Every September, just when the weather begins to chill and the tourist traffic thins out a little, the people of Tarifa breathe new life into the town by celebrating their patron saint, La Virgen de la Luz (the Virgin of the Light).
For an entire week, Tarifeños host a carnival complete with rides and raffles, march in parades on horseback, and delight in sweet treats sold all across town.
The festival is held in honor of La Virgen de la Luz who was invoked by King Alfonso XI during the Battle of Salado in 1340 to protect the town against the invasion of the Moors.
In recognition of her assistance, during the first weeks of September Tarifeños transport the figure of the Virgin from her sanctuary 8 kilometers outside of the city to the Iglesia Mayor de San Mateo (Church of Saint Matthew), located in the heart of the city.
Procession and Carnival
A train of more than 400 Andalusian horses follows the procession, winding and clopping their way through the cobblestoned streets of Tarifa’s old town. Crowds of people line up to view the spectacle, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the horses and the Virgin as she passes by hoisted upon the shoulders of their fellow citizens. People of all kinds dress up for the occasion; sometimes little kids can barely play because of the fashionable constriction of their garments. Yet, the kids don’t seem to mind and actually take great care and pride in their attire.
Even later on at night, at the Carnival, people haven’t bothered to take off their suits and dresses. Little kids ride mechanical bulls in polka-dotted dresses and leather boots, diving for the floor and giggling as the platform jerks and twists underneath them. Teenagers pile themselves into bumper cars, or dance at the Caseta Municipal (main tent) where live bands play well into the night. People dance and drink in the streets too or inside other tents that feature traditional music sponsored by all types of community groups.
In the dark, the carnival is a jumble of neon lights, loud music, giggles and stuffed animal prizes. The summer may be winding down, but for Tarifeños, there’s never a bad time to celebrate.
If you’re nearby when it’s on, don’t miss it!