El Rocío is a very unusual town in the Andalusian region of southern Spain where the streets are wide, sandy, and unpaved, and hitching posts are provided in front of every home, hotel, and restaurant to tie up your horse(s). This quaint town in the center of Spain’s (and Europe’s) largest natural reserve, Doñana, is renown not only for its unusual buildings and streets but as the destination of the annual pilgrimage that takes place each year in June.
This assemblage of horse riders and carriages was right outside the cafe where we ate dinner. But this was just a weekend warm-up before the mega-festivities that begin in June during the Pilgrimage. Up to a million riders and walkers from near and far congregate here on the first Sunday of Pentecost.
The street in front of the Hermitage church, home of a much venerated wooden statue of “la Virgen del Rocío” would probably be a plaza in a different city, but during the Pilgrimage, all the riders and horse carriages need plenty of room to assemble. After paying tribute to the Virgin, groups will assemble in the various cafes and houses to eat, sing, and celebrate the season.
Part of the crowd assembled before the Hermitage as they carry the wooden state of the Virgin into the church. Photo from spainsavvy.com
Side streets are lined with row houses, all painted white with gold trim, and having the requisite posts out front for securing the horses. Each of the houses here bears a plaque or wall carving indicating its owners, the various Brotherhoods or religious confraternities. They serve as the headquarters for each of the primary pilgrim groups that come from nearby cities and town; many of these Hernandads or brotherhoods date to the 1600s when the first pilgrimages were made.
Even our hotel was constructed in keeping with the style of the rest of El Rocío’s white buildings.
A boardwalk on the edge of the large lagoon (Charco de la Boca) on the south side of El Rocío made a scenic spot for a sunset stroll and an excellent birding site in the morning to observe many different kinds of wading birds.