The pyrotechnic show of the Nit de l’Albà, which is held on the night of the 13th of August in honour of the patron saint of Elche, consists of more than 2,000 kilos of gunpowder and 90,000 rockets, as well as the traditional great Palm of the Virgin, which reaches a height of 300 metres.
The form of the Nit de l’Albà may have evolved throughout history, but, the truth is, that it has always been able to maintain the community aspect that surprises so much its bystanders for the first time. It is not a usual fireworks display, but a whole city that is both the protagonist and the spectator of a great offering of light and sound to its patron saint.
A few minutes before midnight, the thunder and lightning suddenly stop, the lights go out, the Gloria Patri sounds, the last song of the Mystery Play of Elx (declared by UNESCO a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity) and from the top of the bell tower of the Basilica of Santa Maria, the breathtaking Palm of the Virgin emerges, an offering to the patron saint that illuminates the whole city.
Tradition marks two of the most unique nights of the festivities, the 13th of August with the Nit de l’Albà and the night of the 14th of August, the Nit de la Roà. On the night of the 13th, gunpowder becomes the undisputed protagonist in an explosion of light, colour and sound.
The night of the 13th of August is the Nit de l’Albà, one of the most eagerly awaited celebrations by the people of Elche. This night, in which hundreds of fireworks dress up the night with light, colour and sound, is also known as the night of the fire.
Fiesta de Interés Turístico
The Generalitat (regional government of Valencia), through the Ministry of Economy, Industry, Tourism and Employment, has declared the Nit de l’Albà of Elx Festival of Regional Tourist Interest of the Valencian Community, as published in the Official Gazette of the Generalitat Valenciana (DOCV).
LA NIT DE L'ALBÀ
On the night of the 13th of August, Elche celebrates the Nit de l’Albà. On this night, hundreds of fireworks dress up the Elche night with light, colour and sound. This is a pyrotechnic display, like a firework offering dedicated to the patron saint of Elche, Our Lady of the Assumption.
This celebration, which is very characteristic of the city, has its origin in the Middle Ages, when the lights were lit to scare away the forces of evil on the eve of the great days of Elche and families offered the Virgin the launching of a rocket for each of their sons and daughters.
This tradition has led today to the setting off of all kinds of fireworks in a coordinated and alternating way from different areas in the city. It is a tradition among Elche inhabitants and its visitors to go up to the rooftops of the buildings to watch and participate in the fireworks display.
Rockets and fireworks are set off continuously from the beginning of the Nit de l’Albà until minutes before midnight, when the pyrotechnic activity ceases, the lights on the perimeter of the Basilica of Santa Maria (Saint Mary) go out and the last motet of the Mystery Play of Elx, the “Gloria Patri”, can be heard in the background. After this musical piece, the Palm of the Virgin rises, a large palm tree firework of white light that is launched from the bell tower of the Basilica of Santa Maria, and which illuminates the sky over the whole city for a few seconds.
After this magic moment, the light comes back on and in the bell tower of the Basilica an incandescent image of the silhouette of the patron saint of Elche appears, while the famous habanera (a slow tempo type of Cuban song) “Aromas ilicitanos” is sung by the whole population from their rooftops and balconies. To conclude, it is traditional to end the celebration by eating watermelon, in order to “refresh the throats drown by the emotion, the heat and the gunpowder of such a spectacular night”.
La Nit de l’Albà is much more than a celebration. It is a unique pyrotechnic show, not only because of the force of the gunpowder used, but also because of the emotions it provokes in its audience.
La Nit de l’Albà has been declared Festival of Regional Tourist Interest of the Valencian Community since 2014.
The origins of La Nit de l’Albà lie in the late Middle Ages, as well as the origins of La Festa or Misteri d’Elx (Mystery Play of Elche), declared by UNESCO “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001 (Intangible Cultural World Heritage since 2008). It is therefore worthwhile to place the Nit de l’Albà at the beginning of the August festive cycle, on the 13th, announcing the beginning of the festivities in honour of the patron saint of Elche, Our Lady of the Assumption.
According to the documents found in the Elche City Archive, in the Middle Ages there was already a fire festival to celebrate the arrival of the great days dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to heaven. At this celebration, a rocket was launched for “each child” as an offering in honour of the Virgin, a tradition that persists today, but mostly dedicated and offered by the population to the ones who are no longer with us. The local companies also sponsor palm tree fireworks as a way to wish their clients and friends happy Major Festivities of Elche.
The festival has been documented since the 16th century, when the lights were lit in the windows of the houses and cannons and arquebuses were fired from the top of the city walls to drive away the evil spirits on the day of the festival. In fact, an edict from the Council dated 18 May 1587 is preserved, forbidding firing the cannons from the towers and city walls due to the damage they caused to these defence systems.
Cristobal Sanz wrote, in what has been considered as the first history of Elche – a manuscript preserved in the Elche City Archive – the following: “they make many lights and fires from gunpowder, more than anywhere else in the kingdom. A lot of artillery and rocket inventions…”
There are reports from the 18th century declaring that the Council paid for a large fireworks display that burned on the façade of the Town Hall. And in the 19th century, there are references to the launching of a large fireworks display at midnight from the Town Hall tower.
After the beginning of the firing of a large palm tree firework in the 19th century, the chronicler Ruiz de Lope i Pérez, referring to the 13th of August 1857, states: “On the night of the dawn of Our Lady of the Assumption, the patron saint and at 12 hours on 13 August 1857, when the bells rang, 150 rockets, which were set off in the Town Hall Tower as requested by the City Council, rose, delivering the most beautiful and picturesque result imaginable. These fireworks were worked on by the pyrotechnician Antonio Albarranch de Ruiz and his son José, from San Jayme Street in this town. They cost 120 Spanish reals de vellón (pure copper).” It was therefore the culmination of the Nit de l’Albà at midnight on the 13th of August, thus documenting the process of creation of the Palm tree of the Virgin by the local Albarranch family of pyrotechnics.
In the 20th century, the municipal decision not to defray religious festivals during the Republic led to state protection of the representation of the Mystery Play of Elx, which resulted in the creation of a commission for civic festivals in the city made up of representatives of local trade and industry, who contributed and collected resources for the organisation of celebrations involving the Mystery Play. And, among these, we must highlight the Nit de l’Albà. One of the initiatives of this commission was to set up, in 1935, the so-called “rocket offering”. This moment within the Nit de l’Albà consists of the set off of thousands of dozens of rockets.
From 1969 the launching site of the Palm tree of the Virgin was moved from the Town Hall Tower to the bell tower of the Basilica of Santa Maria to make it more attractive, given the greater height of the latter and the fact that there were no higher buildings around it, which allowed a better view from many points of the city.
Nowadays, although the Nit de l’Albà has undergone several changes throughout history, the presence of light and thunder has been continuous. The traditional and popular spirit of this celebration has been maintained to this day, it is not a common fireworks display that is contemplated passively, on the contrary, it is a whole city launching fireworks, a whole population watching it and at the same time participating to create this festive celebration.
Detailed description of the acts that make it up
At 23:15 the Nit de l’Albà officially begins, organised by the Elche City Council. In the process, over 300 coloured palm tree fireworks are set off; following the previously established launching order (a programme is edited with the launching order of these palm tree fireworks).
The set off, although taking place from different points of the city, takes place mainly in the surroundings of the Basilica of Santa Maria, the temple where La Festa or Mystery Play of Elx is performed and from whose bell tower the final palm tree is launched.
The more than 300 palm tree fireworks are sponsored by individuals, companies, shops, entities, associations, which, a few months prior to the celebration, contract with the City Council the launching of these palm trees as an offering to their loved ones, friends or customers. The colour and the size are chosen and, at the same time, a brief dedicated text is selected to appear in the programme. This type of palm tree is unique, since a funnel type shell is used for its launching, with holes in the upper part where the tails of the coloured rockets that form each palm tree are manually inserted.
At 23:30 hours, 15 minutes after the start of the Nit de l’Albà, the so-called “rocket offering” (la cohetá) begins, rockets combined with the launching of the coloured palm tree fireworks. This is the oldest part of the pyrotechnic show. From that moment until 23:55 hours, 8,000 dozen of rockets (96,000 rockets), 1,500 carcass rockets (high power rockets) and 90 palm trees are set off, pretending to be Elche palm trees (with trunk and palms). The beginning of the rocket offering is announced by the Imperial Palm, a palm tree formed by 7 branches that reminds us of the natural palm tree with the same characteristics found in the Huerto del Cura (The Priest’s Garden), the emblematic garden of the Palm Grove of Elche (the Palm Grove of Elche has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2000).
In addition to all this planned firework and rocket set off, the population of the city continues to launch thousands of kilos of gunpowder in the form of various pyrotechnic items randomly, thus mixing with the official set off, but never interfering with each other.
At 23:57 the launching of rockets and palm trees ends, both official and private, and the lights on the perimeter of the Basilica of Santa Maria are turned off so that the highlight of the night can be contemplated in all its splendour. The Nit de l’Albà closes with the set off of what is considered to be the largest palm tree firework in the world, commonly known as the Palm of the Virgin or Mare de Déu (Mother of God).
Three minutes before midnight, the last motet of the Mystery Play of Elx, “Gloria Patri”, is heard over a powerful public address system. The musical piece culminates at 24:00 hours, when the Palm of the Virgin is launched, a palm tree firework also sponsored by the Elche City Council.
Said palm is made up of 1,500 rockets of a larger calibre than the usual ones, in pearl white. It reaches a height of 300 metres and an opening of 700 metres in diameter, and is visible from the whole city, the rural areas of Elche and even neighbouring towns such as Santa Pola, Crevillent, and part of the Vega Baja or Alicante.
The Palm of the Mare de Déu can be seen for about 30 seconds from the moment it is set off. Its dome-shaped fall is slow and elegant, provoking the emotion of both locals and visitors who are attracted by the beauty of such a singular show.
When the Palm of the Virgin or Mare de Déu is extinguished, a metal structure just over three metres high with flares is lit in the bell tower of the basilica, forming the silhouette of the patron saint of Elche represented in her current iconography: crowned, standing and in a praying position. The incandescent silhouette of the Virgin spins, looking at the whole city, as if it were a blessing to the whole population.
This image of Our Lady of the Assumption remains lit for almost a minute, and when it begins to fade, from the powerful loudspeakers installed around the temple, the popular habanera “Aromas Ilicitanos” sounds, thus being hummed by the inhabitants of Elche from their rooftops, balconies and windows.
Then, the bells of the Basilica of Santa Maria are rung full-circle in thanksgiving, with a joyful touch dedicated to the patron saint of Elche, thus announcing the arrival of the great days of the Festivities of Elche. La Nit de l’Albà is traditionally ended by eating watermelon to “cool the throats drowned by the emotion, the heat and the gunpowder of such a spectacular night”.
Places from where to see the Nit de l’Albà
If you are staying in one of the hotels, you can ask if it is possible to see the Nit de l’Albà from the rooftop of the building. Otherwise, there are several places where you can follow the fireworks display:
LA NIT DE L'ALBÀ ON LINE
LA NIT DE L’ALBÀ ONLINE
The Association “Amigos de la Nit de l’Albà” (Friends of the Night of the Dawn)
The Association “Amigos de la Nit de l’Albà” was created in 2010. The promoters of the idea initiated a proposal through social networks requesting that the Nit de l’Albà be declared a Festival of Tourist Interest. In just a few days, the initiative mobilised a large number of people and, given the good reception in society, a proposal was submitted to the plenary session of the Elche City Council to begin the process of applying for its declaration. The proposal had the unanimous support of all political groups with municipal representation.
After the official formation of the Association in the same year, it remained at the disposal of the Elche City Council to help in every possible way to obtain the declaration of tourist interest for this festival.
Since then, the Association “Amigos de la Nit de l’Albà” has been giving live news coverage of the Nit de l’Albà on the Internet. The broadcast is made by placing several cameras (webcams) in different points of the city and streaming it for everyone. Connections are made from all five continents, regardless of their time zone.
The Association also joins the celebration of the Nit de l’Albà with the launch of a palm tree, the last one before the Palm of the Virgin.
La Repostería os desea felices fiestas a todo el pueblo de Elche!
Nuestro día favorito sin duda #laNitdeLalbà.
?Jorge Juan 31. ⁰
— La Repostería (@LaReposteriaElx) August 7, 2019