Semana Santa means Holy Week in Spanish. In the Christian religion, it refers to the week prior to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While virtually all Christian churches around the world have important observances of this week, the week is the holiest time of year for the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church. In countries with Catholicism as the predominant religion, these observances are particularly elaborate as well as public. This is true especially of Latin speaking countries, including most of South and Central America, Italy, and Spain. The week begins with Palm Sunday and includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter Sunday is not included, as it is the beginning of The Great Fifty Days also known as the Pentecost.
Semana Santa History and Facts
The tradition of celebrating this week with a number of special observances dates to the third and fourth centuries. Devout observers forswear eating meat and may even fast on Friday and Sunday. Semana Santa Festival in Spain dates to 1521 and the end of the Middle Ages when the Marques de Tarifa returned from Jerusalem inspired by his experiences. He established a formal Vía Crucis (Stations of the Cross) procession. This occurred every year, and eventually the single procession became many processions each of which portrayed one of the stations in the Passion. These processions gradually became the more and more elaborate processions we see today.
Semana Santa Locations
Events of Semana Santa Festival in Spain are particularly noteworthy in the southern part of the country. In the Castile (La Mancha) region of central Spain, the observances are solemn and devout. The observances in southern Spain are the most dazzling and draw the most visitors.
The beautiful city of Seville is famous for its procession of elaborate floats called "pasos" bearing lifesize realistically painted figures sculpted from wood or plaster and depicting scenes from the time Christ entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) until his burial. The scenes represented are often called the Stations of the Cross. Some of the sculptures are more than 300 years old and sculpted by famous Spanish artists. They all have revered places in different churches around the city. The floats are supported by long poles and all carried on the shoulders of two to four dozen "costaleros" who may be completely covered by hooded sheets or hidden under the float's platform, giving it the appearance of floating under its own power. Individual processions travel a certain route from their home church where they converge at a certain point for the final journey to the magnificent Seville Cathedral where they are blessed by the archbishop before making the return journey.
The Sevelle Cathedral is located on the Avenue de la Constitucion in the center of the city. The only practical way to get here during the procession is to walk, as streets may be closed off and trains between certain points may not be operating.
Accompanying the floats are penitents (nazarenos) who wear robes and hoods (capirote) that to Americans resemble the regalia of the Ku Klux Klan, which in fact took the model for its robes from these. There are also groups of altar boys swinging incense burners, bands, and the size of each procession depends more or less on the size and importance of the church being represented. The longest processions can consist of as many as 3,000 people and take many hours to pass a certain point.
Sunny Malaga on the Costa de Sol boasts similar Semana Santa 2016 processions with floats called "tronos." Every city and town will have similar processions, each differing only slightly. Chances are that you will see at least one procession if you happen to be traveling in southern Spain during Easter week.
Semana Santa Tickets
You can view any of the processions for free, just like any public parade. There are certain areas in most cities and towns where there are bleachers set up for reserved seating. In Seville, one reserved area is near the entrance to the Cathedral. Tickets for these seats are only available from the Brotherhood Associations, which are in charge of individual processions, or from ticket windows near the route. Businesses and restaurants with balconies overlooking routes often will rent spaces on the balconies.
Semana Santa Lodging
One way to get reserved "seating" for Semana Santa Festival in Spain is booking a hotel room or utilizing vacation rentals with a view of the route. The routes are the same every year, so it is easy to find a hotel along the route of the city you will be visiting. But be aware that you must make your reservations as far in advance as possible and be prepared to pay a premium.