The Rose of Saffron Festival is celebrated each year on the last complete week-end in October coinciding with the harvest of the flowers.
The thought of paella, that most distinctly Spanish cooking tradition, conjures appetizing visions of gold tinted rice. What gives Spain’s most famous rice get its unique color? Its special ingredient, Saffron.
Saffron is a spice that comes from the dry stamens of the rose of saffron, a plant that has been grown since antiquity in India, Iran, and around the Mediterranean. The unique spice gives dishes an unmistakable flavor and a bright yellow color. Spain is one of the main producers of saffron, which is also known as “red gold” given the high price of the spice (prices have been known to reach up to 3,000 € per kilo) and its bright red color. About 250,000 flowers are needed to produce one kilo of saffron.
In Spain, the rose of saffron is grown almost exclusively in the Castilla La Mancha region, where the climate and soil conditions optimally favor the growth of the plant.
Consuegra is a town located in the southern part of the province of Toledo, near the border of the province of Ciudad Real, and while it may not be the biggest producer of red gold, it does put on an exciting celebration in honor of the spice: La Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafrán (The Rose of Saffron Festival).
With a rich history dating back to Roman times, Consuegra has many attractions besides the Rose of Saffron Festival, including an 11th century castle, beautiful renaissance style buildings such as the town hall, and perfectly preserved windmills. Some of these continue to mill grain, including Molino Sancho (the windmills are named after 16th century Cervantes’ characters). These were supposedly the very windmills that inspired Miguel de Cervantes to pen Don Quijote’s famous adventure in which Quijote dramatically confronts the windmills believing them to be threatening giants.
The Rose of Saffron Festival is celebrated each year on the last complete week-end in October (this year it will take place on the 25th, 26th, and the 27th, coinciding with the harvest of the flowers).
Celebrated since 1963, the festival is a reflection of the La Mancha area’s unique popular customs including its cooking and folkloric traditions. It has been officially declared by the Spanish government as a Fiesta of Tourist Interest.
A festival queen, known as La Dulcinea, is selected on the first day of festivities and crowned in a formal ceremony complete with attendants in traditional attire (men wear a cape and ladies wear a shawl). The Dulcinea reigns throughout the festivities and she passes her crown off to the next queen the following year.
The festival focuses more on traditions than on modernity, where petanca tournaments are played and a saffron peeling contest is held in which kids and adults compete to see who can extract saffron from the flower the fastest. An agricultural fair is also held along with handcraft exhibits and markets. Visitors can also get a taste of traditional music and dancing from La Mancha, in which performers wear the classic consuegrero outfit.
Another curious feature of the festival is the Molienda de la Paz event, when cosaburenses (the name for Consuegra residents) make their way to the Molino Sancho to mill wheat that will be handed out equally in a cloth bag to all who attend the event, as a symbol of unity.
Interestingly, there is also a 1930 zarzuela (a type of Spanish opera) entitled La rosa del azafrán, which is an adaptation of the Lope de Vega comedy El perro del hortelano. Music for the performance was written by Jacinto Guerrero and some of the pieces, such as Coro de las espigadores, are included among the genre’s most popular titles.