Cadiz, the big city on Andalucia´s Atlantic coast, can proudly claim to have the oldest carnival celebrations in mainland Spain.
Dating back to the 16th century and influenced by the Carnival in Venice, a trading partner of Cadiz at the time.
Carnival Cadiz festival rivals Rio in its riot of colours, floats, processions, fireworks and other entertainment.
Why the Carnival in Cadiz is special
Nearly all areas of Spain celebrate carnival roughly two weeks before Lent is a time of festivities without inhibitions or disguises.
Floats, music and general merrymaking before Ash Wednesday rolls around and puts an end to the fun.
The Carnival of Cadiz is unique for several reasons.
It’s the oldest carnival in mainland Spain, only rivalled by the Carnival in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, on the Canary islands.
In the 16th century, Cadiz made a lively trade with Venice which brought knowledge of its carnival to Cadiz, resulting in a desire to imitate the glamorous event.
Cadiz developed its very own brand of carnival.
Although there are elaborate costumes, parades, and a carnival queen (which Venice Carnival does not have), the emphasis is not on glamour but on wit and satire.
This may well have to do with the fact that the people of Cadiz are considered the wittiest in Spain, with a great sense of humour and a sharp tongue.
During the Franco regime, carnivals were banned for fear of revolt. But Cadiz resisted and continued to this day.
More about Cadiz Carnival
The most outstanding feature of this carnival is music and satire.
Singing groups compete starting three weeks before the opening of the carnival.
Chirigotas – humorous groups performing satirical pieces.
Comparsas – most serious groups performing classical music
Illegales – amateur singers who do not enter the official competition
Romanceros – single performers roaming the streets entertaining people
Coros – singing groups of up to 30 members
From the program
Saturday is the day and night of the biggest street party.
People from all over the province and further afar arrive by bus or train, all in fancy dress, and you are well-advised to dress up too.
Singing, drinking and dancing go on all over the city, and it’s also the day when the Carnival Queen is crowned.
Sunday The main parade when the processions and floats are shown on which the various carnival groups have worked all year. Fireworks all night, and La Caleta is the best place to see both.
Other things to see
Plaza de las Flores where you can see and hear coros on their floats.
Plaza de la Catedral, where rock bands perform.
Main shopping streets, Calle Ancha and Calle Columela for Illgeales and Plaza San Juan de Dios for daily fireworks.
Where to stay during the carnival
As always, it’s recommended to book well in advance when you want to visit a big event and festival like this.
The Carnival Groups
The centrepiece of Cadiz´s carnival is groups, ranging from three to about forty, all dressed in identical costumes, which enter into fierce singing competitions even before carnival proper starts.
All year long, they work on their themes, costumes and songs for fashion parodies and ridicule Spanish politicians, celebrities and even the church.
The words are often highly literary and written by local authors and poets.
The songs are accompanied by relatively simple melodies to not distract from the words.
With all the corruption scandals which have hit Spain in the past year, there will be no shortage of themes.
Dance, Music and Colors.
Music is as important as the songs performed by the choirs or chirigotas.
There is a unique mixture of flamenco, tango, pasodoble, folk music, and South American rhythms at every street corner.
Music, song, and colour are Cadiz´s carnival´s essence rather than outrageous glitz and barely any costumes like Rio.
Any costume will do, unlike in Venice, masks are not worn often.
Instead, faces are painted, if only with ample amounts of lipstick.