Ancient and modern traditions, encompassing both the sacred and the profane
From the sea-urchin festival in the spring to the fireworks on New Year’s Eve,
the Catalan city plays host to numerous festivals and events throughout the year.
Some of these events have their origins in the distant past and combine religious elements with traditions linked to the cycles of life and of the seasons.
The most important festivals are described below:
Sagra del riccio (Sea-Urchin Festival) (staged from March 22 to April 27)
At dawn, during the “January droughts”, sea-urchins are caught all along the coast of Alghero. These are then sold along the Lido and the Passeggiata Barcellona at brightly coloured ad-hoc market stalls that are frequented in great numbers by those who appreciate the sea-urchins’ sweet, delicious eggs.
The bogamarì, as the sea-urchin is known in Alghero, also constitutes the basis for the mouth-watering tasting menus offered by many of the city’s restaurants, where you can savour the unique, unmistakable flavour of sea-urchins on everything from canapés to spaghetti and pizza.
The Algherese Carraixali (Carnival period)
Alghero’s Carnival, with its traditional, spectacular, entertaining parades, is a major
draw for both locals and tourists alike.
Staged against the evocative backdrops of the streets of the historical centre of the city,
the parades also provide a showcase for the numerous ethnic masks that are so typical
of the traditional Sardinian Carnival, including the Mamuthones and Issohadores of Mamoiada, the Boes and Merdules of Ottana and the Thurpos of Orotelli, which are the expression
of archaic agro-pastoral rituals.
The parades also feature dances by traditional dance groups, which are accompanied
by the sound of accordians, flutes, primitive drums and triangles playing magical, ancestral rhythms.
The Carnival comes to an end with the burning at the stake of a puppet, which represents
the Evil to be banished. This is a widespread rural tradition that is found in many places throughout the island.
The ceremonies of Holy Week (from the Friday before Holy Week
until Easter Day)
The ceremonies and processions of Holy Week – which were introduced by the Jesuits
in the 7th century to Alghero, just as they were to numerous other towns and cities of the Spanish Mediterranean – are considered to be extremely important by the city’s faithful.
Holy Week is preceded by the Friday of Our Lady of Sorrows, when the statue of the Virgin
of the Seven Sorrows is held aloft in a procession that foreshadows the drama about to unfold.
On the Tuesday of Holy Week comes the procession of the Mysteries, when – by candlelight – five statues of Christ capture the salient moments of the Passion.
The Thursday of Holy Week is the day of Les cerques (the name refers to Mary’s search for her Son). Visits are paid to sepulchres set up in the churches, and a small statue of the Madonna dressed in black stops at the door of each church. The Cross is raised up at midnight in the Cathedral.
The ceremonies culminate on Good Friday when, at the end of the evening, a cortege leaves for the Cathedral, where the removal of Christ from the Cross takes place – a ceremony laden with dramatic tension. This is then followed by the procession of the faithful, in which those engaged in prayer, the Barons (the old peasant nobility) and the Algherese brotherhoods – including the Catalan brotherhoods, with their colourful 17th-century costumes – all filter past.
The ringing of the bells and the procession that celebrates the “meeting” between Mary and the Risen Jesus represent the epilogue of Alghero’s Easter celebrations.
Festa della Madonna di Valverde (Festival of the Madonna of Valverde)
(from the 1st Sunday after Easter to the 1st Sunday in June)
The 17th-century Sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Valverde is located in the hamlet
of the same name, which is situated around 7 km from Alghero, at the foot of a rocky ridge.
Devotion to the Madonna of Valverde is at its most intense during the “period of the pilgrimages”, which begins with the first Sunday after Easter and ends on the first Sunday in June. This is a time in which genuine experiences of faith and prayer come to the fore.
During this period, various pilgrimages are made – some on foot – to the Sanctuary from Alghero and the neighbouring towns and villages by the faithful to give thanks or absolve vows. The large car park and tarmac road mean it is also now possible to reach the Sanctuary by car.
Festa dei pastori per la tosatura (Sheep-shearing Festival) (May)
To celebrate the shearing of sheep in the local sheep-folds, numerous agritourism complexes organise days at the weekend that are dedicated to discovering the rituals of this ancient rural activity. Once the sheep have been sheared, a traditional meal is served.
Cronoscalata Alghero-Scala Piccada (Alghero-Scala Piccada Race)
The Alghero-Scala Piccada is a timed uphill car race that is staged along the first tract
of the Strada Statale 292 Nord road in western Sardinia, from Alghero to Villanova Monteleone.
The race, conceived by Marquis Franco di Suni, is organised by the Automobile Club of Sassari in collaboration with Alghero City Council, and has been on the go since 1955.
This is the oldest race of its type in Sardinia, and the third oldest in Italy.
It is no surprise, then, that it is one of the most popular with sports fans.
Among the main attractions of the route is the remarkable backdrop provided by the so-called Coral Riviera (“Riviera del Corallo” in Italian).
Festa di San Giovanni (Feast Day of San Giovanni) (24 June)
On 24 June, this feast is held in honour of Saint John, to whom a small 17th-century church just outside the city is dedicated. On this day, religious celebrations are held and other traditional events are staged: palios (horseraces), musical exhibitions, fireworks close to the Bastions and midnight bathing.
Festa di Sant’Elmo (Feast Day of Sant’Elmo) (25 June)
25 June sees the celebration of the feast day of Saint Elmo, patron saint of the Algherese marine, with a procession of boats that sail from the port and take an image of the Saint out into open water.
Festa di Sant’Anna (Feast Day of Santa Anna) (26 July)
26 July, Saint Anne’s day, is a rural festival in Alghero. Even now, the old Romanesque rural church, which is extremely minimalist in style, becomes the hub for the devotion of numerous believers on this day, with religious services in the morning and a popular festival in the evening.
Regata della vela latina (Latin Sail Regatta) (August-September)
This is a modern-day version of the traditional procession of boats dedicated to Saint Elmo.
Promoted by the Lega Navale Italiana, this exciting regatta is normally held at the end of the summer and sees the participation of many regional crews.
August is the busiest month for cultural events.
The following are particularly noteworthy:
- traditional tourist festivals
- Festa di Nostra Signora della Mercede (Feast of Our Lady of Mercedes)
(1st Sunday in August), which features a historic regatta just off the shore, alongside the launching of crowns of flowers from boats and planes, in memory of the citizens of Alghero who died at sea during wartime
- classical music concerts in the delightful surroundings of the Cloister of San Francesco, staged as part of the Alghero International Summer of Music (from the end of July to early September)
- Folk Festival, with representations of the history, traditions and craft products
of the 12 municipalities of Sardinia, along with performances – until late into the night – of choirs, folk groups and leading interpreters of Sardinian songs.
Festa di San Michele (Feast of San Michele) (from 28 to 30 September)
Saint Michael is the patron saint of Alghero.
During the three days of the festival, held at the end of September, religious ceremonies are accompanied by exhibitions, markets and cultural events.
New Year in Alghero (from Christmas until 31 December)
After the summer, the most important event is the Cap d’Any d’Alguer.
In the week after Christmas, numerous spectacular events are staged, culminating in the grand finale on New Year’s Eve, which is celebrated with fireworks, parties, concerts and international performances.