The Legend of the Lizard of La Malena, La Magdalena, or simply Lizard of Jaén is one of the main forms of expression of Jaén capital city. It is recreated on the Lagarto de la Malena’s day, which has been institutionalised since 2009.

In March 2009, the International Bureau of Cultural Capitals (IBOCC) launched a campaign to choose the “10 Treasures of Spain’s Intangible Cultural Heritage” in order to promote, disseminate and safeguard Spain’s intangible cultural heritage, and Jaén City Council presented the Legend of La Malena Lizard, the oldest and most socially significant legend in the capital of Jaén, which has remained alive in the city throughout time, receiving contributions from the different civilizations that have been present in the city (Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians). It was transmitted from generation to generation, in constant recreation, first orally and, from the 17th century onwards, supported by literary versions. Finally, the Legend of La Malena Lizard was declared one of the 10 Treasures of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Spain, and to commemorate this event, the City Council declared 2 July as the “Lagarto de la Malena’s Day”, so that the popular rooting of the legend in the city would be reinforced and would serve as an incentive for a firm commitment to safeguarding its intangible cultural heritage.

The legend of the lizard, serpent or dragon, depending on the version, was first mentioned in a work by Pedro Ordóñez de Ceballos in 1628. In 1913, the historian Alfredo Cazabán collected up to three versions of the hero who killed the monster:

The legend basically consists of the existence of a lizard, serpent or dragon that lived in the Magdalena spring, that ate and terrorised people. From this point on, there are three versions of the legend, as Cazabán points out: in the first, a warrior dressed in a suit of mirrors killed the lizard with his sword when he made it leave its lair and the animal was dazzled by the reflection of the sun in the mirrors. In the second, a prisoner or captive killed the monster by offering to do so in exchange for his freedom. To do so, he used loaves of bread with explosives inside as bait and made the lizard chase it to the Plaza de San Ildefonso, where it exploded. Finally, the third version states that the killer of the beast that terrorised the city of Jaén was a shepherd, who was tired of the lizard eating his lambs and, in order to kill the monster, he used a sheepskin full of explosives as bait, so the lizard exploded after swallowing it.

On the Day of La Malena Lizard, diverse groups of the city participate in the recreation of the legend and its staging and dramatization by theatre groups in different parts of the city, and even a drink, the “Blood of the Lizard” has been popularized. It is prepared by heating red wine with three cloves, cinnamon sticks, sugar, lemon or orange peel and aniseed, to be drunk hot or cold.

The Lizard of Jaén is, in essence, the myth of the Dragon, so localised and embedded in the local cultural and popular panorama that it has become a symbol of the city and its inhabitants for centuries.

The legend of the lizard, snake or dragon, depending on the version, was first mentioned in 1628, in the work Historia de la Antigua y Continuada Nobleza de la Ciudad de Jaén (History of the Ancient and Continuing Nobility of the City of Jaén), written by Pedro Ordoñez and published by Bartolomé Jiménez Patón. The City Council declared 2 July “Lagarto de la Malena’s day” and the legend is staged and dramatised by theatre groups in different parts of the city.

Pasacalles del Lagarto de la Magdalena III. Photo: Agustín Garzón

Pasacalles del Lagarto de la Magdalena. Photo: Agustín Garzón

Fuente alegórica. Photo: Francisco Jiménez Rabasco. © Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico

IAPH image under the conditions established under license cc-by 3.0 de Creative Common.

Adornos durante el pasacalles. Photo: Agustín Garzón.

Video. Representación de la Leyenda del Dragón. Iuventa Jaén.

Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico. Francisco Jiménez Rabasco, Atlas del Patrimonio Inmaterial de Andalucía. Fase 3. Zona 6. Leyenda del Lagarto de la Magdalena, 2017.