Festa Major Sitges, Spain

The Catalans know how to party. My trip to Europe this summer was rounded off perfectly with festivities and a feast of fine foods in the beautiful seaside town of Sitges, near Barcelona in the Catalonia region of north eastern Spain.

The Festa Major is the annual feast day celebration at the end of August each year, held in honour of Sant Bartolomeu, patron saint of Sitges. Spectacular processions march through the narrow cobbled streets, re-enacting the Reconquest of Spain in the late 1400s, where Spanish Catholics defeated the Moorish monarchs, so completing the Reconquista.

The procession is raucous. Enormous models of the Spanish and the Moorish monarchs head the procession, followed in the heaving throng by dancers, papiermâché giants, devils brandishing pitchforks, and a large dragon and phoenix, fireworks exploding from their jaws.

Festa Major opens in Sitges town square

As the procession begins, devils with firecrackers advance through the town square (above).

The monarchs lead the way through the streets, the Spanish victors at the front followed by the Moorish King and Queen, see below.

The Moorish King and Queen advance through the streets

The chief devil pauses in the procession to re-load his tenedor del diablo with firecrackers, before igniting those of the other devils.

Chief devil re-loads his tenedor del diablo with firecrackers

The chief devil lights his many firecrackers (below).

Chief devil ignites the firecrackers, Festa Major, Sitges in Spain

The group of devils then form a tight circle to ignite each of their firecrackers (below).

Forming a tight circle to ignite the firecrackers

Devils in the procession wear earplugs to protect themselves from the extraordinary volume – not unlike a round of gunfire. Those less prepared feel the full force of the sound.

Devil with firecrackers - cover your ears!

All mayhem breaks loose as the firecrackers explode simultaneously (below).

Firecrackers exploding simultaneously

Most spectators dodge to avoid the firing sparks. However the braver ones and those emboldened with plenty of beer and wine race through or dance under the blaze. The challenge for anyone foolish enough to point a camera into the inferno is to get the picture before the sparks get you – or your lens. Easier said than done!

The dragon emerges through the smoke (below left), followed by the phoenix, setting off another whirl of crackers in the main town square (below right).

Each character in the processions has a team of people to man and look after them, ensuring nothing and nobody gets in the way, and ready at any moment to jump inside the model characters and take the reins as the parade continues through the town (below left).

A lady emerges briefly from her papiermâché head for some air (above right).

The previous day, I was fortunate to stumble across the backstreet (middle photo below) where artists were making repairs and adding finishing touches to the procession puppets (below left and right). They work throughout the year, carrying out repairs for the various fiestas of the town.

Musicians playing traditional reed instruments to accompany the dancing procession.

Musicians playing traditional reed instruments

Dancing models become increasingly flamboyant, not to mention unsteady on their feet, as more beer is handed out to the teams.

Spinning monarchs in the town square.

Spinning monarchs in the town square

Good humour abounds and dancers embrace as they finish their routine.

A band of musicians enters the town square as revellers contribute to the mêlée.

Musicians in the town square, Sitges Festa Major

Happy devils call it a day.

Happy devils at the Festa Major, Sitges in Spain


September 28, 2010 - 5:46 pm Michael LaPalme - Beautiful images from what looks to a spectacular event. Those masks are quite intriguing. I haven't been to Spain since the early 90's. Your images make me want to visit there again soon.

September 28, 2010 - 7:48 pm Jane Iverson - Your captions and photos kept me riveted! Great photojournalism! Looking forward to your next adventure.

September 29, 2010 - 3:22 am Simon - Looks like a fantastic event Jackie - well captured and thanks for sharing!

September 29, 2010 - 4:58 am Mark Wideman - Jackie your photos are a visual fiesta!!! The pyrotechnics, smells, and energy of the procession are all captured in amazing vivid detail in your work. What a brave one you are!!! I know how close you had to be to those diabolos to get some of those shots. It was a great thrill to photo-document the procession on the 23rd of Aug. with you. I am still processing my many digitals but it is clear your "Pas peur du feu" spirit allowed you to triumph with some exquisite photographs. BRAVO M'lady!!!

September 29, 2010 - 6:07 am jackierado - Thank you for the wonderful and generous feedback. An incredible event and such fun to photograph, if a little scary at times. Not sure I'd have had the same courage without you there, Mark, whooping with delight and keep spirits at a high throughout!

September 29, 2010 - 11:55 am Max Milne - Hello Jackie! WOW! How you achieve such stunnnnnnnning results is to be embraced through smiles. Such smiles. The photos are beautiful in the way that i feel your connection with people through them. 🙂

September 29, 2010 - 1:23 pm Kirsty MacLachlan - Jackie, your photos are stunning. I always knew at primary school that you were a clever little bunny. What a joy to feast my eyes on this event over my 'need to wake up' cup of coffee. xx

September 29, 2010 - 2:05 pm Annette Bauer - Gorgeous!

September 29, 2010 - 4:37 pm Kaylea - Hi Jackie, some absolutely amazing photos. The light and perspectives really make the photos. Maybe on your next blog could you write the aperture and shutter speed on the photos? Would be good to see what they are.

September 30, 2010 - 6:46 am Hirofumi Hosaka - Dear Jackie Thank you for sending me wonderful photos. All of them are very impressive. They showed me real vivid scenes of Spain. One week ago we welcomed Australian high school students for home stay. My Isawa High host students wept when they left Isawa. My wife and I are still planning to visit UK next June. If possible, we'd like to visit Bute again to see Anne. See you.

October 4, 2010 - 1:50 pm Polly - Superb!! Makes me want to book a flight to Spain for next summer! Excellent photography ........... a true professional & how wonderful to witness such tradition. I trust these should go in National Geographic or such like, they deserve to be. Congratulations!

October 23, 2010 - 9:30 pm Mike English - Some great shots, you have really captured the ambiance of the event making the viewer feel they are really there. I like the strong images you have taken by deliberately taking the shots at a steep angle showing it was deliberate not out of square by accident. The relatively short lens has also emphasised the main interests again, well done. I am sure you could sell the images to the organisers for future years publicity brochures. Just a thought

December 13, 2010 - 4:12 pmArtem - Great work, Jackie! Fantastic pictures!

February 8, 2011 - 6:20 pm Claussniazi@yahoo.com - I keep missing this wonderful event with all of you, but thru these gorgeous shots I can easily see what brings you back there over the years! Thank you for sharing and loved the commentary to bring them even more to life!