Robes mended, gold crosses polished, and thousands of tall candles ready for the flame – all to be cranked up for Easter processions. Liz Carlson, our guest writer, lived in Córdoba during the Semana Santa processions that trudged along outside her window. Sounds like party central to me. In some cities, the processions are somber, in others, drink your beer and party down. A Scoopometer 10 all the way.
By Liz Carlson
Forget dyed eggs an chocolate Easter bunnies, Semana Santa is a straight up Catholic holiday, filled with long religious processions, smokey incense, and fiestas.
No two ways about it, Spain is a celebratory country. Filled with famous festivals and events like Carneval in Cádiz, Tomatina in Valencia, and San Fermín in Pamplona, it’s hard to miss one of these famous fiestas when visiting Spain. However, one of the biggest and most well-known weeks of celebration in Spain has to be Semana Santa. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week leading up to Easter, and is one of the biggest holidays here.
Yes that’s right, parties. Last year I was lucky enough to be living in Córdoba, in southern Spain. Andalusia is famous for being one of the most religious regions in Spain, which becomes apparent in April. Traditionally Seville, Málaga, and Granda are the big hotspots to watch Semana Santa in action.
However, because of their international popularity, you are forced to deal with inflated prices, vast crowds and way too many tourists. However, Córdoba, one of the bigger cities in the south, with an extensive medieval town filled with cobblestone streets, whitewashed walls with tucked away patios, and cascading fragrant flowers is an incredible alternative.
For this week there are around 5 processions a day, each lasting around 6 hours, with different routes all over the city, but mostly in the old quarter. Each one run by its own religious brotherhood (cofradía), and most start in the afternoon, some go all night long. Pop into a bar or café to pick up a free booklet listing the schedule. The processions consist usually of 2 huge, ornate floats (pasos) carried on the backs of a big group of men or women called costaleros, no easy feat considering each paso weighs about a ton.
One paso depicts the Virgin Mary surrounded by candles and flowers, while the other shows a scene of the life of Jesus. Every so often they will stop and rest; Sometimes you will see the costaleros dance underneath the paso to the music, moving it in sync, or walking backwards, but the best part is before they start walking again, they will jump with the paso. Candles and all. Don’t forget to shout bravo and olé along with everyone else!
In addition to the pasos, hundreds of people dress up in robes with tall pointy hats and their faces covered, which coincidently look exactly like the KKK. However, these are just the members of the cofradía, men, women, children too; they are penitents (nazarenos), and they usually carry a tall candle or cross, direct the costaleros or swing stinky incense around. Sometimes you will see some who go barefoot or even with chains around their ankles.
Now this sound all solemn and religious, right? Think again. It’s actually more like a fun, week-long festival. You go out with your friends, bring a cooler of beer, find a good spot to watch the processions go by, chatting and eating. There are also several marching bands mixed in with most of the processions, to add a bit of flair and noise -can’t let things get too quiet.
The processions aren’t very strictly organized, there are hardly any barricades or police, people walk through, in and around them all the time, chatting with the nazarenos. The really young kids hand out candy to the crowd.
I noticed last year that there was a fad among the kids watching to make a small ball of aluminum foil on a stick and go around asking the nazarenos to pour the wax from their tall candles on it, competing with each other to see who can get the biggest ball of wax. Everyone talks and hangs out, and then when the Virgin goes by, they’ll put their beer can on the ground and cross themselves and resume talking once she’s passed by. It’s organized chaos.
Last year I was lucky enough, or unlucky enough, depending on how you saw it, to live on street where almost every single procession passed by. I didn’t miss a thing. Even when I was trying to sleep. Far from being a pensive and somber week, Semana Santa in Córdoba is festive and fun. It has a local, family feel to it while still being exceptionally impressive. Semana Santa is celebrated beautifully here, and it’s one of the best times to visit the city.
No Car Needed: Buses and trains available from Seville. Travel time approximately 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
Related Spain Scoop: The Scoopettes love Semana Santa. For more on processions check this out. More wild stuff in Spain from the Scoop in Seville and South.
Liz writes Memoirs of a Young Adventuress which is about traveling and expat life abroad. Four years ago, she said goodbye to the freezing cold New England winters and hola to sunny warm Spain, and hasn’t looked back. Unsatisfied living in the same place for too long, she has called several cities in Spain home, from Salamanca to Madrid, Córdoba and Málaga, and now Logroño.