With more than 500 events over eleven days of celebrations, navigating the Santa Tecla programme can be a challenging task for those who are new to the festive universe of Tarragona. That’s why we’re offering a brief guide to the ten essential experiences for enjoying Santa Tecla to the full, plus ten alternative options for those looking for something a little different, or who simply want to escape the crowds.
The festival of Santa Tecla, which has been declared of National Tourist Interest by Spain and a Heritage Festival of National Interest by the Government of Catalonia, has been held in Tarragona since the fourteenth century and offers a unique opportunity to get to know the city and, above all, its people. Get your festival T-shirt ready, put on some comfy shoes, pop a hat on your head to protect you from the sun and the sparks from the fires, and let’s go!
- Eat like a real Santa Tecla aficionado
A true follower of Santa Tecla (teclero) can be identified by what they eat as well! The quintessential dish is espineta amb cargolins (tuna stew with snails), which is the breakfast of choice for tecleros on the morning of 23 September. And for dessert? Obviously, Braç de Santa Tecla (Santa Tecla’s Arm), but in the form of a cake. This popular treat is made to order by many of the city’s bakeries on the afternoon of 20 September.
Don’t fancy the look of the espineta? Don’t worry, during Santa Tecla you’ll find as many gastronomic options as there are different tastes. Days such as the first Saturday of the festivities are full of tasting sessions which will take your taste-buds on a fascinating journey, and the Tecla Tapa is great quick dinner option during the festivities.
- Thrill to the Tableau of Santa Tecla
The best way of appreciating the figure of the patron saint of Tarragona is through the Tableau of Santa Tecla, which is performed every 20 September by the Esbart de Santa Tecla theatre group inside the Cathedral. With the audience facing away from the altar, through gestures and music they portray the most important scenes in the life, martyrdom and death of Tecla.
If you fancy something different, the programme features numerous guided tours of the Cathedral which give a closer insight into the figure of Santa Tecla and the temple that was raised in her honour. The festivities offer the perfect opportunity to rediscover Tarragona’s medieval heritage from another perspective.
- Enjoy the full procession of the Seguici Popular
A great part of the participative heart and soul of Santa Tecla can be found in the Seguici Popular (popular retinue), a long street procession comprising fire-runners, fantastical creatures, ‘spoken dances’, giants, allegorical dances, etc. The Seguici does three full processions during the two main days of the festival: on the afternoon of 22 September, the Anada i Tornada a Ofici (Round Trip) on the morning of 23 September, and another procession on the afternoon of 23 September. There can be no more traditional spot to enjoy the procession than on the steps of Plaça de les Cols, but make sure you set aside at least two hours to watch the full procession.
Are you short of time, or perhaps you don’t like crowds? The procession route offers many less crowded options and some where you have the chance to watch it from a different perspective or catch a one-off dance being performed or other off-programme events. If you don’t mind getting up early, the Anada a Ofici procession on 23 September is the perfect time to see the Seguici away from the crowds and offers some great photo opportunities.
- Experience the Baixada de l’Àliga (Descent of the Eagle)
On the night of 21 September, a number of fantastical creatures and giants perform a double descent from the Cathedral to Plaça del Rei and as far as Plaça de la Font. To really experience it to the utmost you need to join the descent crew of a particular element and wait your turn to enjoy the unique opportunity to carry them. If you’re interested, the best thing is to ask the advice of an experienced local resident to help you get fully involved, but be sure to always respect the elements and their bearers.
Is the madness of the Baixada a little too much for you? You can enjoy it from a safe distance at points such as Plaça del Fòrum or, even better, during the second Baixada from Plaça del Rei to Plaça de la Font. Or if you’d rather watch the processional characters in daylight hours, the fifteen minutes before each departure are preceded by a short performance in Plaça de la Font.
- Be amazed by the castells (human towers)
A city with such a long-standing human tower building tradition as Tarragona can hardly ignore its colles castelleres (tower-building teams) during its most important annual festivity. For this reason, Santa Tecla features two of the most important casteller sessions of the year: the first Sunday of the festivities (with two guest colles from outside the city), and on the day of Santa Tecla itself, featuring four local colles. Your Santa Tecla experience will not be complete until you have marvelled at a human tower building session in Plaça de la Font, perhaps with a local aperitif in your hand!
Are you looking for a more intimate experience of human tower building? During the festivities, all the colles offer open rehearsals at their headquarters, free of charge and with no need to book in advance, so you can appreciate how they get ready for this red letter day in their diaries.
- Laugh at the annual Dames i Vells revue
Satire is an indispensable ingredient of Santa Tecla and its ‘spoken dances’ are responsible for keeping it alive year after year. The must-see revue is one of the performances by the Dames i Vells (Ladies and Old Men) on 22, 23 and 24 September, a searing review of current affairs that puts more than one person in their place!
The popularity of Dames i Vells means that it is sometimes difficult to get a good place from which to see them. Don’t worry, though, as the sardonic fun permeates the rest of the city, and on 22 and 23 September you can laugh along with the satirical utterances at the Ball de Diables (Devils’ Dance), Ball d’en Serrallonga (Serrallonga Dance), Ball de Gitanes (Gypsies’ Dance) and Ball de Pastorets (Shepherds’ Dance). They may be less well known, but they’re equally caustic and unabashed.
- Dance until sunrise on the nights of 22 and 23 September
Forget about sleeping on the Eve of Santa Tecla and choose from a number of different nightlife options around the city during what are possibly the liveliest hours of the year in Tarragona. When the sun begins to rise, the sound of the gralles (a native Catalan double-reed wind instrument) playing the matinades (matins) will keep you company. And if you really want to do it all, round off the experience with the early-morning departure of the Seguici procession on 23 September and a hearty Tarragona-style breakfast.
If you’re not willing to give up a good night’s sleep, no problem. The Santa Tecla programme offers numerous musical events at more sleep-friendly times so you can fully experience Santa Tecla by night.
- Thrill to the climax of the Entrada del Braç
This is the climax of the festivities and the one that arouses the strongest emotions in the people of Tarragona. The afternoon procession of 23 September culminates with the entrance of the Saint’s arm relic to the Cathedral, with the Pla de la Seu packed with all the characters in the Seguici who unite in a dance and an outburst of fireworks. The feeling of pandemonium and euphoria will raises goose-bumps on the skin of even the most insensitive individual!
Experiencing the Entrada del Braç has its downside: hours of waiting, crowds of people, and the risk of getting singed or deafened by the fireworks and cacophony of the Seguici. If you want to experience it from a more prudent distance, we recommend that you stay in Plaça de les Cols and reserve yourself a spot to experience one of the most well-loved moments of the Seguici: the descent of the staircase after the Entrada. If you’d rather watch the Entrada during the day, you’ll need to get up very early and head there on the morning of 23 September to watch the processional entry of the city’s coat of arms.
- Follow the ‘walking pillars’ of La Mercè
On 24 September, the four local colles raise a pillar, or human tower, of four castellers which ascend and descend the Cathedral steps and then go down the steep Carrer Major to the City Hall balcony. You can enjoy the whole show from Plaça de les Cols, accompanying (at a safe distance) one of the pillars to the end of its route.
With so much festive fun going on, how can you resist another human tower building session? In Plaça de la Font, at midday on 24 September, you can enjoy a delicious glass of vermouth while waiting for the arrival of the four walking pillars. We promise that the climb of each enxaneta (the little child who tops the human towers) to the City Hall balcony is a scene you will never forget.
- Run the fire route
At midnight on 24 September, Tarragona gets ready to say goodbye to Santa Tecla as only Tarragona knows how: in an orgy of fire, with the traditional correfoc (fire run) and the final icing on the cake: the route that runs along Rambla Nova to the Balcony of the Mediterranean. The full fire run starts with an explosive burst at the Statue of Els Despullats and heads up the Rambla to the cacophony of fire-spitting devils and dragons.
Would you rather keep the devils at a distance? Once the correfoc has passed by, find a spot close to the Balcony of the Mediterranean and wait for the final spectacular firework display and the lighting of the Visca Santa Tecla message. And if you feel a momentary sadness as Santa Tecla draws to a close, don’t worry; there is less than a year left for everything to start all over again!
Get ready for your Santa Tecla 2019 experience by checking out the comprehensive festival programme.
Tarragona’s local festivity is held after Santa Tecla, patron saint of the city. For ten days, from 14 to 24 September (and some other previous as a sort of gift), Tarragona absolutely transforms and their citizens and visitors take over the streets in order to celebrate and take part in the festive events, which come in great number and are designed to suit every need. Of course, those acts related to the patron saint are also very diverse: one can try the traditional cake of the so-called Braç de Santa Tecla (literally, Santa Tecla’s arm, a relic still preserved in the city), watch a staging of the Retaule de Santa Tecla by Esbart Dansaire, or follow the solemn and traditional procession of Braç de Santa Tecla. There’s also a lot of other activities such as “Santa Tecla in the school” or the “Santa Tecla gastronomy”, with a number of food suggestions that appear to be a true delicious bomb for your stomachs, like the very famous and genuine “espineta amb cargols” (tuna back with snails). Concerts, parades, “castells” performances (human towers), exhibitions… All this in order to honour Santa Tecla which, with the permission of La Mercè –Barcelona’s local festivity–, has become the mother of the country’s festivities.
The festivity’s climax is the entrance of the Braç de Santa Tecla into the Cathedral –on Wednesday 23 evening–, which becomes an amazing and unique spectacle one must definitely watch and experience. In fact, the Cathedral is the location that homes the highest number of references, works and iconography of the saint. There are over 2.500 Tecla “taus” letters inside the building, which are distributed all across the temple.
However, the High Altar is the are where the figure of Santa Tecla becomes more present inside the Cathedral. The Romanic altar Frontal, sculptured back in 1220, is considered to be one of the most relevant works in the Roman sculpture legacy of Catalonia. Inside the central “mandorla”, visitors can admire the Most Holy Trinity: Jesus Christ blessing Santa Tecla, the Father and the Holy Spirit. The High Altar Frontal, preceding the Main Altar, represents the different scenes of Santa Tecla’s martyrdoms by means of eight white marble reliefs.
The Main Altar, on the other hand, is a true jewel one should carefully admire. The high-relief predella shows six scenes of the life and martyrdom of Santa Tecla, all of them of extreme beauty. For example, we find the scene with the lions contemplated by twelve spectators from up a tribune that stare Santa Tecla praying while the beasts rest miraculously calm. Also, the last of them all, with the finding of the miraculous Braç de Santa Tecla, visible among the rocks that blocked her sepulchre, and taken by a prelate in the presence of the clergy and the worshippers. Worth mentioning is the fact that no cape is the same, and they have all particular decorations.
On the right of the High Altar, there’s also the sepulchre of the archbishop Joan d’Aragó, on top of which there’s a niche that had preserved the primitive reliquary of the Braç de Santa Tecla until the siege of the Cathedral by the Napoleonic troops.
Today though, the relic is located in the Santa Tecla chapel, although we must say that the ancient reliquary was found by the French troops during the above-mentioned siege to the Cathedral, and that today’s version was made by Josep Rovira in the 18th century.
Santa Tecla is omnipresent inside the Cathedral through a thousand details. In order to know more about it, we do recommend that you take the especially designed tour, listen to the audio guides or get the Catedral de Tarragona book, by Antonio P. Martínez Subías.
Collaborator for years in the radio programme “El món s’acaba…” by Xavier Grasset in Catalunya Ràdio, Antoni Mas become famous for choosing and explaining an endless selection of anecdotes, ironic stories from the past decade about the villages’ daily nature. Between the late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium, the Mas family drove mile after mile so that Antoni, who has an extraordinary ability to talk to people, could store all sort of stories.
However, one of the anecdotes that made a more lasting impression on Antoni’s life was not very far from his home, as it actually went to visit him in his blacksmith workshop, located in Vila-seca. In 1983, a group of teenagers attended his house with an idea that would provide Santa Tecla, Tarragona major festivity, with a decisive push.
“They wanted to found a group of Ball de Diables and needed me to build some ceptrots (fireworks metal support) for both Llucifer and the Diablessa”, remembers. Three years later “they came back with an even more difficult project: they wanted the Àliga (eagle) back”, the legendary Àliga once property of the blacksmiths and that represented the city in the parade until its final appearance, in the 19th century.
This task got onto the best possible hands. Mas works on the “forging, tooling and deep drawing”; that is, the typically blacksmith’s duties. Actually, Antoni is still taming steel in the same way his ancestors did in the very same workshop. Among all his old tools hanging from the walls, he says, we can find some once used by prisoners digging the cliff at Balcó del Mediterrani, in the 19th century. It was with those stones that the port was built.
In fact, all Tarragona –not just the Balcó and port– was built thanks to many people’s effort and sweat. And there’s also a lot of effort, although more symbolic and figurate, in the recovery of Santa Tecla’s festivity. This very old ritual –almost killed by the lack of institutional interest– is today a massive success in local engagement and contribution; a true festive meeting that depicts Tarragona. All this, thanks to the commitment, farsightedness and hyperbolic will of a group of people that started as a small core, but that soon grew with their ideas.
“Not even when I got the task to build the Àliga, period on which the local festivity was getting some of that prestige, would I have never thought everything was actually going to catch on. Sometimes, when I see all those people in the street, desperately taking part in the so-called Processó del Braç or the Baixada de l’Àliga, I think it’s all a sort of collective madness. People lost their faith in many ways, but party has the ability to actually generate loads of devotion”, says Mas.
The process of creating the Àliga in itself was a little effort miracle. Antoni, trained in the “Escola d’Art i Disseny de la Diputació”, got inspiration from Girona’s Àliga and created a structure of steel dressed up with geometrical brass pieces. The result: the heaviest 80kg ever to come out of his workshop. “It was a very hard process. My eyes were watering as we assembled it. I would have never been so nervous at work. Besides, we had to really rush in order to have it ready for the local festivity of 1986, as it had already been announced”, says Mas.
“With the Àliga, we forged a symbol of Tarragona”. Antoni feels proud of being the father of such elegant, funny and symbolica creature, rounded off with a jewellery crown made by Blázquez. Mas himself has now taken part in the Àliga’s restoration, spoiled by years of festivities, which will soon get its best look ready for the upcoming Santa Tecla festivity, on the occasion of the 30th birthday of this celebration’s recovery. Concerts, meetings and varied parties will spice up an anniversary that will find its climax the night of 21 September, with the legendary “Baixada de l’Àliga” and the other members up from the Plaça de les Cols.
While the festivity is getting ready, Mas revises his pencil sketches, the first tests with feathers and the remaining steel pieces that were left in his workshop. “It was a really tough task, one that really challenged me as a blacksmith”, he explains. As seen throughout the years, contribution made by this master craftsman to the “Seguici de Tarragona” have become key in order to forge the legend. Diables, Àliga, Cucafera, Àliga petita, Cucafera petita, and the most recent Griu… they have all been born from the hands of Antoni Mas to gain the city’s everlasting love.