Semana Cervantina, Alcalá de Henares
Imagine you get off a train and enter a new town and you see a parade of geese going down the street led by a man in medieval dress. Although this may seem like an unlikely situation, if you go to the Semana Cervantina, this just might happen. About a month ago, I decided to check out this yearly festival with the other language assistants from my school and some new friends.
Semana Cervantina, or Cervantes Week, celebrates Cervantes’ baptism on October 9th, 1547. For those of you that don’t know, Cervantes is the author of the famous Don Quixote de la Mancha. Even though Cervantes is almost always associated with the Castilla-La Mancha Region, he was born and baptized in Alcalá de Henares, which is where Semana Cervantina is celebrated in Spain. There are other celebrations of Cervantes around the world as well, such as the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico, which I was told is quite interesting.
Where is Alcalá de Henares?
Alcalá de Henares is located in the Comunidad de Madrid, or the Madrid Region, about 30 minutes by train from the city of Madrid. From Madrid, you can take the C-2 or C-7 Cercanías RENFE commuter trains from most of the big Cercanías stops (Chamartín, Nuevos Ministerios, Atocha, Recoletos, etc.) It is a great place to go for a day-trip from Madrid, especially during Semana Cervantina.
What to do at Semana Cervantina
Just like any Spanish festival, Semana Cervantina is packed with fun activities and things to do and see. We ended up going on a Sunday, which also happened to be the last day of the festival, and it was a lot of fun.
Alcalá de Henares is a very small city which can easily be explored on foot. The city center is about a ten minute walk from the train station and once you are there, you are in the middle of the celebration. As we walked around the city, we ran into parades of people in period dress playing medieval instruments. Some people had animals and we saw a few people with a beautiful life-like dragon which looked like it was made of cardboard. There were also many reenactments and some people even did public readings of Don Quixote.
The whole city was decorated with banners and beautiful streamers with different coats of arms and designs.
The main city streets, as well as the plazas, were lined with tents and stalls for the Mercado Cervantino (The Cervantes Market.) It was a medieval market that had everything from fresh bread and falafel to leather belts and handbags. You could even buy swords and shields.
In addition to great food, small parades, and medieval reenactments, there were fun activities for children. We stumbled upon camel and mule rides in one of the main plazas. In contrast to the pony rides we often see at fairs and festivals in the U.S., the camels and mules walked around freely inside the plaza and they weren’t really confined to a single area. It was a little shocking.
Overall, the Semana Cervantina is a very fun experience and if you are in Madrid in the beginning of October, it is definitely worth checking out. I really enjoyed walking around Alcalá de Henares and I felt as if I had been taken back to medieval Spain, to the world of Cervantes.