February 28 marks Día de Andalucía – one of the most important dates in the region’s calendar. Giles Brown takes a closer look at the background, traditions and events that make the day so significant.
A celebration on the last day of February for Andalucía, a region that is better known for its long, hot summers, might seem a little incongruous. But Día de Andalucía is little to do with the sun, sea, and sangria that the casual visitor first thinks of, and everything to do with Spain’s struggle for democracy.
A little background history first. The concept behind the autonomous province of Andalucía came from one man. Blas Infante was a notary, born in the picturesque pueblo blanco of Casares (a few minutes’ drive up from the coast; a route that takes in several excellent restaurants for the foodie minded).
Born in 1885, Blas was stirred into action by the injustices that he witnessed by powerful landowners over the impoverished workers that toiled their land. The fight against this situation, “nailed in my conscience since my childhood”, as he wrote, was the main objective of his life.
In one of his most influential works, “Ideal Andaluz”, Infante outlined his vision for Andalucía: giving the people confidence in their possibilities for progress, awakening their patriotism in the face of injustice, achieving a free, universal, and free education, as well as taking the reins of the economy by expropriating farmland.
He envisioned Andalucia as an integral part of the whole of Spain’s development as a democratic nation, harking back to the 700 years of Al-Andalus when Arabs, Jews and Christians lived (mainly) in peaceful co-existence.
Other ideas outlined included greater independence and voting rights for women, as well as the division of executive, judicial and legislative powers. Finally, Infante also designed the Andalusian flag and wrote the anthem.
A referendum on Andalusian autonomy was due to take place in 1936, but the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War prevented this. Infante was arrested and detained, before being executed by Franco’s troops by the side of the Seville-Carmona road.
After the Nationalist victory in 1939, Franco cracked down on all of the autonomous regions, most notably Catalonia and the Basque Country. Towards the end of the dictator’s life, however, there were protests for more autonomy.
After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain began its transition to democracy and decentralisation. On February 28, 1980, Blas Infante’s dream was realised as Andalucía overwhelmingly voted for autonomy. That status was granted a year later and in April 1983 Infante was enshrined as “Father of the Andalusian Nation”.
Celebrating the occasion
Anyone who has spent time on the coast knows that Andalusians love an excuse to celebrate, and February 28 is no exception! The date falls in “semana blanca” when schools take a week off, and many decide to put the white into the week by hitting the ski slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
Celebrations that are more traditional take place on the day itself with many restaurants offering typical menus that include gazpacho, salmorejo, pescaíto frito, molletes, or tortillitas de camarones.
If you fancy a little culture to complement the cuisine, then you are in luck. Many galleries and museums offer free entrance and special events. In Málaga, both the Picasso and the Museo Carmen Thyssen are free on the 28th, the later offering a guided tour around the works that relate specifically to Andalucía. The Museo de Málaga is holding its group exhibition “Tiempo muerto”, while the writers’ festival, with its meetings, lectures and workshops also takes place in the city between February 22-25.
In Marbella, February 28th traditionally begins in the Plaza de los Naranjos with the raising of the Andalusian flag on the balcony of the town hall, and processions by both the municipal band and the Foreign Legion – famed for their fearless fighting skill as well as their ridiculously tight uniforms (ladies, you have been duly warned) – also take place.
Finally, to add to the party atmosphere of the occasion, February 28th also takes place at the same time as Carnival in Marbella. In the Miraflores district of town there will be live performances and costume competitions on the day, while at the El Triana Square, the local neighbourhood association is celebrating with live music and tastings of chorizos!
Some restaurants do special offers. Among them is Boho Club Marbella where you can celebrate the day 12.30PM onwards with a live flamenco show. Check out the details and don’t forget to book!
Whether you decide to celebrate it with culture or chorizo, make sure that you mark February 28 to appreciate how lucky we are to live in this extraordinary region.