The tradition of bonfires being set and lit during the midsummer solstice is common throughout Europe. It was thought that Midsummer was a magical time, but that it could also be that the magic was evil, with witches flying by on their broomsticks. Solutions had to be found.
Water was perceived to have purifying effects and hence arose various traditions around Midsummer’s Eve, with some combination of leaping over or around bonfires and using water as a medium of purification and wish-granting.
In Alicante, this tradition has become a real art form with the bonfires (las hogueras) Midsummer being merged into celebration of the coinciding feast-day of St. John.
After being admired on the streets by locals and visitors alike, the carefully crafted statues of they are sequentially set alight on the 24th June: all, but one.
The winning statue instead is saved for posterity and lodged within the museum of Las Hogueras that lies in the centre of Alicante on Méndez Núñez Rambla.
Here, the statues that escape the flames can be admired in years following their appearance on the streets of Alicante.
The Alicante Statue Competition is an important part of the Bonfire events. This is when judging takes place for winners within seven categories, ordered by the cost of the statue itself. The seventh category is for those that cost over 60,100€.
As the funds for building the statues is borne by the local community committees, the prizes awarded can significantly offset their next year’s construction budget.
The most successful community to date has been Benalúa, with notable wins also by Ciudad de Asís, Carolinas Altas, Mercado Central, Alfonso el Sabio and Hernán Cortés.
The Alicante Hogueras are an opportunity to profile issues or personalities of the times, writ large in caricature figures where the smallest details are all a contributing factor to the story being told by the statue.
Here are the joys of a married man…
…which seems a common theme. Here, the large breasted lady has her lapdog husband on a leash while a red nosed admirer fondles her. This detail is just a small part of a larger pastiche on a similar theme.
It reminded me of the Japanese proverb:
All married women are not wives
So here too there is a gypsy wagon on its way…
…complete with livestock.
One of my favourites was the attitude of this dog with his nose so proudly in the air. The next day in my Spanish language course he was one of the easiest things to describe in Spanish to my long-suffering Spanish tutor.
Describing this mermaid was more challenging to my emerging Spanish skills…
…and not recognising the face in caricature, could also not comment on this mermaid feigning modesty.
Trying to describe the satire of these power hungry men milking the cow for their own benefit totally defeated me.
Unlike in Valencia, the Alicante statues were originally made by local artists and painters and some of the most famous have been Gastón Castelló, Ángel Martín, Pedro Soriano, Ramón Marco, Remigio Soler, Paco Juan and José Muñoz.
Within the museum are tributes to some of the most famous…
…including José Carbonell of the 1940s and 50s.
Well known for his satirical sculptures, José died in 1982
José Carbonell, known throughout Alicante, is captured here forever amongst the statues…
…and posters that reflect his times.
The “niñots” or effigies are often caricatures of well-known politicians or other well-known figures - usually local, and the statues form an important part of the social comment on public and economic affairs of the times.
The complexity of metaphor sometimes requires careful examination to encompass its full message.
Alicante has more than 30 Museums and galleries and not being a Museum hound, I limited myself to this small house of fun in Alicante’s centre.
The Museum of Las Hogueras left me musing on the comment of Geroge Santayana:
The world is a perpetual caricature of itself;
at every moment
it is the mockery and the contradiction
of what it is pretending to be.