A little bit of Tamborrada history
Its origins date back at the time of the Independence war around 1813, when Napoleon's troops invaded San Sebastian. During the French occupation, women used to go to collect water to one of the two fountains of the city. At the same time, it was normal to see Napoleon's troops going through the city playing their drums. Nobody knows where the idea came from, but suddenly women began to play music with their jugs on the way to the fountains to mock soldiers by aping their daily procession. As the time passed, this defiant sign kept growing up, as well as, its meaning among San Sebastian’s inhabitants.
Later on, the procession also heralded the ox run event, held on the same day. At this stage, the members of the procession dressed in everyday clothes, as they had not adopted uniforms yet. The procession further developed when barrels began to be used as drums and unused military outfits discovered in the San Telmo headquarters, were donated to the council. They were given to the Unión Artesana Club (the oldest in existence) to be used in the festival. Other sociedades gastronómicas ("gourmet clubs") joined the Unión Artesana in following years, thus expanding the festival attendance.
The event was cancelled in 1902 and was revived in 1906, but remained the same way even up to the years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which banned carnival nationwide, but maintained the two iconic festivals of the city, the Tamborrada and the Caldereros. To ensure the continuity of the city's traditions the first children's Tamborrada was held in 1962, and has now become a permanent part of the festivities.
The festival nowadays
There are over 125 clubs and organizations that take part in this the event. On one hand, gastronomy societies are partly responsible for the success of this event. These companies set up a lot of music bands and for this reason, many people involved in the Tamborrada are dressed as a cook. Other typical clothes are the soldier´s uniform and the traditional Basque clothing for women.
Tamborrada has become the main festival of San Sebastian, however it is much more than that. It is a celebration of what it means to be a donostiarra (the people of San Sebastian as they are called in Basque) and it is a way for citizens to connect with their identity. The celebration also represents the overcoming of a tragedy and the union of citizens in pursuit of happiness. All this is demonstrated in the "march of San Sebastian", a song that sounds often during the festival.
The gastronomic society Gaztelubide has been responsible for decades of having the privilege of opening the festival with drums at twelve o'clock while the mayor raises the flag of the city and all attendees sing the “march of San Sebastian”.
There are approximately 100 companies participating each year going through the streets playing in turns, pieces written by the composer Raimundo Sarriegi. Participants can only play 12 pieces written mostly by Sarriegi, of which six are compulsory and the other rest, each company decides whether to include them in their repertoire or not.
In all neighbourhoods drums and barrels are heard during 24 hours nonstop. There are parades that begin in the early morning, others in the afternoon. They usually start at gastronomy clubs and cultural societies headquarters and pass by nearby streets stopping from time to time to sing the “march de San Sebastián”.
The gold drum
Every year in the city council, a natural or legal persons is granted due to his contribution to the consolidation of a positive image and promotion of the city. The first award was presented in 1967.
How to live the festival
The festival is lived on the street. You don’t have to belong to any neighbourhood or society to enjoy and be part of it, in fact most citizens don’t belong to any one. During the night from 19th to 20th January and all the day after, streets of every neighbourhood are full, not only by locals but also by tourists who come to live La Tamborrada. You won’t need any brochure with indications about every parade taking place in the city, only your hearing will be necessary to follow the sound of drums in the city. To enjoy the gastronomy, you can go to any of the numerous pintxos bars located around the city. Members usually meet in different gastronomy and cultural clubs (to which you cannot enter if you are not invited by a member). If you are decided live intensely the festival as a donotiarra more, don’t miss to take a txakoli or cider glass with some pintxos while seeing the superb tamborradas parades.
Across Spain offers packages of La Tamborrada festival , as well as gastronomy packages in San Sebastian in combined with other cities.
*pictures source: San Sebastián tourism office