24th of September and the 11th and last day of celebrations for Santa Tecla in Tarragona, a festival with a daily attendance of over eighty thousand people and a committed local involvement.
Today there is a great gathering around the area of the cathedral and the street leading down to Plaça de la Font to view the pilars caminant (walking pillars), a rare spectacle which only takes place here once a year. Each of the four collas of Tarragona gathers at Pla de les Cols to build a castell (castle) and then a torre (tower) in turn in front of the cheering audience.
Then it’s the turn of the pilars caminant: a four layer human pillar is set and is raised step by step in to the square of the Cathedral. The pilar then turns to face the silent crowd below and begins its descent; when it reaches the square below it begins it’s “walking” journey of the 650 meters to the Ajuntament at Plaça de la Font, an unforgettable feat. Not every pilar makes it, with Sant Pere i Sant Pau and Colla Jove collapsing just before the final steps bit the the cheering of the crowd continues unabated. The Xiquets de Tarragona, the Colla Jove, the Xiquets del Serrallo and the Castellers de Sant Pere i Sant Pau have done the city proud and have been amongst the biggest highlight of Santa Tecla.
But there is one final act to follow.
It’s 10:30 in the evening and thousands are gathered on the Rambla Nova wearing straw hats and with scarves covering faces. We are here for the Correfoc de Santa Tecla, the final and one of the most ear shattering events of the festival! It’s the gathering of the devils, with Tarragona’s own Ball de Diables with their new white and red outfit and the Colla Diables Voramar del Serrallo with their pattern of fish scales, and three guest group of devils from Villafranca, Arboç and Vilanova. Joining in to this great final ball are also three dracs (dragons), the Vibria and the Bou of Tarragona.
You can hear them long before they come in to sight, with the Carrer de l’ Unió almost set alight by the incoming river of flares and protectionist. Revelers jump in to the shower of sparks and the dark procession, reminiscent of the hell of Breugel, begins. For nearly two hours they engulf the Rambla Nova with their whistling sound, the drums, turning the air in to an acrid fog. Then all goes dead. From the far end of the Rambla, in true Hunger Games style, the sound of explosions nears and people began to run towards the far end of the Balcó del Mediterranei. It’s a mad scramble with the explosions coming from above running close behind.
They stop short before the statue of Roger de Lluria where the sign of VISCA SANTA TECLA (Long live Santa Tecla) now shines with it’s letters ablaze. And the last fireworks begin over the roar of cheering and clapping thousands, a befitting end to a gigantic human effort which gives Tarragona its living identity.
Walking home we pass the squares now ghostly empty, as if a spell had broken relegating Tarragona back to an earthly existence. Santa Tecla has vanished.