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Sant Jordi in Barcelona

The famous legend about Saint George presents him as the heroic soldier and knight who fought the dragon that lived in a lake and had a whole city in Libya terrified. The animal demanded two lambs to eat every day, in order to not approach the city. Eventually, the farmers began to run out of sheep, and decided to feed the beast a person instead, to be chosen through a daily lottery.  One day, the King’s daughter “won” the lottery, but just as the beast was about to eat her, Saint George intervened and saved her. Because of this act, Saint George is the Patron Saint of Chivalry. The Legend of Saint George was written in the 13th century by Jacopo della Voragine in his celebrated work “The Golden Legend”.

Centuries ago, in the Middle Ages, the nobility organized jousting tournaments in the Born neighbourhood, in the centre of the Catalan capital. During these contests, young ladies were presented with gifts of roses and other flowers.

The concurrence of World Book Day and the Festival of Saint George is no accident. The first Book Day was celebrated on October 7th 1926, in commemoration of the birth of Miguel de Cervantes. The writer and editor Vicente Clavel Andrés, a native of Valencia living in Barcelona, proposed the idea to the Official Chamber of Booksellers and Publishers of Barcelona. On February 6th 1926, the Spanish government accepted the proposal and King Alfonso XIII signed the royal decree that formally established “Spanish Book Day.” In 1930, the date was changed to April 23rd to commemorate the anniversary of Cervantes’ death. Of course Miguel de Cervantes had very much to do with Barcelona; it was the city to which he offered tremendous praise in his masterpiece “Don Quijote de la Mancha” and in which the protagonist visited a printing press. In 1995, UNESCO established April 23rd as World Book and Copyright Day. Approximately 80 nations world-wide celebrate World Book Day on or around this date, although Great Britain and Ireland hold the festival on the 14th of March. We must not forget that April 23rd also marks the death of the great Catalan writer Josep Pla as well as that of the masterful English playwright William Shakespeare, who died in 1616.

The people of Barcelona still maintain the tradition of giving a rose to their loved ones or friends, relatives and colleagues during the traditional celebration, Diada de Sant Jordi, which is held throughout Catalonia on 23rd April every year.

The event attracts large crowds and is even more colorful in Barcelona, particularly on La Rambla. The famous boulevard which stretches down to the port is packed with stalls selling books and flowers from the early hours of the morning. People soon flock there to take a stroll and fulfill the tradition: men give the ladies a rose and ladies give the men a book. Is the day when bookshop owners and publishers report their highest sales, and it gives readers a unique opportunity to meet their favourite authors, as many of them take part in open-air book signings.

Diada de Sant Jordi is bursting with emotion and history, as it ties in with the legend of Saint George, the knight who killed a dragon to rescue a princess. And the fact is, on this day, romanticism and culture come together in a single emotion for Sant Jordi.

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