LA FIESTA DEL PILAR
 
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LA FIESTA DEL PILAR
Zaragoza
12th October

Every year, on the 12th of October, the capital of the region of Aragon in Spain, Zaragoza, becomes a place of celebration and homenaje for the Virgin of Pilar, the patron saint of this historic and diverse region, located in the Pyrenees mountains, and surrounded to the north by Navarra, to the east by Catalonia, and to the south and west by Castilla León.
Centuries of history, faith and devotion surround the Virgin of Pilar, and serve as the foundation for the festivities practiced in modern times. Today, an abundance of music, dance, theater, parades, flowers and ambiance make the Fiesta del Pilar a fine example of the spirit of Spanish history and culture, as well as an internationally recognized event.
The history of the Fiesta del Pilar begins in the year 40 A.D., when the apostle Saint James the Greater enters Spain with the task of converting the still largely pagan country to Christianity. In Aragonese territory, while travelling on the eve of January 2, the Virgin appears to him, and asks him to build a church on the very spot where he stood at that moment. Saint James delivered the wishes of the Virgin, and the result still stands today, and is known as the Basilica del Pilar.
The "pilar", or pillar, a symbol of the fortitude of the Catholic church, and the unity between heaven and earth, is the base for these elaborate and beautiful celebrations. Perhaps the most important and widely recognized element of these weekend long celebrations is the offering of flowers to the Virgin in the Plaza del Pilar. With gladiolous, orchids, roses, lilies, and just about every kind of flower imaginable, people create a trail of brilliant colors and fragrance as they carry their offerings to the Virgin.
In addition to the offering of flowers to the Virgin, other parades, various kinds of music, Spanish theater, and traditional dance fill the streets of Zaragoza. One of these traditional dances, the jota, has much importance within these celebrations. In fact, in the Plaza del Pilar, in addition to paying homage to the Virgin, they also celebrate the National Festival of the Jota simultaneously. This dance, with its various styles, including one from the region of Aragon, is accompanied by two basic instruments, the gaita and the dulzaina. No one knows exactly what the origins of this curious and varied dance are. Some say that it comes from the medieval poetry written in the times of the King Aflonso X, the Wiseman, while others say that it has its roots in musical traditions of the Muslims who once occupied the territory, while some believe that it comes from the fandangos of Andalucia, or from the Iberian tribes that roamed the peninsula long before recorded history, and still others believe that the Basques are responsible for creating these lively dances. Others believe it comes from the Venecian Carnival. Only one thing remains certain, that this dance has been around since the 1600s, and from this moment forward, it has changed and developed into the dance that you can see practiced today.
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