Human towers in Villafranca del Penedés, Barcelona, Catalonia.

A journey through the festivals and traditions designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO


A journey through the festivals and traditions designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO

They are part of popular culture, traditions that persist and represent the identity of those celebrating them. UNESCO recognises them as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and you can enjoy many of them in Spain.


All year It’s a deeply rooted part of traditional culture, mainly in Andalusia, but also in regions like Extremadura and Murcia. Flamenco can take the form of song, dance, and instrumental music, and we recommend enjoying it in a tablao, performance venues which are common in cities like Seville and Madrid; or in the cave dwellings of Granada. There are also two major festivals: Cante de las Minas (every summer in La Unión, in the region of Murcia) and the Seville Bienal de Flamenco (held in even-numbered years, in September and October).More information

 Flamenco show during the Noche Blanca del Flamenco (All-night Flamenco Festival) in Córdoba

Human towers or “Castells”

In Catalonia, all year.Literally towers formed by people, which can reach as high as 10 tiers. The tradition of creating these towers or castells, as they are known in Catalan, is at least 200 years old, and they usually form part of village fiestas in the region. People of all ages take part. The base is usually the strongest men, with women and older boys forming the intermediate levels, and smaller boys and girls climbing to the top of these ephemeral structures. They are always created in crowded festivals, with the public lending support, and accompanied by traditional music.More information

Formation of the “castell” or human tower in Tarragona

Las Fallas festival, Valencia

In the city of Valencia, around 19 March.Humour, satire and fire form the core of this fiesta, with most of the Valencians taking part, filling the whole city with fun and excitement for several days. The largest squares and streets display large groups of satirical papier-mâché sculptures -the Fallas- as noisy parades and spectacular fireworks welcome the spring. Everything culminates on the night of 19 March, the cremá, when all the Fallas are burnt except for the ninot, the best sculpture of the year, which will take its place in the Museum of the Fallas in Valencia.More information

Bonfire in Las Fallas, Valencia

Las tamboradas

In many traditional fiestas, especially at Easter.Thousands of drums beat in unison for hours and hours, day and night. At first deafening, the sound soon becomes fascinating and the trancelike state of the drummers seems to spread to those around. This tradition forms part of many popular fiestas, often relating to Easter and its rituals. This is the case for the tamboradas of Hellín (Albacete, Castile-La Mancha), Calanda (Teruel, Aragon) and Mula (region of Murcia). The drum festival of Donostia-San Sebastián is also famous, held on the night of 20 January in honour of the city’s patron saint.

 Details from the Tamborada in Calanda during its Easter Week (Teruel, Aragón)

Festival of the Courtyards in Cordoba

In Cordoba (Andalusia) in May. Courtyards and squares are decorated with thousands of flowers, the scent of orange blossom and jasmine fills the air, and the streets echo to the sounds of flamenco. This is Cordoba’s Festival of the Courtyards, celebrating the traditional courtyard or patio, a space for family and social life. The residents decorate their courtyards with flowers and take part in a competition to find the prettiest one. Entertainment is held in the largest courtyards, mainly flamenco music and dance, filling the whole city with a festive air and welcoming the spring, at the start of a month of fiestas. More information

Patio in Córdoba during the celebrations for the Córdoba Patios Festival

La Patum festival in Berga

In Berga (Barcelona), in May-June. Associated with the traditional feast day of Corpus Christi, this festival combines the sacred and profane in its origins, with parades and theatrical shows in the streets. The big event takes place in the main square, which is transformed into a fiery hell full of demons, angels, dragons, giants and dwarfs, dancing among the flames to the beat of the drums. The fiesta is especially lively after dark, and there is also a child-friendly version on one of the mornings. It has been held, almost continuously, since the 15th century. More information

Giants in the fiesta of La Patum in Berga

Summer solstice fire festivals in the Pyrenees

In villages of Aragon and Catalonia on 23 June.Welcoming summer to the Pyrenees, this fiesta is celebrated in many villages in the Sobrarbe and Ribagorza areas of Huesca, Aragon, and the Alta Ribagorza, Berguedá, Pallars Jussà and Val d’Aran areas of Lleida, Catalonia. It is a cultural event which has survived over the years, typically involving a festive banquet and folk songs and dances, with practically all of the population joining in. Everything centres on fire, and the most common tradition is for the participants to descend from the highest point of the village with lit torches while they dance and make shapes with the fire. Finally, they light a large bonfire in the centre of the village to welcome the summer, and the merry-making continues.More information

Summer solstice festivals in the Pyrenees

La Mare de Déu de la Salut Festival

Algemesí (Valencia), 7 - 8 September.For the main fiesta of Algemesí, a small town in Valencia province, the streets are filled with theatre, dance and concerts. UNESCO’s recognition emphasises the high level of participation by the locals, who take part enthusiastically in the fiesta, which dates back to Medieval times. The parades attract thousands of people to the four historic districts of Algemesí: Valencia, La Muntanya, Santa Bárbara and La Capella.More information

Human towers in the fiestas of Algemesí, Valencia.

Misterio de Elche

In Elche (Alicante), every year from 11 to 15 August, plus on even-numbered years, from late October to 1 November.A unique opportunity to see one of the earliest forms of musical theatre, with a religious play depicting the death, assumption and coronation of the Virgin, which has been held continuously since the 15th century. It is staged in the Basilica of Santa María, with the performers singing the texts, in Valencian and Latin. The work is divided into two acts, each one representing a day. On the days leading up to the performance, there are rehearsals which are also open to the public. In all cases, you will have to buy tickets, and we recommend getting them well in advance.More information

Song of the Sibyl

All the churches in Mallorca celebrate this festival the night of 24 December.An example of medieval religious folklore which has come down to us practically unchanged, and takes place in almost every municipality on the island of Mallorca. The chant is sung by a boy or girl accompanied by the playing of an organ. At least two younger children take part in the ceremony, as well as people of different ages, ensuring the tradition is passed on through the generations.More information

El Canto de la Sibila, a testament to Mallorca's musical tradition

Los Caballos del Vino

In Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia), 1-5 May.Thousands of visitors come to Caravaca every year to celebrate the Festivals of the Santísima and Vera Cruz, which include two unique shows in the world: the Festival of Moors and Christians and the Wine Horses. This last event has been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage. On 2 May, Caravaca lives its most intense day with the mythical Wine Horses race, a competition in which more than 60 associations evoke a legend according to which a group of Christian knights managed to break an enemy siege.This festival stands out not only for the sound of galloping horses, but also for the delicate embroidered cloaks they wear, the music and the thousands of people dressed in white and red that transform the city.More information.

The Wine Horses of Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia

Other popular traditions and customs which are now Intangible Cultural Heritage

The most popular is perhaps the Mediterranean diet. This is a healthy diet based on olive oil, vegetables and fresh seasonal food, but just as importantly, meals in the Mediterranean culture are a time for family and friends to gather.Much less famous, but very peculiar, is silbo Gomero. This is a language in the form of whistling, used in La Gomera (one of the Canary Islands) to communicate over a distance, and currently used by over 20,000 people.Falconry, in which birds of prey are tamed and trained for hunting; the art of dry stone walling (constructing walls without mortar), the irrigation tribunals of the Spanish Mediterranean (more specifically, the assemblies held in towns in Murcia and Valencia) and the artisan production of Talaverano-style ceramics in Talavera de la Reina and the Arzobispo Bridge, the ringing of bells by hand and timber rafting complete the list of Spain’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.