La Reconquista de Vigo – Reconquering Vigo 200 years on

Oi! Bonaparte!

Oi! Bonaparte!

Imprisoned on the desolate Atlantic island of St Helena, Napoleon probably had plenty of time to rue and regret his fall from power. Where had it all gone wrong? Trafalgar, the French Invasion of Russia, or Waterloo?

I doubt even Napoleon himself would have paused to consider Vigo as a possible candidate. Vigo?

La Reconquista de Vigo (the Reconquest of Vigo) is celebrated every year, to varying degrees of enthusiasm, in the suitably named city of Vigo, on the western coast of Galician Spain. The occasion being marked is in fact, far less historic a role than many of the others Vigo has played in its illustrious history. It is however, the only victory.

The celebration mirrors many of the other Galician historical festivals, in that the old town, ‘o casco vello’ is packed full of wooden food, drink and trinket stalls and the city becomes a living costume drama for the weekend.

Back in 1809, the men and women of Vigo took up arms and chased the foul French oppressors out of town. Simple as that. And about as quick.

The currently accepted account of the reconquista appears to be a rather hammed up version of what really happened.  Reanactments help to relive the event, but despite a lot of technologically-amplified Musket Manshouting and cursing, there’s no actual violence. After a good hour of some rather spicy language, the French are forced onto a particularly small-looking rowing boat by about ten particularly nasty-looking crimson warriors and a particularly harmless-looking woman playing what looks like a jewellery box.

Of course, the wily Vigueses should really be applauded for executing such a quick, bloodless and execution-free coup – just like thousands of real-life Spanish Mandela’s.

FilloasThe party though, packs a lot more punch and, with the principal square cleansed of los putos franceses (those darn French), people are free to begin the real reconquest of Vigo. Music fills the streets as tambourines, gaitas (Galician bagpipes) and drunkards dance along, around and about them. Street food and drink is served in the abundance and the crowd washes down pulpo (octopus) and filloas (pancakes) with wines, liqueurs and merriment, invoking the days of rum barrels and hearty laughter far better than a few radio microphones and a fancy jewellery box.