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Logroño CathedralToday is “El Dia de la Rioja” – Rioja Day, celebrated each year on the 11th of June.

The origins of this celebration are both old and new, religious, popular and political. Aren’t all such days?

First, the religious. Technically speaking, 11 June is Saint Barnabas (San Bernabé) Day, most commonly celebrated in Cyprus. San Bernabé, however, is also celebrated in La Rioja, not because the Riojanos have a particular connection to this saint, or to Cyprus for that matter, but because of historical events that happened on this day.

So, to the popular and historical roots. Spain was a rather turbulent place to live in the 15th and 16th Centuries (well, actually it probably always has been). However, in the late 16th Century the French were rather keen on expanding their territory across the mountains and sent an army to take Navarra and on into Logroño. They began a siege on the 25th of May 1521 which lasted 18 days.

According to tradition, the poor people of Rioja had to survive on nothing but bread, fish and WINE. Sounds like a party to me!

In any case, friendly forces from Najera (just an hour up the road on modern transport) came to relieve them and sent the French packing. The date of the liberation was the 11th of June, so lucky St. Barnabas added to his international fame by accident of the religious calendar.

San Barnabé has been celebrated ever since (lots of bread, fish, and, you guessed it, Rioja wine).

And so to the political. Although Rioja is the name used for the wine, including the establishment back in the 1920s of Spain’s first Denominacion de Origen (DO), there was nowhere on the map called “Rioja”. This really started to change in 1977, and in 1978 the first “Dia de La Rioja” was launched to coincide with the celebration of San Bernabé and the survival of Logroño all those centuries before.

2008 is therefore the 30th anniversary of a 487 year-old tradition, and another excuse for a street party.

Anyway, who’s counting?

For more information, click here (and brush up your Spanish)