Ode to the spirit of Marijaia
Bilbao celebrates its Big Week in August, and it does so in style. Get ready to experience a long, memorable, festive week. Gora Marijaia!
Every year, on the first Saturday after 15 August, Marijaia comes to Bilbao for the beginning of Aste Nagusia, the city’s Big Week. Celebrations last nine days, filled with music, theatre, cookouts, traditions and fireworks. All this and much more is what you will find in Bilbao during Aste Nagusia.
Marijaia paves the way for the festival’s ambassadors: krewes (konpartsak). They have a party programme and txosnas (fair stalls). Most of them are on the banks of the Ría (river estuary) and the Casco Viejo (Old Town). There is live music, dance, drag queen performances and, of course, lots of laughter, day and night.
Pinpilinpauxa is the krewe that supports the gay liberation movement in Euskadi. Their txosna stages non-stop shows that everybody wants to watch from the front lines.
Open-minded and friendly
Bizkaia likes you just the way you are; here you are free to be yourself
We say hello to Marijaia at the party she throws at the Teatro Arriaga square, and we bid her farewell nine days later, burning our most iconic character in the Ría, across the Town Hall.
Bilbao’s biggest party kicks off with the txupinazo (firecrackers). The pregonero (the herald who delivers the opening speech), the txupinera (the person who launches the firecrackers announcing the beginning of the festivities) and the city councillors officially inaugurate the celebrations. And, of course, Marijaia is there too. A large crowd waits at the square, ready for their nine-day party.
Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia is an open-minded festival, inviting everyone to join the party. Intolerance is out of the question. The krewes, local people and out-of-towners participate in the huge street party. The programme of activities includes canoe rides, bokata contests, road runs and the super fun singing contest Bilbo Kantari. The only requirement to take part in these activities is leaving shyness at home.
Aste Nagusia also stages concerts, most of them for free. The main stages are in Abandoibarra (Guggenheim Museum esplanade), the Casco Viejo, Europa Park, Kafe Antzokia and, of course, the txosnas. In addition, there are interesting shows on at the Arriaga and the Campos Elíseos Theatres, and the Euskalduna Concert Hall.
If you are a circus-goer, the Etxebarria Park hosts circus acts and fair attractions. Besides, the park is the site where the spectacular fireworks are set off every night, adding noise, light and colour to the party. The firework show can be watched from the Arriaga Theatre square, Paseo de Uribitarte or Kobetamendi.
The krewe of freedom
Since it was established in 1978, Pinpilinpauxa has advocated sexual freedom. Their parties and shows symbolically stage their philosophy.
Every year, about thirty krewes paint Aste Nagusia in bright, joyful colours. Each krewe has a distinct image, programme and txosna. One of the new additions for 2018 is that all Bilboko Konpartsak will have to learn sing language to convey their messages.
Pinpilinpauxa’s logo is a smoking yellow butterfly. In fact, pinpilinpauxa is the Basque word for ‘butterfly’. Champagne has been another symbol of the krewe, which has been in the party spirit since the first Aste Nagusia, held in 1978.
On your walk by the txosnas, you will easily identify Pinpilinpauxa. The atmosphere is amazing: music and fun, drag queens, celebrities like the Txirenitas or the Fellinis… Spoiler alert: you will end up covered in glitter!
How To Get ThereEven when Aste Nagusia celebrations take place everywhere in town, the Casco Viejo and the Ensanche are the most popular areas. During the nine days of Aste Nagusia, Bilbao is more crowded than ever, so the best thing you can do is park your car to get around on foot or by underground, tram or bus. Night transport is available during the whole week.
Where to eat
Bilbao is a heaven for foodies. It has taverns, traditional restaurants and bars piled high with top-ranked pintxos. There are also upscale dining restaurants whose menus are based on contemporary Basque cuisine. And finally, you can book a table at a Michelin-star restaurant for a meal to remember.
However, the best way to enjoy the party is eating what they prepare at the street markets and cookouts. The Arrain Fish Festival organised by Bilboko Konpartsak has a tempting menu including baby squid, cod, marmitako (tuna fish stew), grilled tuna… Gora Marijaia!