Every year during the long weekend of the month of May, Tornavacas returns to the X Century. The residents of this town, in the Valle del Jerte (valley of river Jerte) become actors and accessories to actors, in order to stage the legend that gave the name to this town and, forever, has become part of the popular imagination.
“¡Return the cows!” ordered the triumphant King, native of León, Ramiro II. The battle against the Saracen Moors, lead by Abderraman III, had just ended. They were trying to gain lands from the borders with Avila. This was the time of the Reconquista (War of Reconquest) when the sharp imagination of the Christians was enough to defeat a larger and more organized army.
The idea that occurred to the Christians was to place lightened torches on the horns of their cows and make them run toward the Muslim camp, which was located at Vega del Escobar. That lighted stampede in the middle of the night and the noise created by the neighbors of this town created panic and prompted the enemy army to escape with fear, down the valley, thinking their rivals had obtained unexpected reinforcements.
“¡Return the cows!” was the royal shout of victory and the expression that named Tornavacas. A town that welcomes the month of May with a recreation of this legend turned into a theatrical performance under the direction of German Mira de Cabo. Under his lead, about 30 members of this town convert into water carriers, priests, Moors, Christians and town people of all ages. For more than an hour this story is made to live in various stages through the town, accompanied by other residents of Tornavacas specially attired for this occasion. Visitors are also included, by asking them to wear austere clothing that would resemble people dressed in the middle ages and by carrying torches and cowbells.
The event starts around ten, in the night, near the Fuente del Pilón. People continue to each and every location, such as: La Calzadilla, the Plaza de la Iglesia, the Corralón, and the Fuente de los Mártires. At this point all lights go out, to start a magnificent out door performance.
Before this event, the town has a medieval market. And after the performance, there is a party at the Plaza Nueva, with a bonfire, fireworks, drinking punch and music for all the guests.
The Day of The Fire
The presentation of “Ya Tornan” is the principal event of the week, named “Semana de la Montaña” (Week of the Mountain). However, it is not the only newsworthy happening. The following afternoon, on May 2nd, the people of Tornavacas celebrate the Day of the Fire, which is kind of a purification ceremony. When the idea is to do away with “the old and bad” to make room for “the new and good”, according to the teachings of Juan Pedro Recio, who is the historian and chronicler of this town.
During this day, each and every one of the quarters of the town light giant bonfires, around which the neighbors gather and party. There is food and drinks and laughter to celebrate a festive event. Visitors are also welcome to these gatherings. Up to a thousand visitors have an appointment in Tornavacas during this May weekend. The celebrations are ended with a pilgrimage, on the third day of May, to the place of the Cross of Saint Barbara.
The celebrations during the long weekend of May in Tornavacas are an example of how a small town is interested in maintaining the oldest, ancestral traditions framed in a magnificent and overflowing nature. Thus the event is part of the Semana de la Montaña (Week of the Mountain) organized by the local hiking group, who want to recover for the XXI Century the legacy of the people that lived in the Valle del Jerte long, long ago.
Date: the long weekend in May (from Friday, May 1 through Sunday. May 3)
Place: Tornavacas, Valle del Jerte, North of Extremadura, Spain
Original article by Pilar Armero
Translated by Susana Windt
Photografies by Germán Mira de Cabo
April, 28, 2015