2994745839_c78e280121.jpgWith the beads and revelry of Mardi Gras behind us and in the throes of the Lent season, it’s time to look forward to Semana Santa (Holy Week), a elaborate commemoration of the last week of Christ’s life. Though I’m not a religious soul, I fell into marking Semana Santa while studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

My initiation to the reams of tradition associated with Semana Santa started our very first day in sticky Seville when my classmate asked our Spanish lit teacher why Ku Klux Klan lollipops were for sale in shops throughout the city. She gasped and launched into an explanation of Semana Santa and the Nazarenos (Nazarenes), members of local churches’ cofradías (brotherhoods) who wear capirotes (peaked hats similar to those of the infamous Klan) while accompanying their Baroque wooden sculptures of Christ and the Virgin throughout the city.

Semana Santa has been celebrated in Seville in pretty much its current form since the 16th century. Over 50,000 cofradía members don traditional robes and solemnly traverse the city in over 116 pasos (passes) from Palm Sunday to Easter morning. A capella saetas (sad songs) accompany some processions, brass bands others, while some remain silent. Some pasos occur during the day while others are candlelit and border on spooky at night. During Semana Santa, the sweet smell of azahares (orange blossoms) muddled with incense and loads of candle wax permeates the city.

After the jump, get some tips on how to get the most out of Semana Santa if you’re lucky enough to experience it this year, April 5 to 12.

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  • If you plan to see some of the most spectacular processions, those in the madrugada

    (“the wee hours of the night”) between Thursday and Good Friday, that means you’ll be heading out around 10:30 p.m. and wandering the city’s labyrinthine alleyways well into the following morning. It goes without saying: wear comfy shoes (you’ll be walking and standing a lot on cobblestones, uneven pavement, etc.) and bring a jacket.

  • If you want to sleep during your time in Seville during Holy Week, don’t book a hotel smack-dab in the city center as processions happen pretty much 24/7 back and forth to the cathedral.
  • If you want a seat, you’ll have to buy pricey tickets

    along the “Official Section” close to the cathedral and the main drag, Avenida de la Constitución (Avenue of the Constitution). Prices range from about $103-829.

  • Don’t cut in front of those already lined up along a route. To get a good spot, arrive at least an hour before you know a procession will pass a designated location. Remember, to you, Semana Santa may be a curious cultural spectacle but to many locals, it’s a very holy occasion, one they’ve waited and prepared all year for. Please be respectful of those around you.
  • Give yourself time to move from place to place amid the hulking bulla

    (crowd). As many as one million spectators pour forth for the most popular processions so be patient, patient, and more patient.

  • Rain equals no Semana Santa, so keep your ears tuned to the local radio to plan your day. If it does rain on your parade, don’t despair–Seville offers many other attractions.
  • Don’t dispose of glass bottles on the city streets. Some penitentes (penitents) still go barefoot as they accompany their floats. Don’t make their penance any harder on them than it needs to be.
  • Bring a good map with you along with a printed schedule to best plan your route.
  • You’ll certainly work up a good hunger from all this wandering. Most bars are open all day (and night) and offer wine, beer, and bocadillos (sandwiches). Given the torrijas–a Semana Santa staple similar to French toast made with honey, eggs, bread, and white wine–a try, too.

For more information, check out SOL, Spain Online, which has a good intro to all that happens during Semana Santa, a nitty gritty on the processions, the difference between a penitente (penitent) and a nazareno (Nazarene) and other “essential” Semana Santa vocabulary, plus maps of the routes of the pasos.

The Insider’s Guide to Semana Santa on expat-authored Exploreseville is comprehensive and provides solid
info and tips. It’ll also come in handy if it rains and you’re looking for something else to do in town.

If Semana Santa in Seville sounds a bit too somber and serious, stay tuned for an upcoming post on another of Seville’s renowned celebrations, the Feria de Abril

(the April Fair). Pretty much the polar opposite of Semana Santa, it’s a week of revelry, family, flamenco dancing, drinking, and heaps of food at the city’s fair grounds, April 28 to May 3.

Photos: Willem Kuijpers

Comments

  1. Lucia
    March 19, 2009, 8:17 am

    We are going to be in Seville from Wednesday afternoon, Apr. 8 until Easter Monday. During that time we want to visit Granada and Cordoba. Which days would it be best to travel outside of Seville so as not to miss the most important processions? Which processions should we make a point of witnessing? Thanks.

  2. Meg Weaver
    March 19, 2009, 10:01 am

    Hi Lucia,
    I’m jealous you’ll be in Seville for Semana Santa!
    There are amazing processions all day each day during Holy Week but the most spectacular are those that occur in the wee hours of Good Friday so be sure you’re in Seville Thursday evening into Good Friday.
    That said, if you’re going to be out on the town trailing processions all Thursday night, you may not want to go all the way to Granada and back during the day (160 miles one day), though it’s truly amazing: the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra, flamenco in the caves.
    I’m not sure you’ll be able to really enjoy Semana Santa in Seville, take it all in, and get to both Granada and Córdoba (88 miles one way from Seville). Perhaps choose which city you really want to go to and head over there on Saturday after arriving in Seville Wednesday afternoon, exploring the town Thursday, staying up all night into Good Friday following the processions, and resting a bit Friday afternoon/evening.
    If you can’t make it to Granada, Córdoba is also unique and it’s mezquita (mosque) is truly astonishing.
    Send us a message to let us know how your trip goes and enjoy!
    Happy Travels!
    Meg

  3. Janny
    April 1, 2009, 10:49 am

    Thanks for all the tips in the article. We’re really looking forward to the trip.
    We’re arriving in Seville Good Friday afternoon. Will it be possible for us to go into the Cathedral Saturday or Sunday? Thanks.

  4. Meg
    April 3, 2009, 9:10 am

    Hi Janny,
    In response to your question on whether or not the cathedral will be open to the public Saturday or Sunday of Easter week, I got in touch with my friend Carmen who lives in Sevilla.
    She checked out the schedule of the cathedral and tells me that it will be open to the public on Saturday, 10:30-4 pm and Sunday, 2:30-6 pm.
    Things may be a little hectic down by the cathedral so be patient and enjoy!
    Best,
    Meg

  5. Dra[G]oN
    April 16, 2009, 4:20 am

    hi semana santa how are you can you help me to be and i with you semana santa but i lik to be semana sanata but iam from maedonia skopje pleas help me add me ok v-600@hotmail.com

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  9. jeff
    February 19, 2011, 3:43 pm

    We’re arriving in Seville Good Friday afternoon. Will it be possible for us to go into the Cathedral Saturday or Sunday? Thanks.
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