Festivals come in all colors and sizes but none perhaps more spectacular than the annual Morismas de Bracho, the Moors versus Christian battle reenactments staged each year near Zacatecas, Mexico. Thousands of costumed Moors and Christian soldiers assemble on the streets to reenact great battles of Europe.
-- A chilling and dynamic spectacle!
It's not everyday that you see great European battles like the great crusade of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers of France, said to have taken place in 770 and to have had as "its sole purpose the rescue of holy relics" captured by the Turks. Or the historical battle of Lepanto (1571), in which a Christian fleet under the command of John of Austria decisively defeated the Ottoman navy at the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth.
It might seem a little strange, in fact, at first glance that a community the size of Zacatecas, Mexico, would embrace such an odd event as one of the major functions on their annual calendar.
Yet the highly-produced Morismas de Bracho celebration is a community standard well attended by visitors from across Mexico and the world.
Dressed in brightly colored uniforms and armed with swords, scimitars, and arquebuses, warriors from European history clog the streets of a city that was once the silver-mining capital of colonial Mexico. According to the University of Texas Press, the soldiers are members of the confraternity of Saint John the Baptist, whose unifying mission is the annual staging of an extraordinary theatrical spectacle known as the Morismas de Bracho. Officially, the mock battles, religious processions, secular parades, fireworks displays, and saint plays tell three interwoven stories: The martyrdom of John the Baptist, commemorated by the church each year on 29 August. The tradition of morismas, which has its roots in late medieval Spain, is believed to have arrived in the region of Zacatecas in the early seventeenth century.
In the book Aztecs, Moors and Christians, University of Texas Press, author Max Harris says, "at the physical heart of the morismas of Bracho is a small chapel, dedicated to John the Baptist and set in a scrubby basin of the hills of Bracho a couple of miles northeast of town. Behind the chapel, to the west, is a dusty parade ground or plaza, well over a hundred yards long and forty wide. From its center rises a single tree, at whose foot the climactic execution of the Moorish king takes place. On the western slope overlooking the square stands the stone facade of a castle. To the north of the chapel is an open area, joined to the parade ground by a small stone bridge over a dry stream bed."
Zacatecas is a beautiful and historic city with great weather, vibrant street life, low living costs, world-class museums, and music everywhere you turn. At an elevation of over 8,000 feet, this UNESCO world heritage site sits between mountain ranges in the middle of the desert plateau of central Mexico about an hour's flight from Mexico City.
In this colonial jewel you'll find plenty of quality cultural attractions like the museums and churches, or you can opt to take a cable car that swings up to a stony outcropping looming hundreds of feet over downtown Zacatecas, offering unparalleled views over the city and its surroundings. The monuments at the top celebrate the capture of Zacatecas by Pancho Villa in 1914.
The absence of large rivers to support irrigation has limited agriculture. Cattle raising is a major activity, but the greatest industry is still mining. With gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, zinc, lead, bismuth, antimony, and salt, Zacatecas is one of Mexico's largest producers of mineral wealth. Low mineral prices, however, have led to the closure of many mines.
Zacatecas is known for its numerous examples of baroque architecture and for its relatively safe streets and social environment. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants that await the traveler. But the weekend of the Morismas de Bracho and for a week in September during the annual Zacatecas National Fair, rooms and even commercial flights are hard to get.