The festivities for Sant Roc de la Plaça Nova, which are being held from 14 to 17 August this year, constitute the oldest and most unique celebrations held in Barcelona. They first started in 1589 and therefore date back 430 years (even though wars and epidemics have meant the celebrations were not held some years). One of the most singular aspects is the location: Plaça Nova, described thus by Alfons Cánovas in 1972: “Plaça Nova, which is neither new nor much of a square, the local residents who cherish it are no longer here and all that remains are the walls and the image of Sant Roc”. The celebrations are also packed with features which can’t be found anywhere else and which date back centuries, such as the cucanya slippery beam, the Gegants Vells, the Capità Munyon balloon, the porró llarg drinking pitcher and panellet sweet bites.
Here are some of the most unique elements of these festivities.
Cu-cut riding a donkey. Like many other local festivals, the festivities for Sant Roc de la Plaça Nova start with a parade, which is very special in this case as it is headed by the Cu-cut bighead figure riding on a donkey! The other bighead figures from the group, the Cu-cut dwarf figure and the Pessigolla gralla players all make up the entourage. Wednesday 14 August, starting at 6.15 pm in Plaça Nova.
Panellets de Sant Roc Sant Roc panallets are little cakes which are typical of the festivities in Plaça Nova. They’re made in honour of the saint and are only to be found during the festivities. Despite their name, they are nothing like the panallets for All Saint’s Day, but are somewhere between Christmas polvorons and tea biscuits. The tradition of offering panallets originates from the legend of Sant Roc, which explains that when the saint came to Barcelona, he fell ill with the plague and the only one who took care of him was the local baker’s dog, who fed him with bread rolls. If you want to taste them, you can get them every day of the festival.
The centenarian ‘cucanya’ game. The cucanya is a popular game that consists of crawling over, or walking across, a greasy or soapy beam without falling off, to get the prize at the other end. Most cucanyes are vertical poles and are not reused every year. That’s not the case with the cucanya in Plaça Nova, which dates back to 1884 and is unique in that it is the oldest horizontal cucanya in Catalonia. If you want to have a go, the beam will be there every day.
Dances at the cathedral and the Bishop’s palace. When the ceremony is over, the entire entourage heads to the cathedral, where for the last couple of year the Eagle figure has performed a dance in front of the Sant Roc chapel. After that it’s onto the Bishop’s palace, where all the figures dance: the Sant Roc devil, the Eagle, the Lion, the stick dance by the traditional dance group Esbart Català de Dansaires, the Cu-cut dwarf, the children’s giants and the old Sant Roc giants. Friday 16 August, around 12 noon.
The green flag. After the dances in front of the Bishop’s palace, the figures head to Plaça Nova to hoist the festival commission’s green flag on the main balcony of the palace, a special privilege for the Sant Roc festivities. The flag currently used is from 1903, but the ceremony to hang the flag dates back to 1789.
The porró llarg drinking pitcher.Feel like trying your hand at drinking from a pitcher with a 55cm spout? As ever, and since 1830, the porró llarg drinking pitcher is to be filled with wine and placed in the square so that anyone able to lift its long spout can drink from it. Friday 16 August in Plaça Nova, from 1 pm.
The Capità Munyon balloon. Children’s festivals are one of the events most frequently found in any festa major but the Plaça Nova one has a special feature: the Capità Munyon balloon. This is a small, home-made, hot-air balloon in the form of a different “baddie” each year. There are also puppets, magic tricks and traditional games like sack races, egg-and-spoon races, the piñata-style ‘break the saucepan’ game and the popular cucanya. Friday 16 August in Plaça Nova, from 6 pm.
La festa del gos. Legend has it that Sant Roc and his dog were inseparable. Because of this, dogs also play a part in the festivities. Dog handling displays take place and there will also be the traditional canine salute to Sant Roc. The salute involves all the dogs in the neighbourhood passing in front of the saint to ask him for protection. Saturday 17 August, starting at 5.30 pm in Plaça Nova.