas (who perform theatrical pieces about everything from politics to current events), coros (comedic singers that wander the streets with different stringed instruments), comparsas (classical singers who often sing about tragedies) and cuartatos (singers that most often carry nothing more than a kazoo and beating sticks).
These performances pop up against a backdrop of a charming seaside city in full street fiesta – food, drinks, dancing, parades, and concerts are all part of the Cadiz Carnival package, making it a vibrant time for locals and visitors alike.
When in Cadiz…
Carnival or not, Cadiz is a delightful city on the Atlantic coast and often gets overlooked because of it out-of-the-way location – which has done wonders to preserve its local vibe and charm. It’s on the most southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, just a short hop from Africa, and Arabic culture has infused every aspect of the city, from its arched and tiled buildings to its unique and delicious cuisine. In spite of this fusion, the city is distinctly Spanish, and is known for some of the best flamenco shows around.
Many people who make the extra effort to include Cadiz on their Spanish holiday say it turned out to be their favorite destination, and one they’ll surely go back to. And those who make it for Carnival will have a truly unique and unforgettable experience of the local culture!
In 2016, Carnival in Cadiz will take place from the 4th to the 14th of February.
© Fotos von Turismo de Cádiz