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When Leonor de Castillo y Monteverde decided to perk up the pavement outside her house with a rather snazzy floral display for Corpus Christi in the mid 19th century, she probably didn’t realise she was starting a trend that would capture the imagination of her neighbours and eventually get the town of La Orotava in Tenerife a mention in the Guinness Book of Records.
The Corpus Christi flower carpets in La Orotava attract visitors from all over the globe, mainly to see the town’s record-breaking sand tapestry (the biggest in the world). The 850 square metre tapestry is a sight to behold, if you can muscle past the aggressive octogenarian tour groups, but much of the charm of a day of flower power is to be found amidst the 36 carpets constructed from petals, seeds and moss that cover the old cobbled streets.
Part of the fun and fascination of Corpus Christi in La Orotava is in watching the evolution of the carpets from sketchy outline to finished article, especially as each one involves everyone from granddads and grandmas to the latest addition to the family.
Streets are lined with crates filled with the essential floral ingredients to make the perfect flower carpet. Petals are carefully plucked and seeds separated. Just checking out what’s in the boxes alone is an attraction in itself.
The Preparation Part 1
Some alfombristas (carpet-makers) use specially designed frames to help create their carpets, others draw out a design and painstakingly fill it with petals and seeds. Either way, it takes a lot of patience, skill and family members. The nuclear family would be found wanting here.
The Preparation Part 2
And whilst the menfolk are positioning metal and wood frames, smaller members of the family make themselves useful in other ways.
Creating the Flower Carpet-makers
After the framework is laid, comes theactual construction of the carpet where everyone has a role to play. The more experienced alfombristas tend to the more intricate parts of the designs whilst ‘apprentices’ are trusted with the easier borders.
In the hot June sunshine, flower carpet making is thirsty work, but mum or grandma is always on hand with refreshments.
The Finished Article
By early afternoon most of the flower carpets are complete and the collection of different coloured flowers, seed and moss take shape creating compelling images that mostly have religious themes but sometimes hold a poignant, contemporary humanitarian message.
The Big Picture
In the end, the star of the show is the sand tapestry in the plaza in front of the town hall. This is the work of the master alfombristas and is an incredible piece of natural art given that this beautifully detailed masterpiece is created using only sands and soils from Teide National Park.
And then when the carpets are all finally complete, a religious procession marches right through the middle of them, destroying these beautiful but transient creations.
It feels as though it borders on an act of vandalism, but in a way it makes La Orotava’s short-lived flower carpets all the more precious and truly unique.
Although La Orotava’s flower carpets are created to celebrate Corpus Christi, they aren’t actually made on the day of Corpus Christi. For some reason Corpus Christi in la Orotava is always held the week after the official Corpus Christi date.