Holy Week in Seville – Semana Santa

One of my favourite weeks of the year in Spain is ‘Semana Santa’ or ‘Holy Week’ as we often refer to it in English. It is the week leading up to the Easter weekend and although it is celebrated all over Spain it is Andalucia that has me returning year after year. The week consists of processions in which enormous ‘pasos’ (floats) are carried around the streets by teams of ‘costaleros’ (bearers) followed by hundreds of ‘nazarenos’ (penitents). Many of these floats are religious works of art that date back as far as the 17th century, each showing a small part of the Easter story.

My own history of attending the Semana Santa celebrations dates back to when we lived in Miraflores de la Sierra in the mountains of Madrid. One morning we cleared snow from the car and drove south to Cordoba where we’d booked a room in Hostal La Magdalena (C/ Muñices, 35). By the time we arrived the sky was completely blue, the temperature had risen the best part of 20°C and we spent the afternoon sunbathing on the roof of the hostal. That week we were shown around the city and taken to see many of the main processions by our friend Santi whose mum lived near our hostal and that was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the lovely city of Cordoba.

Holy Week in Seville
Semana Santa in Seville

On one of the days that we were there we drove to Seville as we’d heard that the city was the top venue as far as Semana Santa celebrations were concerned and we were not disappointed. The city was packed with people three or four deep along much of the route of the processions during what is Seville’s main annual festival along with the April Fair (Feria de Abril) which follows two weeks later.

Semana Santa Processions in Seville

Throughout the city thousands of people lined the streets waiting to catch a glimpse of the processions, each of which takes many hours between leaving its parish and returning there after following a set route around the city. Each of over 50 brotherhoods (cofradías) have two floats so you can imagine the enormity of the occasion.

For the ‘costaleros’ who carry the float it’s a once in a lifetime honour to do so as the numbers wishing to be carriers far outnumber the places available. Unfortunately, there have been some years when heavy rain has caused the cancellation of many processions and grown men were left crying in the streets knowing they would never again get the opportunity to be a ‘costalero’.

The carrying of the floats tends to be a male dominated activity as the floats often weigh over 2000kg and it takes many months of practice before the big day. On average there are 40 ‘costaleros’ per float with each one supporting a weight of around 50kg for around 8 hours. In some towns smaller and lighter floats are carried by females though few take part in the “classic” Semana Santa celebrations of the main Andaluz cities of Seville, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Huelva.

Following the float penitents are dressed in capes and ku klux klan looking head gear. This hides their identity, the meaning being that God is the only one who knows who they are. Semana Santa is a religious occasion and the mood of each day’s procession changes from the opening ones on Palm Sunday to the sombre ones of Good Friday which depict the crucifiction of Christ and finally the joyous ones of Easter Sunday which celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Holy Week ProcessionsThe Good Friday processions leave churches at midnight and are carried throughout the night with huge crowds following their every step. A particular highlight of note is around 3am when La Macarena, Seville’s most revered Virgin, reaches the official route. It’s usually around 6am when the gipsy (gitano) brotherhood reaches the same place.

Visitors from all over Spain and many foreigners are present in Seville for the Semana Santa celebrations. The festival goes way beyond a merely religious event and is a fantastic time to be in the city but be sure to book accommodation well in advance as hotels get fully booked months earlier.

The obvious way to enjoy the processions is to find a spot amongst the crowds and wait for the floats to go by. Their movement is very slow so once they come into view you may well be able to see them for a long time. Every float leaves its parish and heads for the official route from the north of C/Sierpes via Avda de la Constitución to the Cathedral where they enter from the west and depart fro the east to return to their starting place. Check routes at www.semana-santa.org.

Another interesting way to appreciate the enormity and the beauty of the floats is to visit the church where they come from. Two of note are in the Basílica de la Macarena and the Basílica de Jesús del Gran Poder which are west of the main tourist area. Here you’ll see a constant stream of parishioners dropping into their church to pay tribute to the Virgin and admire the beautiful floats which reside inside.

Dates of Semana Santa

2016: 20-27 March
2017: 9-16 April
2018: 25 March – 1 April
2019: 14-21 April
2020: 5-12 April

The actual route and times of the Semana Santa processions is different every year. They are decided at a meeting called the ‘Cabildo de Toma de Horas’ which takes place on whatever date falls 14 days before Palm Sunday.

Whilst it is Seville which tends to make the headlines as far as Semana Santa celebrations is concerned there are plenty other places to enjoy it. There are huge processions in all the cities of Andalucia but also many small towns host their own lower key festivities. If you’re ever in Spain over the Easter period be sure to check out what’s on in your vicinity.

Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot be responsible for disruption to travel plans should any of these dates be changed. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you confirm these dates with an official Spain travel agency before confirming your travel dates.

You can contact the Seville Tourist Office at the address below:

Seville Tourist Offices
Internet: www.visitasevilla.es
Plaza del Triunfo, 1
Phone: + 34 955 471 232
Email: laredo.turismo@sevilla.org

Have You Ever Experienced Semana Santa?

Cordoba is my favourite destination for Holy Week but I’ve also had a great time in Seville, Malaga, Granada and even the coastal town of Nerja during this week. What are your experiences? have you ever been in Andalucia for Semana Santa or elsewhere in Spain? Please leave us a comment below.

Reader Comments:

  1. chris wright says

    As always very informative and interesting reading, and it is something that we will be interested in seeing.

    Kindest Regards

    Chris Wright

  2. Sue says

    I have spent 2 semana santa in San Roque – near La Linea/Gibraltar – a charming Spanish town with a fascinating history well worth a visit. Yes one was cancelled due to rain making San Roque VERY precarious due to steep roads and cobblestones!
    The cathedral in Seville is stunning I think it is better than Santiago de Compostella. Zamora also in the North of Spain has a museum dedicated to Semana Santa 100% recommended if you are near there.
    Hope these comments are useful to someone!

  3. John says

    Nice article about Semana Santa Gerry. May give Nerja a go 2016. Didn’t realise you were a Wireman. (Saints until I die).

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Thanks John … went to school in St Helens so have a bit of a soft spot for Saints (but don’t tell my fellow Wires :-))

  4. Stephanie says

    What a beautiful time to be in Spain!! Just remember to pay attention to where you are going if you decide to follow the procession throughout the city. I got horribly lost at 2am and it took me 2 hours to find my way back to my hotel. Who knew there were so many Hotel Alfonso–no wonder everyone I asked gave me a funny look–I figured they all knew what I was talking about!!

  5. Mike Chauffourier says

    Was in Malaga a few years ago and heard about something special. During Semana Santa, in the small village of Riogordo – some twenty odd miles north of Malaga on the C340- they celebrate a Passion Play. Held in the local bull ring it is a quite unforgettable experience. If you get the chance you should visit -some 300 of the villagers take part…incredible.

  6. Alan Mackay says

    Is it still the case that the ‘cofradias’ have to actually pay the Catholic Church for the privilege of their being allowed to carry their floats with their religious idols around the cities during religious festivals ?

    Are the ‘pasos’ actually owned by the ‘cofradias’ but the religious idols are owned by the Catholic Church ?

  7. Jenny Green says

    Marchena, a small town east of Seville, has a fantastic procession. This includes Roman soldiers on foot and also on horseback, it is amazing and very touching. Well worth a visit. Parade starts from their council offices, Plaza Ducal, at about 10.30 on good Friday you need to be there earlier to see all the statues leave through the tiny archways. There are several good bands that play but the most rousing is the sound from the drums that are beaten by the soldiers as they march through the town.

  8. Judith Harvey says

    Seville during Semana Santa – unforgettable! Huge crowds, but no pushing or shoving, everyone, Spanish or foreign, believer or not, sharing a strange, solemn, deeply-felt, fascinating ritual. Each morning we picked up the information about the processions, with details of routes, times, pasos, colours of robes and candles, music, for each cofradía, and decided where to post ourselves. We snatched a tapa at a (crowded) bar or bought nuts and snacks from street sellers between processions. We got to know Seville as we wriggled our way round back streets to the next procession. The devotion of the participants, the colours and sounds, the virgin being scattered with rose petals and serenaded from an upstairs balcony as she passed by, so alien yet so moving.

    We couldn’t get a room for the last two days so we went to Almonaster La Real, a tiny village in the Sierra de Aracena. The village women chanted as they followed the little pasos round the steep village streets – very simple but perhaps even more moving.

    We have also spent Semana Santa in Tarragona. It rained that week, which takes the edge of the processions, but the atmosphere was different, less fervent, more military. Still interesting, but not with the same power to engage.

  9. Jan says

    We wintered in Cadiz in 2012 and we were able to see the men practicing carrying the floats each week. They started with empty ones and then the weights got heavier.The processions were wonderful and the accompanying bands did an amazing job.We were surprised how long each procession took and the different stops along the way. At one point everyone stopped and a window opened , a flamenco singer leaned out and sang a mournful song.
    Well worth going to see.

  10. Lauri says

    Hi !! I’m from Sevilla. I like to speak of the most beautiful of Seville – Holy week which is beautiful – you have to go because you are going to enjoy. I’m glad you like … kisses from Sevilla.

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