I hope you will forgive me posting some pictures completely out-of-order – I know I still haven’t posted about most of my 2014 travels yet…, but I wanted to get these up as soon as it was possible so they remained timely.
This past week I’ve had the fortune to be in Malaga, in the Andalusian province of Spain. I previously visited in January (and in fact I’m sure I’ll get round to posting a general Malaga post one day…) but this time was a completely different experience.
I’ve been learning Spanish since September. My teacher, who is from Andalusia, warned me of the craziness that Semana Santa would entail, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to encounter… several times daily for the past few days.
To give you a little bit of history – Semana Santa (translation: Holy Week) processions have been traditional in this region of Spain since medieval times and are popular in several Andalusian cities – Seville is often cited as THE place to go if you’re travelling specifically. Although I was staying in Malaga, I was fortunate to also pop over to Seville so I saw a couple of the processions there too.
In a nutshell, these processions consist of hordes of “penitentes”, who are followed by a huge float (I’m calling that but it certainly doesn’t float…). The float is actually called a “tronos”, and remarkably is carried on the shoulders of people – each can weigh up to 5 tonnes(!). There’s also a live band, drummers and other figures. Apparently, as I overheard one official say, each procession contains roughly 2000 people. That is of course, not including, the huge groups of people gathered around to watch.
Semana Santa begins on Palm Sunday. Each day there are several processions a day, and, from what I can tell, each are almost identical. Despite this fact, every one of the processions I witnessed was attended by thousands of people lining the street, who all whoop and clap with enthusiasm as the float went by. Along the streets which the processions march, residents will stand at their balconies and throw rose petals on to the float as they pass by.
Each procession features a different brotherhood (although women are included too) – these can be identified by the colour of the robes (called capirotes) they’re wearing and emblems sometimes found on these garments. During the week, I saw white, black, green, purple, red, black and white, brown and navy colours.
For the uninitiated it can be quite an alarming site to see these robes – if you’re looking at this you’ll probably be instantly reminded of the KKK just as I was (the group copied the robes for their own uniform). To see a group of these guys gathered around together (especially the ones in white, naturally), accompanied by fairly sinister sounding music can be quite jarring. You can buy souvenirs of los penitentes – one shop keeper has taken to displaying a sign exclaiming “No KKK! Holy Week” since clearly so many English-speaking tourists have come to the same rather unfortunate misunderstanding.
The floats themselves depict different icons or tableau from the Bible. During the week, I saw Jesus and the Virgin Mary many times, but also scenes such as the Last Supper or The Twelve Apostles.
On my last day in Malaga (Good Friday / Viernes Santo) I was able to visit a sort of garage where they were keeping four of the floats using during the parades. Visitors could go and get a closer look at them, and it was then that it became obvious just how incredibly heavy each of these floats must be. Each one is constructed of between five and 10 metal girders, which support the scene on top of them – most of them also have a huge number of candles.
Each float is carried by a group of people, and even though there are so many of them, it can’t be an easy task – many of them looked pained as they marched past, and it soon became obvious why the processions stop every few minutes and take so long to move up the street – those poor people must need a rest.
The processions start at around three or four in the afternoon and can last until well until the early hours of the morning. At times it can be extremely difficult to get around town, and if, like us, you happen to be staying on a street where a procession is going past… well good luck. A couple of times I was fortunate enough to be in the house when a procession started go by – the large windows of our apartment allowing for quite a privileged view. A lot of the bigger streets are lined with chairs, while in big squares, seating balustrades are erected. The smaller streets, people just tend to sit on the floor, or on camping-style chairs.
Of course the point of these processions is to celebrate the death (and life) of Jesus and means a great deal to a Catholic country like Spain, for many, it seems to be a great excuse to eat, drink and party until the early hours of the morning. Most people were friendly, happy and excited, while young kids danced around in the streets until late at night. Each of the penitentes carries a huge long candle with them, and I saw a couple of children proudly collecting wax from these candles. I imagine it’s part of life for the local population, but I wonder what a very small child makes of the goings on (I saw quite a few babies).
Although at times it could be a little frustrating when you wanted to get somewhere, and by the time the 50th procession you’ve seen in a week is happening the novelty starts to wear thin, I’m so glad I got to witness first hand this cultural event. Semana Santa is one of the most famous events in the world, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes just a touch of crazy.
I hope you like the pictures I was able to capture of the processions – I could probably have taken several thousand more. Have a look below for a full gallery – you can click on any of the photos to make it bigger. The penitentes don’t seem to mind you snapping away, in fact, some of them even posed for me upon spotting my camera so it makes for a great photography subject.
For those that are interested, the majority of the shots in this post were taken with my own personal camera, the Panasonic GH3, with a few supplementary grab shots from my iPhone.
Until my next post, adios amigos.
P.S. It was a great week for practicing my Spanish – I only wish I could write this entire post en español 😉