Andalucía, Europe, Spain

Semana Santa in Sevilla

April 14-17, 2022

I visited Sevilla last year at the end of multi-city trip in Andalucia. Although, it was over New Years, so things were closed for the holiday, and many things were closed for COVID-related reasons (such as the Cathedral and Torre de Oro). My main purpose for going to Sevilla was to see the Semana Santa processions, which are huge in many parts of Spain and especially Sevilla. In fact, Sevilla and Málaga are the largest in Spain.

Getting to Sevilla proved to be its own adventure and challenge. After landing in Lisbon, I coordinated with my Bla Bla car driver about where to meet, which was about 30 minutes by bus from the airport. Despite having EU roaming with my phone plan, it did not re-activate when I landed in Portugal. I spent the next hour trouble-shooting, panicking a little, and trying everything I could think of. I let the driver know that I wouldn’t have connection out in the city, but I would be at the meet-up point. I figured out the bus route and was on my way (still attempting to fix the phone issue). I got to the pick-up point and waited…. and waited…. and waited. After about 30 minutes, I was starting to freak out. I was exhausted from traveling, I had no phone, I didn’t even know how to get to a bus station, couldn’t look for another Bla Bla car, nothing. I even asked a few people on the street to use their phone and got blown off. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I shed a few tears. At 2:45 PM, I decided to go to the nearest Starbucks I could fine because none of the city or nearby WiFi networks were functioning. Once I arrived, the driver informed me of a last minute emergency and that they were on there way for 3 PM. While I was a bit frustrated, I was just happy that they were on their way.

Once we met up at last, it was time to go to Sevilla! This was a west to east coast drive across all of Portugal and into Andalucia, Spain. It was about six hours, and I slept for a few of them. They dropped me right off at my hotel, and I got settled in. I had booked a hotel outside of the city because of costs but regretted it a little bit once I figured out how convulated it would be to get to the city center. Sevilla has Uber unlike some other parts of Spain, so that was a back-up plan.

When checking in, I picked up a copy of the Semana Santa processions. This is complicated everywhere, but especially in Sevilla. There are so many routes. There are actually 60 processions throughout the week. Some streets have more processions cross through, while others you will have a better view but see less. It’s also a lot of standing and waiting even after you find a spot to watch. Some people are very knowledgable and have prime spots and key processions figured out. Madruga (Thursday night into Friday morning) is the most popular set of Semana Santa processions.

The processions are lead by groups, hermandads (brotherhoods) with members called Nazarenes and costaleros. The Nazarenes carry candles and crosses. Some brotherhoods have up to 3000 members. The costaleros carry the very large and very heavy statues (thousands of pounds) through the streets. Some for up to 12 hours at a time. For Americans, the attire of the Nazarenes looks a lot like the KKK, so it is startling the first time you see it. The purpose is a sign of pentinence or others say it’s to mourn the death of Jesus. The different processions begin from their home church and end at the Sevilla Cathedral.

I tried to do a good amount of research on Semana Santa so I could have a better appreciation for the experience, but to be honest, I feel like I still don’t understand enough. Semana Santa as it is now developed in the 16th century as a way to tell the story of the Passion of Christ. From Palm Sunday to Easter, each of the processions is different, with a different mood, slightly different attire and statues, and a difference in music or even complete silence.

Processions

I started the night by going towards downtown, and I saw a few of the processions already beginning. From here, I quickly discovered how difficult it was going to be to navigate getting out of the historical center. I was scheduled to meet another English teacher that I had met in Galicia for drinks. What should’ve been a 15 minute walk became an hour and a half as I was met constantly with barricaded streets.

After we finished drinks and it got closer to midnight, I walked around aimlessly with no real understanding of where it was best to watch the processions. I followed the masses of people lining the streets and figured anywhere I could find with a good view was a good place. Once I got situated, it was about an hour of waiting before the first procession started walking through. This one probably lasted about an hour and was one of the ones with hundreds of Nazarenes. Over the next few hours, a few more came through, and I also got to see some of the large statues. By 4 AM, I was exhausted (mind you I hadn’t really slept since returning from the US and driving across Portugal). I was also shoulder-to-shoulder, alone, and standing. Even though the processions continued until 8 AM or even later, I decided it was time to call it a night. I struggled to get out of the crowd and actually remained stuck for another hour or so just trying to get out. Finally, I did, and I was on my way back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Palacio de Las Dueñas

I slept in pretty late the next morning and then headed to Palacio de Las Dueñas in the early afternoon. This was one of the sites that I hadn’t seen last year. While I was prioritizing the Cathedral and Giralda Tower, there weren’t any tickets available for that day, so I pushed it back later into the weekend.

This 15th century palace is actually privately owned by the House of Alba. Some well-known and rich families have lived here over the years. The collection of multiple centuries of art was beautiful, as well as the gardens you could walk around.

Setas de Sevilla

After enjoying this site, I headed towards the center district where I would meet up with the other English teacher, Morven, and her friend again. We had plans to grab drinks and then go to the Setas de Sevilla. This is the largest wooden structure in the world and was actually only built in the last decade or so. This is one of the sites I saw last year, but it was worth visiting again. This time, it would be at night, where they do a special light show. After discovering I lost my power bank in an Uber, I went to Morven’s hostel to charge up my phone while waiting for our meet-up time (RIP power bank).

After, I walked around downtown a little and saw a ton of people waiting for that night’s processions. I decided I wasn’t up for another night of waiting hours on end by myself in the middle of the night, and that I’d try to catch some processions in the morning. I headed back to the hotel and was in bed after my second day in Sevilla.

The next day, I took the shuttle to the train station that would connect me to downtown Sevilla.

I did a free walking tour that brought us through the main sites in Sevilla and ended in the Plaza de España. This is a large plaza situated in the parque de María Luisa that was built in the early 1900s.

Catedral de Sevilla and La Giralda

When I visited Sevilla last year, both of these sites were closed due to COVID. So, this trip, I prioritized seeing them. This cathedral is largest church of Gothic style and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. It’s believed that the remains of Christopher Colombus are buried here. The altarpiece is 30 meters tall and has gold that Colombus brought back from the west.

Among many other parts of Andalucia, this Cathedral represents the distinct religious eras and conquests in Spain. The cathedral was built starting in 1401 on top of the city’s Great Mosque from the 12th century. The Giralda tower, now the Cathedral belltower, was the minaret of the mosque and built in 1195. It was the tallest tower in the world at its time, nearly 100 meters. During the Moors era in Spain, the bell was rung to call people to prayer at the mosque. Because of the frequent trips up, ramps were built so that they could ride a horse up to the top throughout the day. After walking up the 38 ramps to the top, you have beautiful views of the city.

General Archive of the Indies

Nearby was the Archive of the Indies. This holds some pretty old and important documents that show the Spanish Empire in the Americas and Asia. Today, it has about 43,000 volumes and 80 million pages of documents dating back to the 16th century.

Torre del Oro

Another site that was closed during the peak COVID-era was Sevilla’s “Tower of Gold.” This was built in the 12th century and was originally part of the Moorish city wall. It was used for storage and a prison. Now, it houses the Museo Naval de Sevilla, the maritime museum of the city.

From here, I was a bit exhausted especially due to the rising temperatures. I walked along the river for a little while and towards the direction of where I was staying. I headed to bed for the night and prepared for my last day in Sevilla.

On Sunday, I packed up my things and headed out to see another site or two before starting the long journey back to Murcia.

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla (Bullring of the Real Maestranza de Caballería in Seville) is the largest and most significant bullring in Spain. The arena was built in the 18th century and can hold up to 13,000 spectators. It hosts a large bullfighting festival during Sevilla’s annual Feria de Abril.

There is also the Museo Taurino (Museum of Bullfighting) that shows paintings, artifacts, photos, and documents that show the role and history of bullfighting in Spain. I visited the bullfighting museum while I was in Valencia, and while I have some major ethical concerns around this practice, it’s certainly an important part of culture to understand and explore.

As I walked past the Cathedral and towards my final site for the day, I ended up in a Semana Santa procession. And by in, I mean in. Somehow I got caught up with everyone walking in the procession and struggled to get out for an entire block. Finally, I broke through the crowd and continued my journey.

Museo del Baile Flamenco

My last stop for the day was the city’s flamenco museum. They host flamenco shows and also have a multi-room museum that shows the evolution of flamenco, which is an expressive Spanish art-form of dance and music. It’s hard to describe as I’m still learning about it, but it’s an important part of Spanish culture, especially in Andalucia.

From here, my time in Sevilla was done. It was time to meet my Bla Bla car to go to Granada, and then catch a second one from Granada to Cartagena. The nearly 6 hour and 600 kilometer journey provided a lot of Spanish practice and time to mentally prepare to head back into work mode after 10 days off.

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