Puno’s Candelaria Festival: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Peru

Puno’s Candelaria Festival has recently been added to Peru’s growing list of UNESCO Intangible Heritage traditions.


UNESCO has named another one of Peru’s unique traditions as a piece of the country’s intangible cultural heritage. Held every year in February, Puno’s Feast Day of the Virgin of Candlemas (La fiesta de la virgen de la candelaria) is everything you would expect from a Peruvian celebration – dancing, colorful costumes, music, food, and of course, alcohol. The only difference is this is the biggest event of the year, likened to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia. In fact, the Candelaria festival held in Puno is the third largest festival in South America, in terms of the number of people involved and the number of organized events. Every year, the festivities includes tens of thousands of dancers in vibrant costumes and 5,000 musicians who reenact hundreds of traditional dances. Preparations for the festival are extensive and start almost a year in advance, involving more than 25,000 costume makers, choreographers and sponsors.


The history of the festival dates back to the era of the Spanish Viceroy of the 16th century, when many devout Christians emigrated to the region from the Spanish Canary Islands where the veneration of the Virgin of Candlemas (also known as La Morenita due to her dark-skinned representation) first began. She became the patron saint of the entire region spanning most of the southern Andes in Peru and Bolivia. However, in 1781, the Virgin of Candlemas became an icon for perseverance and faith when the Spanish colonial army was able to hold the city of Puno during siege from the rebel indigenous army originally led by of rebel and vigilante Tupac Amaru II. Outnumbered, surrounded, and discouraged, the colonist of Puno brought out the statue of the Virgin of Candlemas and walked in procession throughout the city. After day and night veneration, the rebels retreated, as if in answer to the prayers of the people.


Puno’s festivities celebrating the feast day of the city’s patron saint are among 5 other UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage practices unique to the country of Peru. The textile crafts of the Island of Taquile of Lake Titicaca and the original scissor dance known as Danza de las Tijeras have also made the list of Intangible Heritage traditions. In addition to these traditions, Peru also has 11 recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and still 7 sites await recognition. These international acknowledgements are putting Peru on the map as a top travel destination for those seeking an authentic cultural experience unlike any other in the world.



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