For a long, long time Alicante farmers have celebrated the longest day of the year by burning bonfires. Despite lots of attempts, by the authorities, to control or prohibit the setting of bonfires in city streets the practise went on until, eventually, the town council gave in and allowed the burning to take place in a regulated way.
Las Hogueras are now a huge event in Alicante both for tourists and for locals. Lots of things go on in the days preceding the key event including a full programme of bullfights, concerts and processions but the climax is setting fire to the huge papiér maché (and polystyrene) statues, the hogueras, that are commissioned by neighbourhood based associations called barracas.
Each barraca pays an artist to create an hoguera for them. How big the creation is depends on how much the barraca can raise through the year to pay the artist. Eventually, amidst lots of music, drinking, dancing and general hullabaloo a firework display set off above the town's castle signals midnight of the 24th June and the start of the burning.
Nowadays each hoguera is burned under the strict supervision of the fire service to avoid a rather larger conflagration. They douse the surrounding trees and buildings to ensure that nothing burns to the ground that isn't meant to. As the hoguera burns the crowd hurls insults at the fire crews until they eventually turn their hoses on them. Great sport for the youngsters of the neighbourhood and their foolhardy elders.
We went to have a look. We heard, rather than watched, the mascletá at 2pm (A firework display of sorts where the fireworks are designed to make as much noise as possible.) Then at midnight we went to watch the hoguera built by the Barraca de Calvo Sotelo burn to the ground.