Spanish Administration

Harlequins of Canillo

Release Date:  12 February 2021




Release date: 12 February 2021
Popular Culture. Canillo harlequins
Printing Procedure: Offset
Paper: Stumped, stomate, phosphorescent
Stamp size: 40.9 x 28.8 mm (horizontal)
Sheet: 25 stamps
Quantity: 55,000 stamps
Denomination: €1.50

First Day Cover:


First Day Cancellation:




The carnival festival that is celebrated in the parish of Canillo has as protagonists some characters called harlequins who, dressed in a quirky and vividly colored way, travel through the town to the rhythm of the music and throwing confetis.

The origin of this tradition is unknown, but thanks to photographs and other documents, it can be traced back to the early twentieth century, when, in the most widespread opinion, it was imported by Canillo workers who had to emigrate to France.

Originally, only men were dressed, in dresses that were made in the homes based on remnants of different shapes and colors that were sewn on a pajamas or light-colored clothing, on which flowers and bells were added. In the past, a flat white hat topped the outfit, tied large bells on the ankles and in their hand carried a fuse that made it snap to the rhythm of the songs. A metallic or painted mesh mask covered the face, thus completing the harlequin costume.

Currently, a hood replaces the hat, makeup to the mask and instead of using the pole, they throw confetti and flour.

The Harlequins could appear at any time during the celebration, even if their main appearance happened after hanging the carnestoltes, the king of the carnival, and began parading through the streets of the parish. Organized in squares, they walked the streets from house to house, to “steal l’olla”, and to invite all those who wanted to join the parade.

Today, it is a unique and participatory tradition, which lives among young people who enjoy touring Canillo on floats, and that since 2010 has been considered as a protected cultural exhibition, classified as a Festival of Cultural Interest.

Canillo is one of the parishes of Andorra and is also the name of the main town of the parish. Unlike the rest of Andorra, Canillo is divided by veïnats (neighborhoods). The parish is Andorra’s largest at 121 square kilometers (47 square miles). Canillo Parish is considered the religious center of Andorra with the Sanctuary and Chapel of Our Lady of Meritxell, patron saint of Andorra, and contains one of the best-preserved romanesque churches in the Pyrenees, Sant Joan de Caselles. It has a population of 4,826, as of 2011. Despite having a tourist vocation, the parish of Canillo still retains many livestock and agricultural traits.

The town figures into the Andorran legend El buner d’Ordino, in which a bagpiper from the parish of Ordino, en route to a festival in Canillo, is chased and treed by wolves, but frightens them off by playing his instrument.

Plaça de Sant Serni and Carrer Major of Canillo, Andorra.

The parish is intimately related to the national legend of Charlemagne. The legend explains that Charlemagne entered through the Valleys from Incles, and made a ring on the mountain of Pic Negre of Juclà to tie his horse, marking the borders between Andorra and Sabartés (Ariège), which It was in the Carolingian era Sabart, a small town today annexed to Tarascon. Not far from the place it’s found the Creu Gótica de Carlemany (Gothic Cross of Charlemagne), a tribute to the blacksmiths of the country.

The Creu dels Set Braços (Cross of the seven arms) can be found in the parish. The cross is the origin of the tragic legend about a boy from Prats who thought that the devil could go find him someday. He accidentally killed one of his friends who wanted to scare him to make him a joke after returning from the town of Canillo to bring a barrel of wine. The body disappeared mysteriously, some say by the devil himself. In the place where the accident happened, they placed a cross in order that the passers remember and removed the consequence of such ugly act. The cross had seven arms, like seven were the young people who wanted to make fun of their compatriot. One of them disappeared, and, strangely coinciding, the cross also lost one of his arms.

Montaup River in Canillo with the church of Sant Serni at background.

Canillo is the place of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell. According to legend, a shepherd found the image of the Virgin on a winter day under some flowering roses and decided to take it home. The image, however, returned three times to the same place where it had been found. Finally, the Andorrans decided to build a chapel there. In 1873, the General Council of the Valleys declared her the patron saint of the country and on 8 September 1921 it was declared the National Holiday of the Principality.

The original sanctuary was of Romanesque style and was completely restored in the 17th century. In 1972, the sanctuary burned down, being completely destroyed along with the Romanesque statue of the Virgin. The construction of a new sanctuary was entrusted to the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill Levi. The new building was inaugurated in 1976. Inside it is still revered a replica of the Romanesque carving statue of the Virgin that was destroyed in the fire.

The sanctuary was declared a Minor basilica on 13 May 2014 by Pope Francis and joined the Marian Route (Ruta Mariana), a cultural-religious nature route, together with Our Lady of the Pillar, Our Lady of Torreciudad, Our Lady of Montserrat and Our Lady of Lourdes.

A very deeply rooted festival is the Carnival, also known as the Harlequin Festival where the typical costume is that of harlequin, which is made out of clothes and scrolls (bells) and appears after the hanging of the king Carnival or rei Carnestoltes. The Canillo Carnival is held over the weekend and ends on Shrove Monday, which this year falls on 15 February.

Harlequins are the stars of the parade which is celebrated after the hanging of the Carnival King. They are also responsible for bringing life to the Carnival and are involved in all the events. In the past, they were also been the stars of the celebration in Encamp and Escaldes-Engordany, although back then it was mainly just the men who dressed up.

The Canillo harlequin costumes were originally made using old two-piece pyjama sets, preferably in light colors, with colorful flowers and patches sewn on them along with bells, which were tied to the harlequins’ ankles. This tradition has survived down to this day, and some costumes have even been passed down from generation to generation, being a source of pride for many families. The harlequins are also the inspiration for the parish’s pair of gegants (giants), towering figures measuring over three metres tall that have been part of the celebrations since 2012.

Harlequin is the best-known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte. The role is traditionally believed to have been introduced by Zan Ganassa in the late 16th century, was definitively popularized by the Italian actor Tristano Martinelli in Paris in 1584–1585, and became a stock character after Martinelli’s death in 1630.

The Harlequin is characterized by his checkered costume. His role is that of a light-hearted, nimble, and astute servant, often acting to thwart the plans of his master, and pursuing his own love interest, Columbina, with wit and resourcefulness, often competing with the sterner and melancholic Pierrot. He later develops into a prototype of the romantic hero. Harlequin inherits his physical agility and his trickster qualities, as well as his name, from a mischievous “devil” character in medieval passion plays.

The Harlequin character first appeared in England early in the 17th century and took centre stage in the derived genre of the Harlequinade, developed in the early 18th century by John Rich. As the Harlequinade portion of English dramatic genre pantomime developed, Harlequin was routinely paired with the character Clown. As developed by Joseph Grimaldi around 1800, Clown became the mischievous and brutish foil for the more sophisticated Harlequin, who became more of a romantic character. The most influential such in Victorian England were William Payne and his sons the Payne Brothers, the latter active during the 1860s and 1870s.




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