Visiting friends were recently treated to a real spectacle when they came to stay with us in Istria – the Oprtalj Festival of Fire, on Sunday 23rd June. This is apparently a very old tradition, which is being revived in this beautiful town – on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist, fires are traditionally lit, to celebrate the harvest and the beginning of summer. And so, off we headed to experience this festival, not really knowing what we’d encounter.
Oprtalj is an ancient town – the main square sits in front of the old city walls, next to the gorgeous coral pink loggia, with stunning views across the Istrian hills and vineyards, with a shimmering slice of the Adriatic in the distance. Our favourite restaurant is located on this square, so we ate as we watched the set up happening.
As dusk started to fall, torches were lit and children toasted bread on sticks around the braziers. Two very talented guys – one with an acoustic guitar and the other with accordian – entertained the growing crowds with some excellent music. The whole town was involved in the festival, and even though there aren’t that many business currently (although there is definitely a resurgence happening), those there were doing their bit.
The arrival of the fire dancer signalled that proceedings were about to heat up. As he wove his way up through the arch and up into the cobbled streets of the old town, we were greeted by a wonderful sight – decorated glass jars lined each side of the street, and inside, candles twinkled. It looked utterly magical!
Right at the top of the town, in the square in front of the church, a huge fire was already ablaze – and we’re not quite sure where everyone had come from, but the place was packed! It was an amazing spectacle – very primeval and very beautiful…
We’ve always known that Oprtalj is a pretty special place – but it made it even more special to be able to share this festival experience with visiting friends. Maybe not quite on the scale of Glastonbury, but a whole lot better. In our opinion 🙂