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.
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.
The 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
Plaza del Triunfo, 1
Phone: + 34 955 471 232
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.