Semana Santa – Malaga

The Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions are the largest religious festival in the catholic world and take place from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday with the processions occurring on five days out of the seven. The festival is very big in Spain and especially in Andalusia where Semana Santa is a huge event involving whole cities, towns and villages. Seville and Malaga are the two most famous places to see the spectacle and, in the spring of 2001, I was lucky enough to spend Holy week in Malaga and observe the centuries old tradition first hand.The processions, the first of which takes place on Palm Sunday, take place on five evenings of the week making their way slowly on their pilgrimage around the city. The processions are organised by the religious brotherhoods (“confradias” in Spanish) who each carry a massive “tronos” (an enormous float) depicting various religious scenes – from Christ on the cross to the virgin Mary. The “tronos” are lavishly adorned with plush fabric and candles, having undergone months of preparation before the event. Each “tronos” is accompanied by a band playing the typical mournful dirges of Semana Santa. Occasionally the floats will make a stop to sing the “saeta” – a maudlin flamenco hymn which further adds to the solemnity of the occasion.What is immediately striking to a spectator is the huge amount of physical effort needed by the “hombres de trono” (float bearers) to carry their huge burden. The aim of this, as I saw it, is to provide empathy for the sufferings which Christ had to bear in their name – the faith and commitment of the “confradias” is inspiring whatever you’re religious leaning. Behind the float is usually an army of friends and family, there to provide support, water and food when the float comes to a halt and the bearers have a chance to catch their breath for five minutes.Another thing that is immediately striking about the festivities is the great variety of people who line the streets. Different generations stand shoulder to shoulder bearing the “tronos” and kids and grandparents alike jostle for position at the roadside. You can sense the continuity and how the festival is massively important to the local community. Another refreshing site is the amount of youngsters involved, whether it’s in the bands, following the processions with their families or simply looking on excitedly from the curb. The buzz from their excitement is infectious as they run around collecting wax from the hundreds of candles and making them into huge balls, trying to go bigger and better than the kid next to them.It is a strange experience in many ways, far removed from the Carnival atmosphere of most Spanish fiestas – this isn’t the festival to come to if you want to party all night. Whilst in Malaga my days consisted of a bit of beach going (it’s not quite up to temperature at Easter for the locals, but us sun-starved Brits need no second invitation to don the Speedo’s), exploring Malaga’s languid white-washed streets and myriad of tapas bars and taking in the processions by night (interspersed with a few bar stop-offs and a late meal somewhere along the line). The food, the people, a beautiful city; it’s all there to enjoy and there’s no better time than during Semana Santa.Finally the most striking part for me is that Malaga is one of Spain’s largest cities, with over one million inhabitants, yet for Semana Santa it seems the city shrinks. The small town atmosphere and the sense of community are tangible and imbue the city with an electric buzz for the week long festival.

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