Barcelona culture: history of Sant Jordi

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On Thursday 23rd April 2020, the city of Barcelona and the Autonomous Community of Catalonia will celebrate Sant Jordi. Otherwise known as Saint George, the Patron Saint of Catalonia has represented Barcelona and the surrounding area for hundreds of years. This dates back to when Catalonia was under the crown of Aragon, this unity led to fellow regions sharing the patronage of Sant Jordi. That is why he is also the Saint for Valencia, the Balearics, Malta, Sicily and Sardinia. The crown of Aragon brought them all together.

sant jordi barcelona

Therefore, the 23rd April is a very important day in the calendar for most of Northern Spain and some parts of Italy. However, the Catalonian tradition is the one that we will focus on for the remainder of this article. A day of romance, it is the Barcelona equivalent of Valentine´s Day. We will discover why it is customary to give your loved one a rose and a book on the day of Sant Jordi in Barcelona.

Rose origins

The story of the rose and its association with Sant Jordi dates back to the 15th Century. According to legend, a town south of Barcelona- believed to be Montblanc, by Tarragona, left terrorised by a dragon for many years. In order to appease the beast, the locals in the town sacrificed two lambs. Then, as they began to run out of lambs, they started to offer a human and a lamb. The person was chosen by random and any family who lost a loved one was paid compensation from the king. After some time, the locals decided that one of the royals should be sacrificed, it was decided that the king´s daughter would be the next sacrifice.

colourful roses barcelona

A knight named Jordi, protected the princess and slayed the dragon. From the blood of the dragon, a single rose sprung from the field below. He presented it to the princess and the King offered to pay the brave knight for saving his daughter. Jordi decided that any money he would recieve should be used in the town by the people who have suffered from the terror of the dragon. He was adored by this and had a church built in his honour. The river that ran next to the church was believed to have sacred water that cured the sick.

Since the start of this legend in medieval times, it has been common practice for men to give their partner a rose as a sign of their love. As time has gone by, there has been more choice in rose colour for the people of Catalonia to gift their loved one. This has led to some interpretation on the nature of a relationship between two people based on the colour of the rose.

Rose colours and their meaning

Red roses are for love
Yellow roses are for friendship
White roses are for innocence
Orange roses are for passion and desire
Pink roses are for happiness

flower stall

Introduction of books

In 1926, this long-term tradition became known also as “El Dia del Llibre” (The Day of the Book). That is because, the 23rd April coincided with the death of two great authors in Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes. They both passed away on 23rd April 1616. Since then, historically it has become accustom to return the favour of a rose, by giving a gentleman a book to read. This idea of love and literature tied together seamlessly. It is still the main attraction on La Diada de Sant Jordi in Barcelona. The idea of book sharing, picked up by UNESCO in 1995, is celebrated globally as World Book Day. Also celebrated on the 23rd April.

books sant jordi

What to expect from Sant Jordi in Barcelona

On this day, you can see plenty of Sant Jordi traditions taking place all over Barcelona, from the city centre to the outskirts. For the main Sant Jordi attraction, we would suggest going to La Rambla. This, the most popular street in Barcelona, is converted into a temporary location for rose stands and bookstalls that are set up for this day only. It is assumed by many that some 6 million roses and 800,000 books are bought for this day. That is around half of Catalonia´s yearly book sales!

roses sant jordi

For public readings, music and dance, you should go to Plaça Sant Jaume. This is where you will find a host of authors reading aloud from Spanish and Catalan literature. Also, this square hosts lots of Sardana dances. This is the national dance of Catalonia. You can recognise it as the locals link hands and dance in a circle, like sardines, where it gets its name. Lastly, for those interested in politics, the Palau de la Genralitat is open on this day. This is the main government building for the community of Catalonia. There are wonderful rose decorations for you to admire as well at this important building.

If you find yourself in Barcelona over the 23rd April, then you simply must attend La Diada de Sant Jordi. This is a cultural experience like no other. Making it ideal to enjoy with that special someone, so get your rose and book at the ready!

Sandra Roig is Marketing Director at AB Apartment Barcelona. AB Apartment Barcelona is an apartment rental agency offering over one thousand short and long term apartments across Barcelona.

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