Lunes de Aguas in Salamanca. The Salamanca feast Lunes de Aguas is a curious medieval tradition which is celebrated on each Monday after Easter Sunday.
After the traditionally strict 40 days of Cuaresma (Lent) and the solemn Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) comes Lunes de Aguas (literally: “Water Monday”), which is celebrated on the Monday one week after Easter Sunday in Salamanca, Spain.
The story of Lunes de Aguas is a rather curious story to say the least. This tradition dates back to medieval times during the 16th century and the reign of Carlos I (also known as Carlos V of the Holy Roman Empire). The University of Salamanca was the center of learning in Spain and, by extension, the Holy Roman Empire which controlled almost all of central Europe. To get an idea of how important Salamanca was, there were 8000 students studying in its university at the same time Madrid has a population of 11,000 people.
Considering the relevance of Salamanca at the beginning of the 16th Century, 16 year-old Prince Felipe II decided to marry the Princess Maria Manuela of Portugal in this stately and academic city. When the young prince arrived, the monk-like prince was shocked to discover a city depraved and immoral; a city that was the center of learning (both academic and theological) for an empire was also a city completely enveloped in vice and pleasure.
After celebrating his marriage to his Portuguese princess and witnessing the weeklong celebration held in Salamanca in their honor, young Felipe II could no longer contain his anger and disdain that such a majestic city could fall so low and be so morally lacking. In his anger Felipe issued an edict proclaiming that Salamanca during Lent and Holy Week would be an example for the world in the strict observance of self-denial and repentance. This would be achieved by banishing all of the city’s prostitutes at to the other side of the Tormes River until the Monday after Easter.
For more than 40 days, the women would be confined to the other side of the river, under the watchful eye of a priest, until the Lunes de Aguas. On this Monday, full of expectation and desire, the students of the university would be responsible for the return of the women by finding all of the available boats and decorating them with flowers creating a festive atmosphere. Once reunited on the shore of the river a celebration with food, wine and dancing took place on the river bank with the obligatory swim at the end—giving this festival its name.
In modern-day Salamanca, Lunes de Aguas has nothing to do with its origin. Today this holiday is a day for family and friends to spend an afternoon together and share a picnic anticipating the warmer days of spring that are right around the corner. This local holiday in Salamanca starts, uncommonly, at 3:00 PM. The entire city shuts down and everyone will go to the river bank, park or countryside to enjoy a picnic with a truly Salamancan specialty as its centerpiece: Hornazo. This traditional food of Spain is filled with pork loin, bacon, chorizo as well as lot more, this large empanada (which is only found here) is a staple for this typical celebration found only in Salamanca.
If you find yourself in Salamanca on Lunes de Aguas (or anytime really), be sure to go to a bakery in the morning and get yourself a piece of hornazo to enjoy along the shores of the Tormes later that day. As you enjoy this delicacy, you can close your eyes and imagine how it must have been 500 years ago.