ROYAL FAIR IN AUGUST 1.THE ROYAL FAIR IN AUGUST. HISTORICAL INTRODUCCION

1.1.  Origin

In 1998, the Antequera’s Royal Fair in August celebrated its 250th anniversary. Since then, this event has suffered many changes; even the very own word “fair” has lost its first meaning. The direct antecedent lies in the annual meetings between merchants and money-changer, which were almost always promoted by the very own Crown through the awarding of a series of tax privileges in order to achieve the economic revival in certain region. The concept ended up relating that of “Festivity”, after having been associated with all kinds of popular entertainments and shows which, finally and after a long coexistence up to nowadays, have prevailed. Thus, what originally was a trade and stockbreeder marker turned into a social event that evolves with the times.

In 1748, the king Fernando VI, at the request of the Antequera Council, awarded, for a 10 year period, the privilege of celebrating an annual fair between the 20th and 23rd of August, although only the first day was tax-exempt. It might sound strange that the Fair was awarded so late, because due to the geographical location and trade tradition –goods distribution center-, it would seem logical that Antequera had a fair long before. However, the permanent tax regimen enjoyed by the population – exemption from paying the alcabala  (duty paid on good exchange) or the famous weekly agricultural and livestock market held every Monday from the beginning of XVI century at the Plaza Alta could have been the reasons not to raise, to our knowledge, the need of establishing an annual fair. The truth is that, during more than two centuries, artisans and traders went to sell their products to the fairs of Ronda, Écija, Jerez, Villamartín, Coín and Olvera. Thus, the origin of the Fair in August must lay in other causes; perhaps just as another one of the series of privileges given to the Wool Factory in order to achieve a better marketing of its manufactured goods –woolen clothes- which were squeezed by foreign competition, by the weakness of the supplying market and by the very own structural deficiencies of the craftwork local market. However, what was thought to increase the local wool market  came to include, practically in the same year of its creation, the rest of business activities. In particular the livestock dealing, linen, leather, shoe and silver goods. In this sense, the Fair in August was the natural and direct heir of the above-mentioned weekly market, which was about to disappear at that time. In 1767, it started a recovering period. The fair was settled on the “royal” grounds, located on both sides of the Puerta de Estepa (Estepa Door) -which was renovated last summer 1998-, between what currently is the beginning of the Paseo (park avenue) and the Alameda street until the Estepa street. For four days at year, the traders, artisans and stockbreeders from all Andalucia put their tents there. There were plentiful of haberdashers from Seville and Granada, as well as silversmiths from Cordoba, stockbreeders from the Cordoba land and from the Granada mountains, and all of them, together with the traders from Antequera, made the “offer” of the fair. With regards to the market demand, the nobility, the bourgeoisie and upper classes consumed luxurious products which were not easily  found in the town at normal times. Meanwhile, the drapery market consisted of farmers from nearby areas who, directly or through traders, purchased clothes for the winter when, due to the recent harvest, they still had enough cash. Until 1760, the fair was nonstop held, without significant  incidents. But that very same year the first problems started to emerge: in a bogus meeting held by the Town Council (only four councilors attended to it) it was requested the withdrawal of the fair due to the “serious problems suffered in the fair since it started”. Such a request is difficult to understand unless we bear in mind how reactionary and outdated the Antequera Council was at the time, but the consequences are enough to enlighten us about what happened between that date and 1768, when the decision was revoked after a long and tense municipal meeting. 1768 was a key year for the subsequent fate of the Royal Fair in August. After the two first years of the royal awarding, and after the 1760 controversy, the Council had to decide whether to ratify the withdrawal agreement or request to the Crown the extension of the Fair. The records Minutes of that year clearly show what, without any doubt, was the most controversial matter for the Town Hall in many years. Finally, and after a hard-fought vote –six votes in favor of resuming the fair and four against- the council scribes published the decision…”And after having the scribes done the regulation and checking, it results from the highest number of votes that the town agreement is to inform that the Fair is useful and convenient, in witness thereof…”. Since 1768, and after having overcome the mentioned difficulties, the Council increased the control over the fair: it was forbidden to drive through the groundfair and the points of sales were regulated, while the neighbours were obliged to take care of the “Royal” streets. At this point, it is important to emphasize that it was during these years when the relation between fair and festivity gets closer. In fact, the fair in August became very soon  one of the most important dates of the year (Carnival, Corpus, San Juan, etc.), ,when the strict rules of traditional life were, just for a short time, relaxed. For a society so much used to death, pressured by space –communication difficulties, lack of travelling- and by the society itself –the strong influence of church and religion- it was an obligation to take the opportunity offered by the presence in Antequera of people from all kinds of conditions and origins so to have a feast with the means at their disposal. Thus, it is not surprising that the shows and  entertainments typical of the festivities, such as the tapes, dances, and above all, the bullfights, were related to the fair. In special, the bullfights, which have developed to be in full force. As a feature of modernity, bullfights were not held any more at the Plaza Alta, Plaza San Sebastian or El Coso de San Francisco, as it happened since three centuries ago, but in a bullring made of wood and put up in the Plazuela de Capuchinos where, every day of the fair, several young bulls were fought.  Consequently, in the late of the 18th and early of the 19th centuries, the symbiosis between fair and festivity was sealed. The fair could not be any more understood without masks, dances or bullfights. It was the beginning of a history that has survived until now.

1.2.  19th century: from “fair” to “festivity”

In a natural way, and all long through the 19th century, the Antequera’s Fair in August was losing its character as the point of meeting and exchange of goods to almost exclusively limits its activity to the livestock dealing and to recreational and social relaxation aspects. Since that date, the fair started to share events with other traditional festivities: bullfights in Corpus, Saint Patrons’ day feasts, Carnival dances and masks, besides developing its own entertainments. Slower than the customs, the official attitude to the festivity also changed. Although the Council only took a definitely organizing stance from the last quarter of last century, it is true that it changed its way of intervening: from just announcing edicts to guarantee the payment of municipal rights and trying to keep the public order, it went to be directly interested in the setting up of bullfight shows –the new bullring was inaugurated in 1848-, as well as those related to music and circus. Thus, we could talk about “two” royal fairs in August in the Antequera of the eighteenth century: one during the first half, mainly of livestock and dealers, and the other one in the late of the century which was closer to the current motivations for this kind of celebration. As we have already mentioned, there are proofs that the Antequera Town Hall showed interest in the construction of a fixed bullring at least since 1816. According to a record from the Town Hall dated in 1846, the construction of the bullring would be used to promote  the fair in August, which was already falling into decline. The bullring was inaugurated on the 28th of August 1948 by the bullfighters José Redondo “Chiclanero” and Juan Pastor “Barbero” with bulls from the Picavea livestock. However, it was not until 1875 when the Royal Fair in August came to have the characteristics that have  made it  the great annual festivity of the town, until becoming one of the most important festivities of the Andalucia in the Restoration age, due to both the festivity entertainments and the economic activity created by the livestock fair.

1.3.  20th  century: towards the shaping of the current fair.

In spite of boosting the recreational aspect of the fair, the truth is that through all that period and at least until the Civil War, the livestock market kept being one of the main events of the fair, together with the bullfights. The reason was that the livestock breeding and the agriculture were the source of wealth for this borough and its district. During the 20s, the great event of the livestock market went, little by little, into a crisis due to the development of the automobile and modern machinery, which finally superseded the animal power. The fair changed and its original base and origin, the livestock market, lost its importance to give place to the bullfights and football, which came to be the main attractions. After the painful interval imposed by the Civil War, the fair was again held in 1939. Indeed, in the middle of an awful economic situation, the efforts made by the first pro-Franco town halls to transfer normality to the population directly conflicted with the situation of poverty and hunger that, like the rest of Spain, affected to many of the Antequera’s inhabitants.  The Fair still had the usual elements since the beginning of the century: the livestock markets, the sports and, as a coda to these events, the fireworks. Since the economic situation was getting better, the recreational aspect was also increased: the funfair (cacharros) in the old football stadium, and the circus and others shows at the headquarters’ flat ground (llano del cuartelillo). Likewise, when the restrictions passed by, the lighting became another one of the characteristic elements of the acts programmed by the Town Hall. During the 60s, it came about something similar to what happened at the beginning of the century: the already definitive modernization of the agricultural sector started to bring to the fairs the latest developments related to agricultural technology. However, times were not different just in that aspect. The Franco developmentalist did not mean the political homogenization to overseas, although it indeed meant a social and economic sameness. It was then when it was established the election of the “Queen of the Fair” and also when the sport specialties started to increase, while music was a definitive event in the Fair. All of that until the beginning of the 60s, when the format of big “caseta” was imposed with first class shows. Without doubt, the “Caseta Peña los 20”, besides playing the role of Municipal Caseta –which did not exist until then- was a benchmark for the Fair in August for that decade.