For most people today the summer solstice is a time for celebration marking the first day of summer, usually associated with the big mid-summer parties in countries like Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Spain etc.
However, it was also a hugely important date for many ancient cultures, with the event often marked in some ritualistic way, usually through the alignment of ceremonial buildings/structures specifically for the mid-summer sunrise. Examples include Stonehenge (UK), the ancient Inca festival of Inti Raymi (Peru) and the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt). But not many people know that two lesser-known cultures of southern Spain also venerated the date centuries ago – not the Moors or Romans, but the megalithic peoples of Antequera (Malaga) and the medieval Jewish culture of Ubeda (Jaen).
Read on for our Top 5 Mid-Summer Solstice events in southern Spain, including the megalithic dolmens of Antequera and the Sinagoga del Agua (Water Synagogue) in Ubeda and Granada´s Music & Dance Festival at the Alhambra (see above). The dates given for events are for this year (2016), but they will come in useful as a guide for future years. Witnessing these events/festivals in person usually requires lots of advance planning, as visitor numbers are usually very restricted.
1) ANTEQUERA - megalithic dolmens
Located on the outskirts of Antequera, the three dolmens of Menga, Viera and El Romeral represent some of the largest and most complete megalithic structures in Europe. Described as “the most beautiful and perfect of all known dolmens”, the Antequera dolmens were built between 4000BC and 2000BC, by farmers of the fertile Guadalhorce valley as enormous burial chambers and sites of great mystical importance.
Photo: Menga dolmen near Antequera, Andalucia.
The Menga Dolmen is the largest, measuring nearly 30m long and up to 6 metres wide and 3.5 metres high. The biggest of the 12 huge upright stones weigh 180 tons – over 4 times heavier than Stonehenge (UK). In addition to the dolmen´s precise alignment (framing the Peña de los Enamorados mountain in the distance), the orientation of the entrance passage is at 045 degrees north-east, towards the sunrise of the summer solstice – with the sun´s first rays entering the chamber and lighting up the huge vertical columns. Visible on 19, 21 & 22 June in 2016.
The Antequera dolmens are set to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2016.
Photo: Summer solstice and view of the Pena de los Enamorados from the Menga dolmen, Antequera (La Opinion Malaga).
2) UBEDA – Sinagoga del Agua medieval synagogue
An inspiring story of archaeological discovery, the Sinagoga del Agua is one of our favourite in-the-know visitor attractions in Andalucia. Located in the beautiful Renaissance town of Ubeda (Jaen), a UNESCO World Heritage Site which itself remains surprisingly “off the tourist map”, here´s how Lonely Planet guides describes it:
“The medieval Sinagoga del Agua was discovered in 2006 by a refreshingly ethical property developer who intended to build apartments here, only to discover that every swing of the pickaxe revealed some tantalizing piece of an archaeological puzzle. The result is this sensitive re-creation of a centuries-old synagogue and rabbi’s house, using original masonry whenever possible. Features include the women’s gallery, a bodega with giant storage vessels, and a mikveh ritual bath”.
Photo:summer solstice at the Sinagoga del Agua in Ubeda, Jaen.
After four years of painstaking restoration, the end result gives us a fascinating insight into the Jewish culture of medieval Spain. And if you´re visiting in June, don´t miss the summer solstice – when the first rays of sun stream through a doorway to light up the mikveh below (see above). Visible on 17, 20, 21 & 24 June in 2016. Note - it´s been sold out for months, so make sure you contact us early if interested in future years!
Photo: stunning Renaissance architecture in Ubeda (Jaen), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And the good news is that Ubeda and neighbouring Baeza are now more accesible than ever, thanks to a new motorway which has recently opened linking them with the regional capital, Jaen.
3) GRANADA – live flamenco at the Alhambra
Celebrating its 65th anniversary, the hugely popular Granada Music & Dance Festival features live music, dance, ballet and opera performances throughout the city, including historic buildings and stunning outdoor locations such as the Alhambra patios & Generalife gardens. From 17 June to 08 July in 2016, including a guitar recital by Canizares in the Alhambra.
Photo: Canizares flamenco guitar recital at the Alhambra (Granada Music & Dance Festival).
4) CORDOBA – Noche Blanca de Flamenco festival
An amazing 24-hour flamenco fiesta with free music, dance, art and theatre filling the city’s old town streets and plazas, including the courtyard of the Mezquita. This year´s Noche Blanca de Flamenco festival took place over the night of 18/19 June in 2016.
Photo: live flamenco in the courtyard of the Mezquita, Cordoba (Noche Blanca del Flamenco).
5) COAST – Noche de San Juan beach parties
The classically Spanish way to see in the summer – with mid-summer bonfires and beach parties all along the coast of Andalucia. The Fiesta de San Juan is on the night of 23/24 June in 2016.
Photo: Noche de San Juan beach party with bonfires in Andalucia (Puerto de Santa Maria).
CASA OLEA is an award-winning boutique B&B located in the heart of Andalucia, half way between Granada and Cordoba. The ideal base for discovering the cultural highlights of the region, along with exploring the mountains and olive groves of the Sierra Subbetica. Ideally located for day trips to Antequera, Ubeda, Granada, Cordoba and white towns like Priego de Cordoba and Zuheros.
Photo: Casa Olea in the Sierra Subbetica, near Priego de Cordoba.
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