Dance with exploding fire-demons
For 600 years local Catalans have been dancing in the streets with fire-breathing dragons, exploding fire-demons, a mystical eagle, dwarves, and more in La Patum de Berga. This Youtube video from Tanya Becker, taken from the VIP guest balcony in 2016, gives a great view of the historic event.
Now Unesco heritage listed, La Patum de Berga is a crazy spectacle…
La Patum de Berga, in northern Catalonia…
‘La Patum’ is the ultimate combination of craziness and culture. Imagine, if you will, flaming maces, angels, fire-breathing dragons, giants, fire-demons and a massive mystical eagle, mixed with 10,000+ crazy people jammed into a tiny square of a small Catalan town, then thrown in a truck-load of fireworks going off in the crowd and you’ll start to come close to imagining it. Welcome to the heady world of Catalan culture.
Dating back to 1454, La Patum is a 5 day event, held in Berga, Catalonia, a couple hours drive north of Barcelona. It is held between late May and late June, as part of the catholic feast of Corpus Christi, but has strong pagan origins. It’s essentially a series of acts of music and dance focused around mythical creatures, performed in the streets of Berga by thousands of people, representing the struggle between good and evil. So unique is this event that in 2005, Unesco designated it an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
What sets La Patum apart is the incredible energy it creates. The Catalans are fiercely proud of their heritage, and the locals are brought up with the music and characters, so when they dance and sing these acts together in a heaving mass, the result is electric. Catalans don’t seem to be happy unless a festival is a little dangerous, so don’t be fooled, the risk of being crushed in the crowd or burnt by the spray of fireworks is real. Throw in a bit of the traditional, fiery Barreja spirit and the result is chaotic.
The highlights of the festivities are the Thursday ceremonial Patum, and the full Patum on Sunday night. It all starts off with the beat of giants drums (the “Tabales”, whose ‘pa-tum’ sound probably gave the festival its name). What follows is a series of dances and music based around… the Turks and Horses, the Maces and Angels, the big and little fire-breathing dragons (“Guita Gran” and “Guita Xica”), a beautiful, mystical eagle (“L’Aliga”), giants (“Els Gegants”), and giant-headed dwarfs (“Nans Vells” and “Nans Nous”). It ends in the crazy dance of fire-demons (the “Plens”). In the Plens, dozens of people dressed as demons, with plants covering their body and horns spraying fireworks, filter into the crowd and dance with everyone until their horns, one by one, explode over everyone. There are about 4 entire rounds of these acts deep into the night, until finally all of the characters join to perform the final dance, the Tirabol.
Dress appropriately!! Where boots to protect your toes from being crushed in the crowd, a thick fire-resistant, broad brimmed hat and jacket, and a wet bandana to protect your face and lungs from the fire and smoke inhalation.
If there are too many people in the square for the first round of acts, wait until the next rounds as people will slowly but surely filter out of the centre.
If you plan to be in the centre of the action, go with at least one friend to look after each other in the heaving mass of people in the thick of it.
Police will breath-test everyone exiting the town by car, so go easy on the Barreja! It makes for slow exit so expect a long night.
Arrive early to find a car park.
When: Dates vary from late May to late June, as part of the catholic feast of Corpus Christi. See the official Patum website for details. La Patum de Berga website
Where: Berga, Catalonia, Spain