Around the time of the summer solstice, Menorca celebrates one of its most traditional and popular events: the Sant Joan equestrian festival in Ciutadella, which draws visitors from around the world.
If you’re a lover of traditions and horses, don’t miss one of the most spectacular festivals that form part of Menorca’s unique heritage: Sant Joan in Ciutadella. This celebration brings together almost 200 riders who display their equestrian skills on the backs of magnificent horses during a superb two-day celebration, held from 23rd to 24th June. Menorca’s medieval Ciutadella re-enacts this festival which has a religious origin and that has been passed down by word of mouth from parents to children for generations and that the men and women of the city – the ciutadellencs and ciutadellenques – start getting ready for early in the year.
One of the things you need to know about the festivity of Sant Joan in Ciutadella is that its origins date back to the 14th century. Indeed, it commemorates the horseback procession held in honour of the patron saint whose figure is kept in the Chapel of Sant Joan de Missa. Taking part in the procession are the cavallers – country folk of all ages – and the caixers, who represent the four social classes, namely the church, nobility, artisans and country people. The cavalcade is guided by the fabioler, the municipal herald, who rides on a donkey accompanied by the distinctive sounds of the drum and the fabiol (a kind of flute).
Sant Joan 2023 in Ciutadella programme
The festivities get underway with the “Diumenge des Be”, which is held on the Sunday before 23rd June and consists of a re-enactment of the life of Saint John the Baptist. Early in the morning, at 9 a.m., the fabioler announces the departure of the Comitiva des Be procession with the characteristic first notes of the drum and flute – the toc de tambor i fabiol played at the home of the noble Caixer Senyor. The S’Home des Be, a country man dressed in lamb pelts and responsible for announcing the start of the festivities, parades around the streets of Ciutadella with a lamb slung over his shoulders. The animal is lovingly cared for throughout the year in preparation for the festival days. Interestingly, in the early hours of the morning before the start of the celebration, more than a hundred tons of sand are spread along the streets and in the squares of Ciutadella’s historic quarter to prevent the horses from slipping.
On the 23rd June, the Eve of Sant Joan is celebrated with the Caragol des Born, when the Caixer Senyor i sa capellana – the noble and his chaplain – gallop into Citudadella’s Plaça des Born riding magnificent steeds to the sounds of the jaleo played by the music band. They ride around the square three times, and the horses rear up on their hind legs, encouraged by the applause and cries of the crowds. Only in Ciutadella is it possible to admire the richly decorated saddles, the horses’ plaited tails and this truly magnificent spectacle. Once the exhibition has ended, the riders make their way to the country Chapel of Sant Joan de Missa. Meanwhile, on the walk known as the Contramurada, there is a hazelnut battle, a large-scale commemoration of the traditional offering that the young men made to their sweethearts. Today it has become a game in which kilos of hazelnut husks are thrown: up to 600 tons literally fly through the air, to the delight of young and old.
On the 24th June, the Feast Day of Sant Joan, the long-awaited Jocs des Pla are held, which consist of a series of trials whose origins lie in the medieval tournaments and jousting, and are held in the port of Ciutadella. In one of the activities, the riders have to hook a ring using the tip of their lance whilst galloping. Another spectacular feat is when the riders gallop huddled together in twos to break the carotes – small wooden shields that are painted by local artists. Getting a splinter from one of these shields is said to bring good luck. Will you among the fortunate?
The grand finale comes with the celebration of Sant Joanet and the firework display over the sea, held on 25th June.
Without a doubt, you’ll be amazed by the Festival of Sant Joan in Ciutadella. To discover these popular celebrations at first hand, there’s no better option than a stay at the Marinda Garden Aparthotel. Situated close to Cala d’en Bosch beach, and just 11 km from Ciutadella, Garden Hotels has everything you need for a truly special holiday experience.