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Ciutadella A St John Festival With a Difference

The night of 23 June, renowned for being the shortest in the year, is accompanied by countless rituals and festivities across most of Europe. Fire usually takes centre stage in the form of fireworks or bonfires, but there are other highlights, too. Among such exceptions are the celebrations in Ciutadella, Menorca, where horses and their riders provide the main show in a ritual which goes back to the early-14th century and nowadays draws hosts of visitors eager to be immersed in new experiences.

The Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella traditionally take place between 23–24 June and the previous Sunday. The opening day is Diumenge des Be (Sunday of the Lamb), when a peasant dressed in sheepskins known as s’homo des be (the man of the ram) parades barefoot through the city streets carrying a white ram over his shoulders. Symbolising St John the Baptist, he is the herald who announces the start of the festivities.

The second highlight of the Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella begins at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of 23 June and lasts until daybreak on 25 June – that’s nothing in those parts! And, what are visitors likely to encounter there? Well, the famous horse parades (in Menorcan, qualcades) of which the two leading lights are the mounted cavallers (horsemen) and the caixers, who stand for the four social estates – the clergy, represented by the Caixer Capellà or Capellana; the nobility, by the Caixer Senyor; the craftsmen, by the Caixer Casat (married, and master of a manual craft) and Caixer Fadrí (the apprentice), and the peasants, by the Caixers Pagesos. The whole parade is headed by the fabioler, mounted on a somereta (ass), who announces the arrival of the retinue with his flute and drum. All told, the parade is actually a kind of shrine festival, with the crowds escorting the saint from the Plaza del Born to the small shrine of Sant Joan de Missa (St John of the Mass).

Another moment in these celebrations which you should make a point of seeing is the Caragol des Born, held on the afternoon of 23 June, in which horses and their riders circle around the Plaça des Born to a musical accompaniment, surrounded by crowds of onlookers. Another highlight of the festivities are the Jocs des Pla, which start at 7 p.m. on 24 June. Be sure to head for the Pla de Sant Joan well ahead to secure a place, as the ensuing equestrian medieval games are very popular. There the mounted knights show off their prowess in a series of tournament events.

And, like any Menorcan fiesta worth its salt, the island’s cocktail par excellence is very much in evidence. I am referring to gin amb llimonada, a wonderful blend of local gin and crushed ice lemonade which you are urged to drink in moderation. And, no – don’t call it a pomada, unless you want to get snooty looks from the locals.

If you are unable to get there in time for the Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella, rest assured there are various other high feasts on the island (some of which also feature horses), where entertainment is guaranteed.

Fire up and experience these fiestas for yourself – book your Vueling here.

Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Morfheos