Celebrations in honour of the Virgen del Carmen on the Costa del Sol are a key part of the summer event calendar. The patron saint of fishermen and sailors is revered everywhere on the coast and the three-day fiestas in her honour are well worth catching if you’re in the area. In this guide, we explain what the celebrations consist of and the best places to see Virgen del Carmen processions on the Costa del Sol.
Who is the Virgen del Carmen?
Let’s start with the basics. She’s the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, and her saint’s day is 16 July. She’s also known as the ‘Estrella de los Mares” (Star of the Seas).
Her statute tends to be smaller than other virgins, she has a star behind her head and always carries Jesus as a young child. She’s revered along the Spanish coastline and many localities up and down the Mediterranean celebrate her special day in July.
You can see her in many churches. For example, in Santa Fe de los Boliches in Fuengirola, El Salvador in Nerja and the chapel at the end of the pier in Puerto Banús in Marbella. And there are many statutes of the Virgen del Carmen on seafront promenades up and down the Costa del Sol.
What are the celebrations for?
As the patron saint of fishermen, key in the Costa del Sol’s history, the Virgen del Carmen forms part of the area’s traditional fiestas. Every day on 16 July, the men of the sea and their families pay homage to those who have lost their lives in the water and ask for protection over the coming year.
What are the celebrations for the Virgen del Carmen on the Costa del Sol?
Celebrations usually spread over three days and start on 15 July with floral offerings to the statue. Many churches hold special masses as well.
16 July is the big day in the calendar and the focal point for most Virgen del Carmen processions. These usually take place on land and in the sea and typically start at the church housing the statue. They then make their way down to the beach or fishing post. Once at the water, the statue is carried through the water or placed in a traditional fishing boat (usually a jabega long boat). She then parades along the shore, accompanied by a flotilla of boats and yachts.
On her return, the procession retraces its route back to the church. If the procession takes place at night, fireworks often accompany the returning procession.
The procession consists of a float carrying the statue and it’s usually elaborated decorated and covered in flowers. The bearers wear traditional marengo costume, black trousers, white shirt, red cumberband and espadrilles. Fishermen and their families and locals follow the procession along with a marching band.
The video below of the Virgen del Carmen processions in Los Boliches (Fuengirola) gives you a good idea of what a procession looks like.
Where can I see celebrations for the Virgen del Carmen on the Costa del Sol?
Almost all resorts celebrate the Virgen del Carmen on 16 July, but the main processions take place in:
Los Boliches Fuengirola
This neighbourhood to the east of Fuengirola holds one of the biggest celebrations and even takes the day off. As a result, 16 July is a local holiday in Fuengirola (Monday 17 July in 2023 because the 16th falls on a Sunday).
The Virgen del Carmen leaves her church in Santa Fe de los Boliches in the early evening. When she reaches the beach at around 10pm, she’s carried on shoulders through the water along the shore and back. Look out for a great firework show on her way back to the church.
The capital of the Costa del Sol has several traditional fishing districts and all celebrate the Virgen del Carmen. For example:
- El Perchel, the area near the mainline train station. The procession leaves the main church (Nuestra Señora del Carmen) early in the morning on 16 July and makes its way to the Port (near the Pergola) where it moves onto boats. This is the biggest Virgen del Carmen procession in Malaga.
- Pedregalejo, to the east of Malaga city centre, from the Corpus Cristi church to the beach.
- El Palo, slightly further east of Malaga city centre, from El Palo Church to the beach.
- Huelin, to the west of Malaga city centre, from San Patricio Church to the western seafront.
The statue of the Virgen del Carmen leaves her home in El Salvador Church on Balcón de Europa in the early evening on 16 July. The parades moves down to Torrecilla beach where the statue is placed on a boat and the flotilla sails to Calahonda beach from where it returns to the Church.
Did you know?
- 16 July is also the saint’s day for the many women called Carmen in Spain.
- When the statue is carried to the waiting boats, the carriers sing the Salve Marinera in her honour.
- Passersby often shower the Virgen del Carmen in rose petals and shout “¡Viva la Virgen del Carmen!” and “¡Guapa!” (beautiful) as she goes by.
- It’s traditional to end the celebrations with singing and dancing and/or grilled sardine shewers (espeto de sardinas) on the beach.
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