Holy Week in Spain is probably the most important week of the year. Each province celebrates differently, but everyone I’ve spoken to has been telling me for months that the best place to experience ‘Semana Santa’ is in Andalusia, where there are countless processions, parties and religious ceremonies. Admittedly they’re all from Andalusia, so there’s a high chance that they’re biased. Even so, Seville is especially known for being ‘the place to be’ during Semana Santa. I’ve been told that it gets so full of people that it is impossible to even move at times. Many Spaniards often leave their homes for the week to get away from the crowds of ‘Semana Santa’.
Not only are there regional variations in the processions, but the different cities celebrate differently too. Each procession is performed by a different Catholic brotherhood or fraternity, differentiated by the colour of their robes. The traditional robe or ‘nazarenos’ worn by some of participants, aims to conceal the entire face with its cone-shaped hoods as a sign of mourning the death of Christ. Yes, this is a similar outfit to that of the KKK and it was strange to see at first, but we got used to it as we saw so many during the week (also, no it is NOT the same). During the marches, the Nazarenes carry large candles or wooden crosses on their shoulders and some of them even walk barefoot or with shackles, to show penance.
An important feature of the procession is the carrying of the floats, which hold sculptures of or relating to Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary. These sculptures are very heavy and many of the men struggle with the weight of the float on their shoulders or backs. For them it is a time of penance and sorrow, and I even saw a few men crying and even one blindfolded (picture below). The floats are often followed by marching bands that play music that reflects the mood of the procession, which can be of sorrow or celebration. However, not all processions are accompanied by a marching band – some are silent.
The processions are not just for adults; people of all ages take part. I saw many young children participating as Nazarenes walking with their parents by their side. Even the children who didn’t partake in the procession itself, had their own little task of asking the Nazarenes who passed by to give them some of the dripping wax from their candles so they could make large balls of wax.
In the weeks leading up to Semana Santa I spoke to many colleagues and friends, young and old, who offered various pieces of advice or opinions on the what to see and do. I really wanted to understand why it is the most important event of the year for many people in Spain. As much as I tried, I could not imagine or visualise what it was going to be like. I was just going to have to wait and see.
I wanted to see as many of these processions as possible, so I did a mini-tour of Andalusia, starting in Úbeda, followed by Malaga, Cádiz, Seville and Córdoba. And who better to do this tour with than Amy and Beth?! So, Beth and I set off from Zaragoza on Tuesday at a disgustingly early hour (not because we like waking up early, it was just the cheapest train), and headed for the South. After a long day travelling, we made it to Úbeda in the evening and I finally got to show off my cute little town to Beth. We watched a procession, then went for drinks with some of my Spanish friends. It wasn’t meant to be a late night, since we had an early start the next day, but as is the Spanish way, we were led astray and didn’t get in until late. I think the ‘irse por los cerros de Úbeda’ is relevant here (my town has its very own phrase, pretty cool eh?).
In Malaga, we met up with Amy who had been at home in England for the last few days. It was officially the start of ‘El Viaje Ándalus’ (also the name of our group chat)! We quickly headed to our hostel then left the hostel even faster because it was pretty grim (to put it nicely). It didn’t take long to forget about the awful hostel as we enjoyed an ice cream, drinks, tapas, processions and a really long catch up. Of all the processions, the one we saw in Malaga was my favourite. We came upon by it by accident and luckily at the right time, which meant we got the best view at the front of the crowd. I was also really hoping to see Antonio Banderas, because he participates in the Malaga processions every year, but we must have gotten the wrong one.
The next day we headed to Cádiz. It wasn’t as warm as it had been earlier that week, but we were intent on going in the sea. And we most certainly did (for about 30 seconds), even though it was SO cold. My housemate, Becky, joined us that night and we enjoyed quality tapas and more processions. Cádiz specialises in a ‘tinto de verano’ with orange juice, rather than lemon soda and we also tried snails, another popular dish in southern Spain – don’t knock it before you try it.
Seville was as busy as we expected it to be. It wasn’t physically possible to walk in many parts of the centre because it was so crowded, and because they had been cordoned off for the processions. We enjoyed more drinks on the hostel terrace (a major improvement from the first one in Malaga), taking photos in the Plaza de España, more tapas, chocolate waffles, and the most famous procession ‘El Cachorro’ on the Triana Bridge. What I didn’t enjoy, however, was getting locked in a public toilet, panicking and then shoving open the metal door open into Amy’s face (sorry Amy…).
The final stop was Córdoba, where we got to stay in Amy’s flat (yay, privacy!). After a big lunch at Moriles, which is worth a mention, as it’s my one of my favourite restaurants in Spain, we went straight to Amy’s flat and proceeded to watch Disney movies (specifically, The Cheetah Girls and Camp Rock) for the rest of the day. A lazy day, yes, but it was needed after our chaotic week.
We were pretty sad to be leaving each other the next day, after spending an entire week together. It was an emotional goodbye, but I’m excited to see Beth and Amy again soon at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. I’m also glad I got to experience the Andalusian Semana Santa, as it’s such an integral part of the Spanish culture and I now understand why it’s so important to people here.
Until my next adventure! x