Set in a stunning location half an hour’s drive from the city of Murcia, Caravaca de la Cruz is a picturesque town with meandering cobbled streets which enjoys a pretty peaceful time for most of the year. That all changes at the beginning of May when hundreds of thousands of visitors descend to experience the fiesta.
The party runs from 30 April until 5th May every year. It begins with the noche de migas where leftover bread is transformed into tasty variants of migas. There are various parades, processions and blessings throughout the fiesta but the vast majority of visitors arrive for one day only – 2nd May – to see the famous race of the wine horses.
During the day the horses and their peñas parade through the streets. At 1400 they make their way up towards the church and the castle at the top of the hill which dominates the town. There they race along a short track where the vicious cobbles have been covered in carpet to protect the horses’ hooves. The breathtaking extravaganza takes a matter of 8 seconds for the fastest teams to complete the 80 metre course. It’s not plain sailing though, as all four team members must keep hold of the horse from the start line to the finish. That’s no mean task when you see the speed at which the horses gallop through the rapidly parting crowds. There’s no wonder that so many fail to register a time after one or more two-legged runners fall to the ground along the way.
So, what is it all about and why are they called wine horses? Evidence suggests the races have been taking place for 300 years and it is thought to be a unique spectacle in Spain. The origins stem from the Moorish occupation of Caravaca when the only source of water was poisoned. The brave Knights Templar broke through the barricades and raced up to the seiged castle with supplies of wine which provided liquid sustenance for the embattled residents.
The race is just one part of the Moors and Christians celebrations in Caravaca. During the late morning parade you’ll see the various groups of fantastically dressed men and women representing both sides of the historical battle. They are accompanied by kings, queens and sultans on horseback, and by a multitude of marching bands. After the tourist buses have left, they do battle in the narrow streets as they re-enact the Moorish capture of the castle. The fiesta wraps up at midnight on 5 May with a huge firework display.
If you want to join the crowds, the 2018 schedule can be downloaded in English here. Most fiestas like this follow a very similar format year after year, so use it to help you plan ahead. Be aware that the climb up to the fortress is a long one, especially if the sun is shining. Wear some sensible footwear to make it a little easier, and prepare to face some pretty intense crowds.