by Stefanie Claudia Müller

There is a small city in the north of Spain, in Cantabria, that is going against all odds.  The people of Corrales de Buelna not only fought 200 years before Christ like Asterix and Obelix against the romans, they also are a very social and open minded oriented society in a political more conservative and traditional surrounding. Everything seems to be different in the small villages that form the city. They go for tradition, but they also want to go abroad and get to know the world. This is also in part  thanks to the vision of one man.  First of all this patriot wanted to place his hometown in the history books and create a touristic attraction at the same time. But he realized quickly that there was much more about it then that. He just learned during the process, what could be achieved with organizing something together at that scale of a city.

In a way the founder of the “Guerras Cántabras”, Juan Miguel Villamuera, is a Spanish Asterix, even in a more metaphoric way. 17 years ago the by now grandfather looked for an activity that could unite the several independent spots of Corrales and its very different people. He wanted them to be proud of their roots and longed for living more in harmony then they did until then. “When one summer I saw historic spectacles in Cartagena, I realized that we in Cantabria have a lot to tell, since we were the last bastion fighting the roman invasion. I saw it as a chance to build up something big with my people here in Corrales”.

Making peace with war

Villamuera had a vision that went far beyond creating a tourist attraction, something the Spaniards are very good in:  “I wanted to give us more reasons to get together and relate to each other like we did in ancient times, when the social strings were much stronger then they are now in our modern times where everyone hides behind his smart phone”, says the Spaniard. But when Villamuera started to put into practice his idea, it was not easy to convince the 11 000 inhabitants to work together as volunteers in oder to set up a historical remake of the “Guerra Cántabras” (The Cantabrian Wars) – an event that took place in the year 19 before Christ. The “festeros” (the party members) also set up a camp with roman legions and cantabrian tribes. In the end the bloody fight becomes more like an entertaining event for everyone.

But in the beginning many were not willing to participate in such a “fantastic” thing and it was also not easy to get the money to start it: “We needed a lot of financing, since we had the ambition to do it in a professional way right from the beginning. We started with a subsidy of 60 000 euros. The rest was paid by us. Of course it was not easy to convince people to do something without a financial return and without knowing the outcome of it”, remembers Villamuera.

But he insisted and together with a strong team he motivated 2000 people to join the project that became bigger with every year and starts to call attention abroad. Besides: more and more inhabitants of Corrales feel related to their roots and are proud to be cantabrian. The budget for the event rounds by now 100 000 euros. 20 000 euros are paid by the “festeros”.
Families realized quickly that it was a more educational then a historical thing to get together at the end of august and celebrate the resistance of their villages against the romans. The organisation of the “Guerras Cántabras” helped to overcome problems with kids like boredom and addiction to technical devices. People that do not see each other throughout the year celebrate the 10 days of “war” as a social happening. With every year the involved families got more united by organizing someting that got everytime bigger and more professional.

The kids and youngster  felt more and more linked to the true story of the brave fight against the romans and its brutal warrior Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa who after years of a very brave defense achieved to defeat the cantabrians. With the years the inhabitans of Corrales de Buelna feel more and more like their ancestors which makes the whole event very authentic and true.

It is for this that it raised a lot of cientific interest about the time in general. But he implication of non-professional actors in a professionally organized play raised interest in arts in general. The region has got now its own Theatre school run by renown professionals. Many kids are suddenly  reading books about their own history which is mainly based con celtic roots. Celtic music lives therefor a real revival. There are several folk bands playing in the event every year.  “This is fantastic. We achieved that this city is not just based on persons looking on their moviles, but really on social and cultural activities”, comments Oscar del Val who is the president of the Association of the “Guerras Cántabricas”. The architect works all year long on the event and enjoys it up to the last minute, always smiling and in party mood.

Breaking free

Every last week in August the city is living this historical war in a very civic, but also very modern way that helps involving also the teenagers. This year they started with Djs and offered entertainment of all kind until late in the night.  Meanwhile legions and tribes are cooking for their guests and everyone learns something. “I am normally working at the university of Santander and I am not the classical house woman. When we have our “Camps” here in August, I learn to cook, to serve and to be patient”, says engineer Olga Torres.  But of course you need to be fascinated about it, otherwise families have a got problem, because in the “Cantabrian war” the acohol is a good friend and people stay awake until early the morning.

Luckily Oscar’s wife Clara Ortega loves the time as well. She enjoys when the whole family is on the “camp” doing something for their legion or tribe. Even her two daughters that work and study already are involved in this period of the year. “Many people sacrifiy their vaccation with their family to be here”, says del Val with certain pride. “Guerras cántabras” seem to produce “buen rollo”, which means a relaxed and entertaining atmosphere where everyone enjoys the atmosphere ,it does not matter if the person is 3 or 8o years old. The grandmothers sew the dresses and the kids are up to midnight every day to enjoy the roman or cantabrian way of living.

Villamuera‘s social and historical project probably is not transferible that easy to any other city in Spain. Corrales de Buelna has got a large left wing tradition and therefore a strong social awareness which helps to make things working.

The mayor of Corrales Josefina Gónzalez cooks and serves in the Camp like anyone else. Her daughter has got one of the main roles in the theatre play: “These are the best days of the year. Everthing seems to be just perfect”. But Gónzalez is also lucky, her party PSOE has a quite easy stand here.  Her husband Jaime Lamarca is from the Basque country, but he is involved and happy to help like anyone else here: “It is just a very special entertainment that helps us to advance as a city”, he says.

Like the Basque country Corrales de Buelna has a strong entrepreneurial foundation and counts since a long time on a very good school system represented for instance by the “Colegio La Salle” that introduced the dual professional training system, not exactly like in Germany, but similar.

Thanks to the industrial background of Corrales de Buelna where many compenents of the automotive sector are produced and a Nissan factory is situated, the unemployment is low and the academic level of the inhabitants is high. The university of Santander is known for its very international engineering faculty. The people from the villages Somahoz, Barros, Cóo, San Mateo and Las Caldas de Besaya that belong to Corrales are probably more tolerant and open minded then elsewhere thanks to the knowledge and investment of José María Quijan and his company Trefilerías Quijano that gave the region a longterm prosperty and a very social and cultural attitude. Corrales is probably in very small version what the ex-president of Uruguay José Mujica was thinking of when he talked about creating a different world:

Creating strong roots

Villamuera wanted to give the region something additional to their professional fortune: a cultural event that would bring them all together and make life in the region even more sustainable. 17 years after the start of the “Guerras Cantabras” the show is evaluated as one of the most authentic historical spectacles in Europe and for sure the most socially balanced one. The visitors pay nothing, everthing is paid by the organisation “Guerras Cántabras” and its 1500 members – no entrance fee at all. It fits perfectly in a surrounding where a family pays 400 euros for a rent and the neighbours share fruits and vegetable like in ancient in times: “We have the feeling we adavanced with the years”, says Ortega. Villamuera’s granddaughter Claudia is the best example how the new generation takes it over: “Will I be on TV?”, she asks without any fear. She is dressed this time as beautiful roman girl and wants to be taken in account. But in the end she is especially proud of her grandfather: “He created all this”, she smiles into the camera.

Who went to see the “Guerras Cántabras” wants to tell everybody he should go, too. I went there and I tell you: Please go and see it next year. Like some French people I met during these days in the “Guerras Cántabras” you will be very surprised about the perfect setting: “Everything is so peaceful here and we are amazed about the high quality of the spectacle and that everything is for free. In France we even have to pay sometimes to go to a toilet”. Let us hope that with the fame that Corrales de Buelna without any doubt will obtain in the years to come the spirit of the people will not change: Together everybody achieves more.