The name Tarasca comes from the French Tarasque, which in turn is the place name of Tarascon, a town in Provence, France). It is a mythological figure whose origin is found in a legend about Saint Martha.
According to legend, the creature inhabited Tarascon, in Provence, and laid waste to the countryside far and wide. It is described as dragon-like, with six short legs like a bear's, the torso of an ox with a turtle shell, and a scaly tail ending in a scorpion's stinger. It had a lion's head with a horse's ears and a disagreeable expression.
The King of Tarascon had attacked the Tarasque with all his armies and weapons without success, but Saint Martha charmed the beast with her prayers and returned to the city with the beast tamed. The terrified inhabitants attacked the creature at nightfall, and it died on the spot without resistance. Then Saint Martha preached a sermon to the people and many of them converted to Christianity.
At mid-morning on each Monday of the festivity, the best-kept secret in Granada is revealed: the dress worn by La Tarasca. One thing is for sure, there will be those who criticise it, whatever the style of the garment; whether it is long or short, discreet or in bright colours, classical or modern, and daring or coquettish. There is a well-known saying in the city, according to which you can be dressed worse than the Tarasca. Despite that, it is an honour for a professional dressmaker or designer from Granada to be called upon to dress the most popular fashion model in the city. The Tarasca could even be considered the queen of the festivities, for she is certainly the most characteristic female figure of the Corpus Christi festival. Lady of festival and empress of the fun, the Tarasca parades through the city streets every year, mounted on a fierce dragon that lies meekly at her feet. As a model with a charming figure, she knows she is the star of the most celebrated catwalk in the city. Moreover, from Wednesday to Sunday, she is exhibited at the entrance of the City Hall, where she is visited by hundreds of people who approach her with special veneration.
The Tarasca was a common figure in many other celebrations, with its origin going as far back as the Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek civilisations. The strange figure has been handed down to the present day as a merger of legends of saints who defeated horrible dragons, as in the case of Saint Martha, who vanquished a monster in Tarascon, France. Specifically, tradition has it that the inhabitants of Tarascon, in the countryside of Provence, lived in terror of a winged dragon and prayed to God to succour them. God sent Martha, a young woman who fought and overcame the monster, causing the inhabitants of Tarascon to convert to Christianity en masse. To commemorate her feat, they began to carry the figure of a monster chained at the feat of a lady in a yearly processional march.
Thus, the name Tarasca refers to a monster, apparently a dragon or a large serpent, that once existed in the French city. In any case, for some the figure of the Tarasca is a representation of good and evil, and of contradictions: a monstrous dragon as opposed to a beautiful woman; a fierce animal overcome by the simplicity of a human, and so forth. Both the figure of the dragon and the mannequin have changed over the years. Apparently, the people of Granada soon started to carry the Tarasca in a processional march, surrounded by giants, cabezudos (big heads) and little devils, during the Corpus Christi festivities. In fact, a royal decree dated 21 July 1780 prohibited the processional marches of large giants, giant female figures and the Tarasca.
Despite this, the prohibited tradition was soon recovered. Over the years, the Tarasca became a point of reference for the city's fashion world. Thus, the newspapers of 1883 described the dress worn by the Tarasca that year as beautiful and extremely elegant, made from a religious veil, the latest fashion, of a pale rose colour adorned with large bouquets, overlapping grape leaves and copper velvet.