ALGECIRAS is rarely accused of being a romantic city. Hemingway ignored it on his trip to Ronda, while the poet Lorca stayed there and didn’t give it a stanza.
Even the current guide books dismiss it as an ‘ugly industrial fishing town’ (Lonely Planet) or ‘a refuelling stop’ on the way to Morocco (Frommers Guide). But if their authors had been passing through during Algeciras Entremares earlier this month, they’d be in a flurry to update.
Billed ‘an outdoor celebration of the cultures of the Strait during the Romantic Era of the early 1800s’, the festival headlined over a dozen different events in the city’s most iconic public spaces. You could watch Moors and Christians battling it out atop the recently-restored Moorish ramparts, listen to Gershwin in Maria Cristina Park after dark, sample
Ronda cheeses and Moroccan pastries at a Romantic Era market and give the kids a ride on a hand-cranked Ferris wheel at a retro funfair.
Algeceriños of all ages – from tiny tots to tottering abuelos and even the family mutt – were dressed up to the nines in 19th century Romantic Era gear. They took to the streets in bandits’ bandanas and Dandyish velvet suits and caps – and that was only the men! The ladies were laced into tight-bodiced gowns with lace mantillas and mittens to match – tailor-made for the occasion or rummaged from their great-great-grandparents’ attics.
Asses and donkeys were coaxed out of pastures and turned into mule trains. Heirloom blunderbusses once used by real bandits in these romantic-but-dangerous times were given an oil, spit and polish and fired off into the sky with eardrum-shattering bangs that launched the resident pigeon pack skyward en masse.
The other grey cloud was the weather which threatened to rain on the parade of this al
fresco fest but it turned out fine, allowing folkloric dance troupes from all corners of the Campo and as far as the Atlas Mountains to strut their stuff on a sunlit park stage beneath a curtain of autumn leaves.
Part feria, part cultural festival, the nearest equivalent to this singular event, now in its fifth year, is the much more famous Goyesca Festival of Ronda at the end of August when folk are similarly attired in homage to the Romantic painter Goya.
There are still a few rough edges to iron out – there was no one but us and five milkmaids in Plaza Alta for the 11am Procession which eventually got going at 12. But it’s a feather in the organisers’ dapper velvet Romantic Epoch caps and another of many new good reasons to make Algeciras more than a one-night stand.