Public Space and Sant Sebastià in Palma de Mallorca, Spain

by Melissa García Lamarca


As is the tradition in all towns and cities across Spain, this week it is Palma de Mallorca’s turn to celebrate its patron saint, Saint Sebastian. While these festivals traditionally had religious origins – and indeed patron saints are chosen based on their strong Christian faith in belief and action as protectors of places or people – today they are a time when Town Halls or City Councils organise a week of activities, from art exhibitions, sports and youth activities and parades to outdoor music and dance festivals lasting late into the night.


The latter, known as a revetla in Catalan, took place last night in Palma. Wandering around the city’s historic centre, it was amazing to see the complete transformation of public space and street life, absolutely teaming with people, including extended families with small children running about, when usually most nights of the week the streets are empty. As all the streets were closed to cars, taken over by people, the city pulsated with music, smells, life and laughter.


The Sant Sebastià tradition in Palma for this evening's festivities includes getting together with groups of friends or family and enjoying a torrada (barbeque) in the street, bringing your own sausages or meats to grill, eaten with bread and washed down wine, beer or mixed drinks. There are also bonfires, harking back to pagan traditions, and stages in ten of the cities plaza’s with live music playing until 3.30 in the morning.


What struck me as most important about this festival was the sense of being in the city and sharing the streets with others, the sense of life, energy and movement and especially civic life and participation. The question that comes to mind is how this sort of engagement and involvement other aspects of creating and living in the city can be mobilised outside of the festivals.

Credits: Photos by Melissa García Lamarca.

2 comments:

  1. Melissa

    This post reminds me of Lefebvre's exploration of "La Fete" (The Feast or festival) in Writings about Cities. The activity that you describe is akin to the "use value" of urban space and may be pregnant with the potential of social change. In essence, the festival is the "unproductive contribution" by the people to the city and thus their Right to it.

    But, let me ask, "The Feast" may be apolitical or reactionary. It doesn't need to be progressive. It can be reproduced in political rallies or apolitical wine and dine festivals (nothing wrong with that). It could be argued that civic life is practiced in cities around the world without necessarily bringing to bear progressive change. I definitely identify with the possibility of your question, but wonder if another way to look at this problem is to address its complications/contradictions. For example what is the socio-economic composition of the neighborhood(s) where the celebration takes place? How is ethnic difference managed within and outside of the celebration? what are its inclusions and exclusions? How does the Feast deal with these factors?

    From a design perspective, the Feast can be attributed to the physical characteristics of urban space, its density, public spaces and physical encounters. These become attributes of an urban morphology which becomes a template for urban re-development and re-vitalization. Thus, a superficial reading of "La fete" can geared physical determinism. How far is today's Fete from social creatives or hipsters gentrifying a neighborhood?

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  2. Thanks for your comments Fernando. I complete agree about your point of the festival ("La Fete") being apolitical in this case, and think the idea of looking at the complications or contradictions brings several extremely important questions and many more you raised to bear. Since the fall of the dictatorship in 1979 and thus a more recent history of immigration, ethnic/social diversity and issues of inclusion-exclusion tend to more often than not be avoided in Spain, inside and outside the festival. It would be interesting to ask the festival organisers these questions, to see how they might respond.

    The festivals take place in the historic centre of the city, across a very large area which is already a relatively expensive place to live, compared to other newer parts of Palma. I would say gentrification occured in this area long ago but add that the process is complicated here in Spain with the sustained economic recession - amidst rehabilitated buildings one sees old dilapidaded abandoned ones as well, even in the centre of the city.

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