The Angustias Festivals has many different meanings and attractions not only for local people but also for visiting tourist and the newly relocated resident. The Festival lasts for six days and always starts the same way with the Samouco band and Ayamonte’s town band arriving on the ferry from Portugal.
Hundreds of people congregate on the ferry dock and they march into the Plaza Laguna behind the bands. The town hall dignitaries then give a speech and to both the national anthem and the Ayamonte anthem declare the festival open. Then it is off to the fairground where the switching on of the festival lights signals that the partying can truly begin.
The patron Saint of Ayamonte is Nuestra Señora de las Angustias and September 8 is a bank holiday in Ayamonte town. Many people know about the La Angustias festivals and of course the Angustias Church in the centre of town but not everyone knows the story behind the La Angustias sculpture.
The sculpture was found on the night of January 11, 1756 by the Coritos brothers who were fishing in San Bartolomé marshes just off Villa Real de San Antonio, Portugal. They were in Portuguese waters when their boat almost capsized as they hauled in their nets only to find a treasure chest rather than fish. The Portuguese costal authorities were alerted by the struggle that the Spanish sailors were having and approached the boat.
The Coritos brothers would not hand over the find to the Portuguese Costal authorities but invited them to Ayamonte port to witness the opening of what they thought was going to gold or jewels.
When they opened the chest they found the sculpture of what is now known as Nuestra Señora de la Angustias and Jesus. The Portuguese Costal guard reported the find to the authorities and claimed the find for Portugal.
The authorities in Ayamonte claimed as it was Spanish sailors who found the treasure it should stay in Ayamonte. What followed was a debate which ended with Ayamonte agreeing to hand over the sculpture to Portugal in May 1756.
The day set for the handover was like any other May Day in Costa de la Luz but when the sculpture was loaded onto a boat to be handed over, a storm blew in, with winds and waves coming up the Guadiana River making it impossible to handover the sculpture. A new date was set but once again the hand over was thwarted when another storm blew in. Finally on the third attempt when yet another storm made the hand over impossible, the Portuguese authorities gave in to the pleas of the people of Ayamonte who said the sculpture did not want to leave Ayamonte, and agreed to leave the sculpture in Spain.
To this day many Portuguese people come to Ayamonte to see the Angustias sculpture and it was a Portuguese sculptor José da Silva who restored the sculpture when it was badly damaged in 1936.
Like all Spanish festival both eating, drinking and partying seem to blur into to one as the hours and days of the festival go by but there is one part of the festival that is a must for anyone trying to get the real sense behind Las Angustias Festival and that is the Offering of flowers ( Ofrenda de flores) to the Virgin on the Eve of Angustias (September 7th).
From 8 pm onwards all the local people start to meet in their nearest square whether it be Plaza San Francisco, Plaza Cornacion or Plaza España, they make their way to the Angustias church. It is not uncommon to see three generations of the same family dressed in similar pay homage to the Virgin. The streets are literally alive, there is a buzz around the town and the whole atmosphere is electric its yet another of those moments that you have to be here to understand it.
A full program is posted on the events guide nearer the start of the festival, including bands, concerts, competitions, bullfights, exhibitions and firework displays.