How Spain’s Vigo celebrates kicking out Napoleon

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On March 28th, 1809 Vigo became the first European city to gain its independence from French occupation.

Napoleon and his French army invaded Spain on May 2nd 1808 moving their way across Spain into Galicia and then down into Portugal. Ultimately, Napoleon’s men only managed to stay in Spain for almost six years, unable to conquer the uprisings from the Spanish population, as well as help from the British and Portuguese armies. 

To mark the uprising, when the people of Vigo expelled Napoleon’s French troops from the city at the beginning of the Peninsular War, a local festival is held. 


Every year on the anniversary of this day, the people of Vigo proudly celebrate this historic event, which they call the Reconquista da Vila de Vigo.

This year, the festival runs until April 2nd 2023. 

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During the day the Old Town of Vigo transforms into a large open-air market lined with food and craft stalls. The streets are decorated and residents dress up in period costumes to represent the soldiers, peasants and fishermen who lived there during the 18th century.

Mock battles take place across the city representing various parts of the conflict. One of the highlights is the battle of Puerta de Gamboa featuring two of the most beloved local heroes –  Carolo and Cachamuiña. 

Carolo was an old sailor from Berbés, who on March 28th, attacked the Porta da Gamboa, behind enemy lines with just an axe. Even though he was courageous and fought fearlessly, he ended up dying at the hands of the French army when he was shot.  

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Cachamuiña, whose real name was Bernardo González del Valle, was a Galician soldier known for his role in the defence of Vigo. He thankfully survived the war, but later in 1848.  

As well as the historic parts of the event, the festivities continue for several days into the beginning of April with concerts, food tastings and performances.

One of the most important theatrical performances of the festival is the Reconquest itself, where over 500 people take part, representing 50 French soldiers, between 60 and 70 militias and around 400 civilians. After the fight, the Napoleonic troops flee the city by boat.

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The Reconquest enabled the city of Vigo to gain the status of ‘city’ and shaped what it has become today.