The myth of the Roldán Gap in the Aragonese Pyrenees, the Camino de Santiago, the legends of Salamanca and Toledo, the mysteries of the Alhambra… magical Spain is a stimulating space for the imagination, anthropology and literature. Millennia of history in a territory through which many peoples have passed form a rich substratum for the curious gaze and it is in this abundant legacy that the sixth edition of the International Ocultura Meeting will immerse itself. Zaragoza will once again host the event for the third time, from 9 to 12 November, focusing on this occasion on a magical Spain to which the aim is to give “a seal of quality”.
“I believe that we are giving a seal of quality to what magical Spain is, we are not just focusing on superstition or folklore, but we are giving a literary and anthropological patina to this phenomenon”, says the writer, winner of the Planeta prize and organiser of Ocultura, Javier Sierra.
Sierra himself will participate, as well as being the master of ceremonies, as a speaker at a meeting that will include two other Planeta prize winners: the author of the Baztan Trilogy, Dolores Navarro, and the creator of ‘In Search of the Unicorn’, Juan Eslava Galán. There will also be various experts who will travel around Spain amidst legends, places of power and magical objectives such as the Holy Shroud or Solomon’s Table.
The figure of Juan García Atienza, in the centre
“This edition of Ocultura aims to pay tribute to this peculiar literary genre, so much our own, so little valued, perhaps, by the intelligentsia or by the history of literature, but which I believe deserves to have its place”, Sierra points out.
In fact, this edition will also serve to pay tribute to the figure of the philologist and filmmaker Juan García Atienza, author of the guides to magical Spain from 1981 onwards. “The congress, in general, is a tribute to Juan García Atienza and his guides to magical Spain; but we also wanted to remember that behind many of these mythical and legendary constructions there is a lot of literature,” Sierra emphasises.
For, as the organiser of the meeting says, “each new writer who comes across one of these miraculous, supernatural, extraordinary stories from our past reinvents it and adds something new to it”.
The Planeta prize-winning writer and organiser of Ocultura, Javier Sierra.
Each day of Ocultura will be opened by a Walk through Magic Spain. With them, these special corners of the country’s geography will be visited, and will continue with various interventions on topics such as cursed villages, the Camino de Santiago or the Spanish heterodox, among others.
Aragon will also have its own space, which will be represented by the Salto de Roldán and a documentary, yet to be released, which will be screened at the congress and will be presented by the anthropologist Ángel Gari.
Magical Aragon will also have its place
“Aragon has contributed a great deal to this legendary heritage”, says Sierra about a territory that has contributed “from its complex orography”, with the Pyrenees separating it from the rest of the continent. “The Aragonese custodians of these geographical areas invented all kinds of stories to justify these accidents”, he adds.
Precisely, for the writer, one of the most striking is the Roldán gap, although he cites others such as the mallos de Riglos or the rock of the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña. In short, in Aragon there are “many places that are accompanied by legend”.
During the four days of the meeting, not only will the speakers who have travelled to Zaragoza take part, but there will also be a total of more than fifty experts, who will give their point of view and preferences on the magical Spain that is the focus of the congress.
“The challenge posed by this edition of Ocultura is that, if we were talking about magical Spain, somehow that magical Spain had to show itself to the audience and a few speakers would not cover the whole spectrum. We have asked only authors of books about magical Spain, some of them local, who do not leave their province, to send us a statement, some information, highlighting some aspect of their territory,” he explains.
An edition that will leave a legacy
But this will not be the only contribution of all these experts, as this edition of Ocultura will seek to create a decalogue to identify magical places. “I think this is going to be the legacy that the meeting will leave behind,” Sierra stresses.
For months, the 56 signatory authors have worked collaboratively to produce a text that will be presented at the congress. “It is the first time that something of this kind has been done”, says the organiser about a decalogue that is “very easy to understand, in which for the first time very specific, very clear guidelines are given about what a territory must have to be considered, in inverted commas, magical”.
This will be the third edition of Ocultura to be held in Zaragoza, after the first three editions held in León. As Sierra points out, the organisers make a “very positive” reading of the two events previously held in the Aragonese capital.
“Zaragoza has welcomed us very well; above all, it allows us to handle lecturers and speakers from many different parts of the world who meet in the city and it is a space that invites dialogue”, he points out.
But, returning to that magical Spain, all that remains is to ask Sierra himself which is his favourite space. A compromising question that, nevertheless, he does not avoid: “My favourite spot would be the trans-Pyrenean road”, he says. “Just as in the United States they have created a whole industry around Route 66, I still can’t explain to myself how the Trans-Pyrenees has not become our own Route 66″, he says of this route that runs through the Pyrenees.
It crosses a lot of historic and prehistoric places and many towns that have great heritage and history to offer to those who travel it, but nobody has systematised it,” he complains, “probably because of this Spanish thing that we put borders everywhere and everyone goes their own way”.
A situation on which he concludes: “When we realise that there are things that transcend the border and serve as a cohesive element, we will give this trans-Pyrenean road, so peculiar and sometimes so difficult to travel, the value it deserves”.