Neerja en España #6: Fiestas del Pilar

Originally written October 2019

Fiestas del Pilar, commonly called “pilares” is an ~11 day long citywide festival in Zaragoza. For these 11 days, there are concerts and events from 8 am to early into the next morning (basically 8 am to 7 am). The biggest event happened towards the end, on Saturday 12/10 (look at me using European dates now - that’s October 12) with the ofrenda de flores, but there were countless social, religious and cultural events throughout.

I’ve never experienced anything similar in the US. Let me start by describing the city of Zaragoza a bit more, to situate pilares: Zaragoza seems to be optimized for socialization. One central tram line runs down the city, and along it, there are endless plazas surrounded by restaurants with ample outdoor seating. You can walk through the main center of the city in about 20 minutes. One major plaza, Plaza España, leads into the casco antiguo, or old town, known for its narrow, windy streets full of tapas bars. There are very few tourist attractions in this city - it’s all about the locals.

Except maybe this weekend, when hordes of people from the surrounding region of Aragon, and also Madrid, Barcelona, la Rioja and other places, came down for pilares. Pilares was a much bigger and culturally-rich version of Green Key, Dartmouth’s spring music festival, or any other music festival I’ve been to in the states. Instead of being 3 days, it was 11. Instead of being limited to a college campus, it was in the whole city, and you could walk for 45 mins through Zaragoza and hear different concerts throughout the whole walk.

Instead of just college students celebrating, it was everyone. Entire families, elderly people, literal babies with their parents, college students, people of various ability levels, actually everyone. I loved how so many more partook in Pilar than I normally see when I went to bars/clubs in the US. (This pattern holds for bars in general in Spain - it’s normal for whole families to go out together, young children included.) The amount of people that came out and filled the plazas was genuinely amazing. It was also funny to literally see a beer bottle on the ground next to a child in a stroller. Probably a consequence of people being around alcohol literally since infancy, the people here actually seem to party much more responsibly than I’m used to at Dartmouth. I expected everyone partying all the time to be gross, but I didn’t see any excessive trash on the ground or vomit or anything like that.

So, some highlights of Pilar:

First weekend: checked out some concerts and went to a food/music festival close to the city center.

During the week: Went to more concerts, hung out in the plaza, etc, but mostly tried to conserve my energy. One valuable thing I did take away from Dartmouth is to treat festivals like a marathon, not a sprint.

Me and Aiko at a concert held by the city, wearing the red and black bandanas that all women traditionally wear during pilares

So many people were out at all times like wow look at this PACKED plaza: (It’s crazy remembering this, the biggest crowd I ever saw, now in the time of coronavirus)

Second weekend: More concerts and hanging out. The highlight was on Saturday, with the ofrenda de flores, where lots of people participate in a parade that ends up with offering flowers, which is then arranged into a literal floral mountain. The flowers were incredible. Aiko decided to walk with the Japanese society of Aragon, so we met a bunch of people through that and ended the day at a cafe with new friends, which made for a very fun day.

On Sunday, we went to an event with giant caricatures of famous Spanish people that we realized had a target audience of children aged 2-7, but was nonetheless still fun.

Caricatures and an audience of children with their parents

The final day of festivities ended with some of the best fireworks I’ve ever seen. What a wonderful end to an amazing 11 days!

Of course, the next week we were all exhausted and got sick but it’s okay because basically from the beginning of October until New Year’s is lots of holidays (I have a long weekend for Halloween and a 4 day weekend at the beginning of December…I love Spain).

Neerja Thakkar
Neerja Thakkar
EECS PhD Student @ Berkeley
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