Spain 23 Oct 2014 09:35
It is night and the lights go out, the signal that announces the imminent beginning. In the courtyard, crowded with people, only silhouettes are distinguishable. The atmosphere is charged, but silence reigns. Almost everyone remains motionless except a newcomer trying to find friends in the crowd. Suddenly, a blinding light, followed by cries here, another there, and another... The fire has begun. The drums sound.
The Correfoc, or “fire run,” finds its origins in the “devil dances” of twelfth century Catalonia. The very first one took place at the wedding of Barcelona’s Count, Ramon Berenguer IV. These “devil dances” were performed by actors dressed like demons between meals during noble banquets in the Middle Ages. The dance represented the fight between good and evil.
People start running without a direction in mind. They are running away from the fire, pushing, pulling, eventually becoming attracted by that mysterious magnetism that has always existed between man and the pyrrhic element. At once, men dressed as devils carrying flares mix in the crowd. They light flares and begin to lash out at anything that moves. The sound of firecrackers and the hiss of sparks flying mix with the din of voices. Drums set the rhythm for the fire procession.
The relative security offered by the open space of the square gives way to narrow alleys where devils and spectators huddle. The bravest hug and jump at the fire porters while the majority, fearful, just keep looking for a way to stay ahead of the flames. It is a frenetic tour through the old town, down narrow streets and through open squares, where troupes of devils dance and throw flames and sparks in all directions. At the end of the route, in a larger square, a great fire festival awaits the crowd. Large flares jump skyward while intrepid jugglers delight the audience with a host of tricks, spitting fire like authentic demons until the last flame is extinguished and silence falls on Gerona.
Correfocs were once popular at different celebrations all around Catalonia. The first modern incarnation of the fire parade,however, took place in 1979 at Barcelona’s festival. This represented a comeback for the custom after many popular traditions were lost during the Franco dictatorship. Today, the Correfoc, like other traditional Catalan customs, is a way to preserve Catalonia’s cultural identity.