Berga lights the touch paper on this year's Patum festivities

Raucous celebration with fireworks, parades and revelry gets underway in central Catalonia beneath giant independence flag

Image of Berga's Sant Pere square on June 20, 2019, with La Patum celebration taking place (by Laura Busquets)
Image of Berga's Sant Pere square on June 20, 2019, with La Patum celebration taking place (by Laura Busquets) / ACN

ACN | Berga

June 21, 2019 12:22 PM

The Sant Pere square in the town of Berga in central Catalonia was full to bursting on Thursday evening as the celebrations for the annual Patum festivities got underway.

One of Catalonia's most popular local festivals, La Patum coincides with Corpus Christi, in a carnival-like atmosphere of traditional music and dances, and lots of fireworks.

Yet, the start of this year's festival also had a political component, with a huge Catalan independence flag unfurled from one side of the square to the other.

The crowds in the square sang Els Segadors, Catalonia's national anthem, while loudly proclaiming their support for a Catalan Republic.

Masterpiece of heritage

Yet La Patum, a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, transcends politics and religion as a celebration in the pagan tradition from which it comes.

Featuring five days of traditional dancing, drumming, groups parading in fancy dress and fireworks, the festivities got going on Thursday with the Patum Completa.

This part of the festival, which introduces the bizarre traditional characters that parade through Berga over the next few days, will be repeated on Sunday as it comes to a close.

A key feature on Thursday, and again on Sunday, are fireworks, lots of fireworks. In fact, Thursday saw 260 kilos of powder burnt, with the highlight being the famous 'Plens'.

The 'Plens' are firework-wielding 'devils' dancing to the rhythm of drums that turn Berga's cramped and crowded main square into a vision straight out of hell.

Cast of characters

The next few days will see other mythical characters performing in public, such as the Turcs i Cavallets (Turks and Little Knights), Nans Vells (The Old Dwarfs), Les Guites (folkloric "mules") and Els Gegants (The Giants).

The one element that will be present at all the activities in the festival is the Tabal, a huge drum first mentioned in 1621 that marks out the rhythm for the event's public dances.

Still going strong, La Patum's origins go back even further, to pre-Christian summer solstice celebrations, with some of its more bizarre elements added during the Middle Ages.

Old though it is, the festival still attracts thousands of visitors, with hotels rooms selling out and up to 6,000 people crowding into the small main square for the grand finale on Sunday.