The Aste Nagusia (Big Week) festival of Bilbao is a 9 day event held at the end of August. The festival begins on Saturday when crowds gather at the iconic Arriaga Theatre on the banks of the Nervion River.

Marijaia - Aste Nagusia, Bilbao

Photo: Josu Garro Mezo
Marijaia during the txupinazo
Aste Nagusia, Bilbao

Photo: Josu Garro Mezo
Confetti showers onto the crowd
Basque Dancers at the Bilbao's Aste Nagusia festival

Photo: Bilboko Konpartsak
Traditional Basque dancers
Parade of giants at the Bilbao's Aste Nagusia festival

Photo: Josu Garro Mezo
Parade of the giants
Bacalao al pil pil competition - Aste Nagusia Bilbao

Photo: Bilboko Konpartsak
One of many culinary competitions
Food fight at Aste Nagusia Bilbao

Photo: Bilboko Konpartsak
Food fight of epic proportions

Once a rocket is shot into the sky (known as the txupinazo), the festivals mascot,Marijaia, makes her grand entrance onto the balcony. What follows next is the culmination of events that forms the biggest party of the year.

At Aste Nagusia, Basque culture is celebrated at its fullest. There is traditional Basque music and dancing, as well as Basque rural sports such as wood chopping and stone carrying competitions. The streets are lined with tents offering a wide variety of food and drinks. And for the kids there are parades of giants and theGargantua, who devours the children who enter into his mouth. But don’t worry, inside the Gargantua is a slide and the children exit safely from his posterior.

There are of course bullfights and you can even join in the fun. The bulls are, however, really calves and have their horns padded. So while it isn’t perhaps completely without danger, it is a much safer alternative to the encierro (running of the bulls) in Pamplona.

Marijaia – Protagonist of Aste Nagusia
Marijaia – Protagonist of Aste Nagusia

All of the daily events are followed up by a nightly fireworks competitionthat lights up the city’s sky. Afterwards, there are loads of concerts and even more partying.

The festival comes to an end with a strange twist of fate, when Marijaia is lovingly set ablaze. They say that her hands are raised into the air as a sign of optimism and to symbolize dancing. But maybe its also because she ends up being set on fire. In any case, check out the Aste Nagusia festival in Bilbao and follow Marijaia’s lead. Throw your hands into the air and party like you just don’t care – just skip the burning part.

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