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vagamundos La Coruna - A travel report by Carlos
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La Coruna,  Spain - flag Spain
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vagamundos's travel reports

Return to Middle Ages. Betanzos (Galicia- Spain)

  23 votes
Betanzos de los Caballeros (25 km from La Coruña) is the picturesque name that takes us back to past times of one of the seven historic capitals of the Kingdom of Galicia. More detailed reports about Spain in www.vagamundos.com


Betanzos One of the arches of the Old Bridge
Betanzos One of the arches of the Old Bridge
The love of the “Betanceiros” (locals of Betanzos) for their city is displayed yearly every second weekend of July when they remove their garb from Zara and other brand names produced in the region, to don tunics, doublets, tulles and other vestments to celebrate the medieval free festival, the origins of which date back to 1467, just 536 years.

Its contemporary version is in its seventh edition and each year surpasses the last. All that is missing for the staging to be absolutely perfect is an authentic medieval tournament with knights fighting on horseback. Henry IV bestowed the title of City on Betanzos in the year 1416 and, in 1467, the grace of an annual free festival.

At this festival, those from outside the city could sell their wares inside the city without having to pay local tithes: as you can see, the practice of emptying the subjects’ pockets with municipal taxes goes way back and they would probably have had to pay to “park” their mounts as well.

For many years La Coruña and Betanzos fought for commercial supremacy – this finally ended in a “non-aggression” treaty in 1507. They also hold a monthly festival the first day of every month which, in January, becomes an extension of the New Year’s Eve revelry for those with the greatest stamina who wander around the street stands purveying products of the land exuding alcoholic fumes; the euphoria of the moment can lead them to buying goods which can cause problems later, as happened to a friend of mine some years ago who somehow ended up with a tender piglet who faithfully accompanied him the whole day – being the only companion capable of putting up with his drunken ramblings.

As in all Galician festivals, gastronomy is of great importance. The city is emblazoned with street stands where you can consume all kinds of traditional products such as cider, fresh octopus cooked on copper pots, Galician pies, pastries, local cheeses etc., all culminating in the medieval dinner.

Favourite spots:
La Coruna travelogue picture
For three whole days Betanzos is transformed, decked with coats of arms, standards and pennants, with all the modern elements like traffic lights and dustbins covered with sackcloth, and gentlemen mounted on horses where cars once circulated. The street cleaners now collect horse manure and the city is strewn with straw to cushion the falls produced by alcoholic excesses and, in the event of rain, skidding horses.

The artisans are an attractive sight, there are still a few around, executing their labour in public: blacksmiths, potters, engravers and sculptors all delighting the public with their skills. When strolling around this medieval city, the puppeteers, jugglers, magicians, alchemists, acrobats, club and fire conjurers, bagpipe players, tambourine players, “manciñeiros” or healers, and the “bruxas” or witches who read palms or the tarot, all add to that special atmosphere.

What's really great:
River view
River view
Were I to choose a personage of the era in order to meld with the medieval festival, it would be that of Falconer, not just because I might get lucky and score the “Lady Falcon,” incarnated in Michelle Pfeiffer, but because the sight of the huge owl rising to almost a metre high, the eagles and falcons on their pedestals, take me back to my tender youth when Félix de la Fuente was High Falcon of the Kingdom and one of his jobs consisted in driving away the birds around the airports – such a danger to aeronautical navigation - with his rapacious creatures (the birds, not children!)

The opening address of this festival was brought to the balcony of the Town Hall hanging from the foot of a Harris Eagle which flew majestically over Constitution Square to the amazement of the onlookers below, landing with perfect precision on the thick leather-gloved hand of its trainer who had called it with a cry that only the eagle could comprehend.

Sights:
The balcony of the Town Hall
The balcony of the Town Hall
All that’s missing to complete this journey to the past is to convert our dull and boring euros into the ancient “maravedíe” coins which would be carried in little pouches hanging from our breeches – the sensation of having been transported back to the Middle Ages would then be complete.

To come face to face with a villain crying “You money or your life!” and unsheathe your foil to defend the life and honour of the lady accompanying you must be exciting, always providing the villain concerned is a professional actor, as are some of the 100 “extras” attending the festival.

Nightlife:
The Town Crier
The Town Crier
The opening address of this festival was brought to the balcony of the Town Hall hanging from the foot of a Harris Eagle which flew majestically over Constitution Square to the amazement of the onlookers below, landing with perfect precision on the thick leather-gloved hand of its trainer who had called it with a cry that only the eagle could comprehend.

We would be lucky to get the same speed and precision from the Postal Service! The delivery of the opening address, in the ancient Galician language, with appeals from the Lord of Andrade, Doña Urraca and other nobles who formed part of the city’s history, marked the official opening of the Betanzos Medieval Free Festival of 2003.

Hangouts:
The Church of Santa María de Azoque
The Church of Santa María de Azoque
During the festival, historical events that happened in the city are staged, such as the expulsion of the lepers, the arrival in the city of the Lord of Andrade’s retinue and the tribute of one hundred maidens – the phrase explains all. With so much history, you can imagine how awesome the architectonic heart of Betanzos is – it still conserves 3 of the medieval gates and the “Puente Viejo,” a bridge built back in the thirteenth century depicted in the city’s coat of arms.

The symbol of Betanzos is the wild boar, which appears in the noble coat of arms of the Lord of Andrade - the authentic ruler of the city in the fourteenth century, for better and for worse. The city’s two most emblematic buildings were built under his rule, the churches of Santa María do Azoque and that of San Francisco, separated by a beautiful square with a “cruceiro” or cross - typical in most Galician squares.

Restaurants:
Traditional Galician architecture seen here in the Galleries
Traditional Galician architecture seen here in the Galleries
To end the visit, one can acquire a certificate of assistance to the festival inscribed in gothic script on a manuscript. For the modicum price of one euro you can also buy one of the clay cups in which the cider and wine are served, thus relieving the national sport that has forced so many establishments to deal with it with tongue in cheek fashion and inscribe their ashtrays with the text “This ashtray was stolen from … Restaurant/Tavern.”

The famous national picaresque, which also appears in the Betanzos Free Festival with rogues, pickpockets and innkeepers - all wanting to make hay while the sun, shines.

Other recommendations:
The Watch Tower
The Watch Tower
La Coruña’s medieval festival is held from the 24th to 27th of July, also in superb surroundings, but with an important difference; in Betanzos the whole population - adults, children and elders - all throw their hearts and souls into setting up their festival, over 5,000 medieval costumes and the free collaboration of the neighbours make attending the festival something very special and personal, while, in La Coruña, confrontations between restaurant owners, neighbours and the Town Hall over minutia are a constant, benefiting neither the festival and festivities nor the city itself.

More detailed reports about Spain in www.vagamundos.com

Published on Friday October 28th, 2005


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Fri, Jan 26 2007 - 07:29 PM rating by alfonsovasco

Gracias Carlos! Siempre miro tu web sobre el Camino de Santiago. Te doy las gracias en mi web. Ya realicé el Inglés desde Ferrol gracias a tus consejos.

Sun, Nov 06 2005 - 11:50 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Este es uno de los mejores reports en globo. Eres muy generoso por compartirlo.
Gracias

Sat, Oct 29 2005 - 07:08 PM rating by miguelmarchi

Eres el mejor

Sat, Oct 29 2005 - 06:15 PM rating by jesusferro

Chevere!
Eres el mejor de Globo

Sat, Oct 29 2005 - 05:15 PM rating by toribio

REPORT SUMAMENTE VALIOSO, CON INFORMACION UTIL, FOTOS SELECTAS, Y TU TOQUE PERSONAL

Sat, Oct 29 2005 - 03:56 PM rating by isaacmolina

Este es tu mejor report con mucha diferencia!
Se nota que amas Galicia y lo transmites

Sat, Oct 29 2005 - 04:42 AM rating by downundergal

Great report with a taste of local flavour that a visitor would be lucky to see and understand to such a full extent.
Kerrie

Fri, Oct 28 2005 - 03:37 PM rating by eirekay

I am charmed - a terrific report about what sounds like a magical place!

Fri, Oct 28 2005 - 02:11 PM rating by rangutan

A third great report, I like your adventures! Information, also pictures, are more important than language or views, a perfect presentation is not far off here. I rated your first two reports *** and **** but am learning your style of writing now. You are doing fantastic with english and getting to master it. I hope that more reports like these will follow...

Fri, Oct 28 2005 - 02:05 PM rating by mistybleu

Carlos, thisi s a very interesting report. Well done..
Misty

Fri, Oct 28 2005 - 01:56 PM rating by davidx

Another great report. I can see I must go to Galicia again.

Fri, Oct 28 2005 - 12:01 PM rating by gloriajames

hiya Carlos
Another great report.
Thanks for the website link!
Gloria

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