1m expected at Fêtes de Bayonne

Known as ‘Festayres’, participants traditionally dress in white with a red necktie

The 81st annual Fêtes de Bayonne 2017 (Pyrénées-Atlantiques; Nouvelle-Aquitaine) began on Wednesday with reports saying a million people are expected to attend, despite the ongoing State of Emergency, and security on high alert this year.

The five-day events in the riverside town (on the banks of the Nive) will include the Foulée du festayre running race, the traditional Bayonne pepper omelette ‘world championship’, the Mascleta (the traditional opening ceremony fireworks show), the throwing of the ‘keys to the city’ into the crowd.

Security is expected to be high throughout, with over 650 members of a wide range of emergency services present, plus 300 from healthcare agencies such as the Red Cross.

The annual appearance of the Mayor on the balcony of the town’s Hôtel de Ville for the ‘waking’ (Réveil) of the Roi Léon, will be the usual highlight, in celebration of the event’s mascot king, named after a well-known Bayonne actor from the 1950s, who ‘awakes’ to crowds of people and the usual ‘giant puppets’.

Known in French as ‘marionettes’, one of the most recognisable aspects of the Fêtes de Bayonne are the four metre high, colourful puppets that are carried through the crowd, said to represent different aspects of the town, such as a chocolatier in reference to its gastronomic tradition; a governor and a doctor, representing the town’s well being and good health; and a ‘marshall’ (maréchal) to demonstrate order.

The festival takes over the entire town, and there will also be live music, traditional dancing in the streets, and other events celebrating Bayonne’s sport, culture, and gastronomy.

Those who take part in the celebrations traditionally dress in white with a red necktie, and are known as ‘festayres’.

One local tweeted a humorous take on the events, simply saying "I adore my pharmacist", with a photo of a 'Pack Festayre', including anti-indigestion medicine Betaine citrate (citrate de betaïne), painkillers (the brand Efferalgan Odis) and offering liver detox (détox foie), in reference to the excess and partying expected over the next five days. 

The festivities will last until Sunday. The weather is expected to be largely fine, with no rain forecast for the duration, and temperatures of 18-24°C.

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