Decorating the streets of your town with floral carpets for Corpus Christi isn’t exclusive to La Orotava in the north of Tenerife, there are lots of towns and cities across Europe who follow that tradition. And La Orotava wasn’t the first. The ladies of Casa de Monteverde, with the help of their valet, may have started the tradition way back in 1846 but there were Italian towns laying flower carpets nearly a century earlier.
La Orotava’s flower carpets might just be the best, especially considering the centrepiece of the colourful display is a huge and incredible work of art created entirely using sand and soil from Teide National Park.
Every year Corpus Christi in a La Orotava draws tens of thousands of visitors. To see the best of the carpets, it helps to know how the whole thing works.
It’s all about Flowers
We usually always arrive around 11.30am. At this point, although the main sand tapestry is complete, most of the flower carpets in the surrounding streets are just about to be created. The first sense to be assaulted is smell. Crates of flower petals and sacks of seeds and moss lie piled up beside each plot. There is a distinctively heady aroma to Corpus Christi in La Orotava.
The content of most of the 30 or so carpets that make up the floral carpet route is pretty much unidentifiable at this point. However, ‘blueprints’ in the hands of the alfombristas (carpet-makers) or lying in crates of flowers show what the end result should look like.
The idea is to follow a route around the alfombras (carpets) to watch them coming together. The route is one way to avoid chaos. But there are always some people who like to swim against the tide. Thankfully most folk are quick on the uptake and can spot the pattern of crowd movement as well as the ones taking shape on the cobbles. Alfombras need to be quite supple to get into positions to create the most intricate of designs.
It’s a Family Affair
One of the most heart-warming aspects of Corpus Christi in La Orotava is to see how much every member of the family is involved, from the youngest toddler upwards. It takes hours for a carpet to take shape so you think the smallest children would get bored. But in years of going to the carpets I can’t remember hearing any child complain.
Flowers on Flowers
The Sand Tapestry
As the route reaches the Town Hall, it’s essential to make a detour to the balconies on the Ayuntamiento building’s first floor if you want to get the classic sand tapestry shot. Generally you have to wait your turn. But it isn’t usually too long, even at busy periods, as there are time restrictions. It’s worth the wait for the views of the tapestry. This year’s (2013) wasn’t the best we’ve seen by a long shot. But the detail in the artwork still astounds.
Busy and Bustling
Between midday and two-ish, the narrow streets are at their busiest and progress around the route is slow. La Orotava can become quite claustrophobic during these two hours so we take some time out to escape the crowds.
There are plenty of places to ‘refuel’ in the streets around the carpets, including stalls, bars, cafés and restaurants. The almendras garrapiñadas (sugared almonds) at this stall were so fresh, they scalded the mouth. You can’t pass two hours with a poke of almonds, so a stop in a tapas bar specialising in Serrano ham followed by an ice cream helped pass the time till the crowds thinned.
Hey Presto, We Have Flower Carpets
Taking time out serves two purposes. Once 2pm comes and goes, many locals leave for lunch and a siesta whilst a lot of visitors from other parts of the island head for home. Ironically, this is the best time to see the carpets as many of the better ones are only just nearing completion. This one below Iglesia de la Concepción by the Librero Valencia alfombristas is always one of the most elaborate carpets… and always one of the last to be completed.
Where it all Began
Synchronised Carpet Making
A Favourite View
One of our favourite spots to look over the carpets is from the apex of two streets near the Casa de los Balcones. Unfortunately there’s a bit of scaffolding in the way at the moment but normally you get a really good shot from here.
It’s a Religious Event
Get The Message
However, not all carpet designs have a religious theme. Each year there are a few that have a more contemporary message and these are often the most powerful and poignant carpets on display. It’s worth taking time to absorb the whole scene and what it depicts.
Blowing in the Wind
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+