“All the world’s a stage, and all the people on it merely players” Shakespeare famously observes in As You Like It.
The people of Gaucín took this very literally last weekend when the village transformed itself into a 19th century stage set in readiness for the VIII Toma de Gaucín – the annual re-enactment of the taking, and subsequent recapture, of Gaucín from the French in 1810. This year’s event took place between 12th and 14th May, the weekend kicking off with a costume viewing on Friday evening.
On Saturday afternoon, Napoleon’s men (members of the historical-cultural association Villa de El Bosque) were welcomed to the village before the municipal band Villa de Gaucín marched through the streets. This signalled the beginning of ‘hostilities’ early evening as a cast of villagers assembled at the top of the village near the Convent. In addition to those fighting, whole families turn out appropriately attired to follow the action.
A female Gaucínero’s wardrobe contains not only a flamenco dress but a 19th century costume, complete with perky conical hat, and the ladies were out in their scores.
Little boys, not only given permission but encouraged to fire a gun, were in their element. Adolescent girls giggled in groups, in awe of the dashing French soldiers. Spanish classical guitar wafting from a network of speakers throughout the village was drowned out by a chattering anticipation. Bales of straw were stacked at several points along the route and a sentry box was erected in Plaza del Santo Niño. Opposite Zorro’s the walls were hung with old paintings and the frontage was set up with antiques and memorabilia.
By dusk several battles had broken out along the route between Calle Convento and Calle Larga. The players took it all very seriously, their faces set in grim determination but when they locked into a skirmish their grave expressions broke into grins. After a stand-off in the Plazoleta, female rebel leaders were rounded up and put to a firing squad. The villagers were on the run.
The French troops had the upper hand and stormed the Ayuntomiento [town hall] parading the handcuffed Mayor Pedro through the streets in an act of humiliation and suppression.
The following morning villagers from Montejaque and Estacion de Gaucín met up with locals in Paseo de Ana Toval to form the Resistance, an army of guerrillas of the Serrania de Ronda. Although barely midday, the players gathered outside the Chaparro Bar drinking convivially whilst waiting for the off.This time the dogged Rebels entered Gaucín first, swiftly followed by a battalion of French troops. The Guerrilla Leader was full of fighting talk whipping up tension amongst the assembled men and women.
Once again, the Plaza del Santo Niño was the scene of much of the action; the first French fell there as the Resistance fought back with all they had.
After several skirmishes – with the rebels pushing forward to Calle Larga – and further firing squads, the French conceded defeat, the resistance re-claimed the Ayuntomiento and the Spanish flag was proudly hoisted once more above the castle. Upon his release the Mayor gave a rousing speech from the balcony of the Ayuntomiento promising everlasting freedom for all Gaucíneros.
It had been thirsty work and naturally the bars then filled up quickly. I can’t help but smile at the notion of a bemused passing tourist wandering into the aftermath of this mayhem in search of a quiet beer.
If you happened to be that tourist consider yourself lucky!
As the company finally drifted home exhausted, I spotted a good-natured gaggle of players including the leader of the French troops and a pivotal resistance woman leaving the village and the gentle sound of their singing drifted up to the terrace as they passed below me.
All images © Pip Art