The Festival of Las Magdalenas (Bermeo, Elantxobe, and Mundaca)

Every 22nd of July, three coastal towns of Biscay come together to commemorate their historic dispute over the Ízaro Island with the travelling Fiesta de Las Magdalenas

Las Magdalenas is a festival with a maritime history that is celebrated every 22nd of July between Bermeo, Mundaka, and Elantxobe. It commemorates an old dispute over Ízaro Island. The rock, which is 675 meters long and 150 meters wide has its own colony of sea birds located at the mouth of the estuary of Mundaka River. It is 2.2 km from Mundaka and 3 km from Bermeo, which is the owner of the island.

Festividad de Las Magdalenas en Bermeo antaño

The ancient dispute between the three towns was over the ownership of the island, and it even reached the Juntas Generales de Vizcaya. However, the legend of the origin of the festival is less certain. It is said that there was a regatta (of which no historical record exists) in which the people of Mundaka and Bermeo competed for the island. Elantxobe had given up its stake in the contest to act as arbitrator.

The legend feeds off of epic feats and gimmicks. It is said that the towns agreed to start the regatta at dawn and that Bermeo’s boat won despite losing one of its rowers, who fell into the sea. In Mundaka, they say that the people in Bermeo lit bonfires so that the roosters would crow before the sun actually rose, giving them a head start that helped them win the regatta. As it were, the event is currently celebrated to commemorate the Día de Santa Magdalena with a festival manifesting in a journey between the three towns. The main event is the arrival by boat of people to Ízaro Island, where the mayor of Bermeo throws a tile into the water and reaffirms their claim on the island by saying “Until here come the leaks of Bermeo” (“Honaino heltzen dira Bermeoko itxuginak,” in Euskera). The mayor then disembarks and walks to the highest point of the island, where he or she places the Ikurriña (the Euskadi flag) and the Bermeo flag.

Barcos yendo hacia la isla

The Gira de Bermeo, or the Día de Las Magdalenas de Elantxobe, continues by sea until the last town, where its mayor gives the rod of control (makila) to the mayor of Bermeo, signifying that on this day, the representative of the town is the Bermean authority. Later in the evening, a similar ceremony is performed in Mundaka.

The mayors of Bermeo and Elantxobe arrive at its pier, and the first receives the makila of the Mundakan representative. Later, they dance an “aurresku” (Basque dance of greeting and reverence) in the plaza in front of the town hall.

Lastly, the official and popular entourage concludes in Bermeo with a great, festive atmosphere, the same that has presided over the events previously celebrated in Ízaro, Elantxobe, and Mundaka. Hundreds of people join in on the fun with their own boats, and they celebrate each stop with a party bringing together the people from the three separate towns. During this festival, everyone wears blue, with dark blue accessories and handkerchiefs around their necks, whether they are a native to one of the three towns, from a neighboring town, or a visitor from far away. The clothing and this color is what characterizes the people of the sea in this coastal area. It is one of the most colorful maritime festivals in the north of Spain.

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