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Dragon bridge in Alcalá de Guadaíra. A. M. Saanders
Dragons that can be found in southern Spain
Chinese New Year

Dragons that can be found in southern Spain

2024 - the year of the Dragon ·

Chinese New Year falls on Saturday and celebrations last a couple of weeks. In Andalucia you don't have to go all the way to China to find this year's symbol

Alekk M. Saanders

Friday, 9 February 2024, 19:20

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Billions of people around the world, especially in China and some other East Asian countries, celebrate the Lunar New Year. This Saturday, 10 February, the Dragon will be welcomed worldwide, including in Spain, bidding farewell to the Water Rabbit of 2023. Dragons are powerful and benevolent symbols in Chinese culture. They are associated with imperial power, good fortune and strengthen the pioneering spirit.

Dragon as a city symbol

Ceuta, located on the north coast of Africa and culturally connected to Andalucía, appears to be the most appropriate place to go in search of dragons. At Madrid's international tourism fair, Fitur, last month, Ceuta projected its image as a benchmark tourist destination that combines history, innovation and unique experiences, by highlighting this mythical creature, among others. The dragon is even depicted on Ceuta's tourist logo.

At Fitur, Ceuta projected its image as a benchmark tourist destination that combines history, innovation and unique experiences, by highlighting the dragon

Ceuta has many features that transport visitors to a magical time of myths and legends, when dragon giants became the main characters of the city's history.

'Casa de Dragones', a Ceuta guid and a stall at FITUR. A.M. Saanders
Imagen principal - 'Casa de Dragones', a Ceuta guid and a stall at FITUR.
Imagen secundaria 1 - 'Casa de Dragones', a Ceuta guid and a stall at FITUR.
Imagen secundaria 2 - 'Casa de Dragones', a Ceuta guid and a stall at FITUR.

A dragon hunt in Ceuta might start at Plaza de África. There, two dragons stand on the façade of the Palacio Autonómico, holding in their hands a three-armed candelabrum with three lamps.

Additionally, sixteen 1.8-metre-high dragons, with long tails and long tongues hold in their hands a lamp that lights up the pavement. Such unusual lampposts are on the Gran Vía (official name: Alcalde Antonio López Sánchez-Prado), which connects Plaza de África with Plaza de la Constitución.

However, the best known dragons are on the cornice of the 'Casa de los Dragones', an iconic building located at the intersection of Paseo de Camoens with Calle Milan Astray and next to one of Ceuta's most important squares, the Plaza de los Reyes.

Four winged dragons with long, twisted necks and open jaws dominate the roof. They are currently replicas created by Ceuta artist Antonio Romero Vallejo. Each dragon weighs 150-200 kg. They are made of resin, fibre and marble and coated with blacksmith's paint to give them a bronze hue.

The eclectic building was built by brothers Ricardo and Francisco Cerny González, who were members of the Masonic Lodge of Ceuta. This explains the connection between the building and the dragons. In freemasonry, the dragon is a symbol of purification and self-improvement, as it represents the four elements of our inner lower nature that must be fought and mastered: 'earth' with its claws, 'fire' with the flames that shoot out of its mouth, 'water' with its swimming tail, and 'air' with its flying wings.

The dragon as a guardian

In the art of feng shui, the dragon represents fortune, luck, growth and development. This is probably why the entrance to one of the most exotic Chinese-style buildings on the Costa del Sol, the Mariposario (butterfly house) of Benalmádena, is guarded by dragons. The idea of installing dragons as guardians is very old. According to numerous legends, dragons are fierce by nature and one of their key traits is the desire to protect. In myths and fairy tales, dragons often guard treasure, but they have also been known to protect humans as well.

A dragon outside the butterfly house in Benalmadena.
A dragon outside the butterfly house in Benalmadena. A.M.S.

The dragon as a bridge

The 123-metre-long dragon bridge in Alcalá de Guadaíra is considered the guardian of one of the largest Almohad fortresses in Europe.

The small town near Seville's Puente del Dragón connects the two banks of the Guadaíra river. The bridge was the winner of a competition of ideas organised by the Junta de Andalucía and was chosen by popular vote organised by the Alcalá de Guadaíra town hall. The bridge, designed by José Luis Manzanares, was inaugurated on 28 March 2007.

The dragon is shaped like a giant head with an open mouth, beady eyes and the crest of a vigilant guardian, while at the opposite end of the structure is a pointed tail, a landmark designed to make the inhabitants of the fortress feel safe. The bridge is covered in multi-coloured 'trencadís' tiles, in the style of Gaudi's ornamentation of Barcelona's Park Güell. However, the idea was to bring this decorative art back to its place of origin, to Andalucía. It is known that the Arab tradition of tile laying was very popular during the reign of the Almohads in the south of the peninsula. Importantly, the ceramics of the bridge at Alcalá de Guadaíra are made in the ancient style, or rather, double-fired. Minerals such as copper, iron, manganese and cobalt were used in the process to obtain colour. These tiles, placed in the open air, not only do not lose their colour but also improve their colour over time.

The Dragon bridge. A.M. Saanders
Imagen principal - The Dragon bridge.
Imagen secundaria 1 - The Dragon bridge.
Imagen secundaria 2 - The Dragon bridge.

This urban bridge has two central arches with a span of 43 metres and two half arches at the ends with 18-metre spans. Its width of 22.6 metres is sufficient for four lanes of traffic and two wide pavements. In addition, two colourful flights of steps with a half-height observation platform allow pedestrians to walk down to the riverbed and admire the well-maintained landscape of the bridge's shallow waters.

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