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Spain is a country full of colorful history, passionate people, and incredible food. Each region has its stereotypes, typical foods, and religious views. The predominant religion is Catholicism, with at least 70% of the population self-identifying as such. In many of the northern regions, religion is practically nonexistent as most people have shunned their Catholic roots, but in the south, religious traditions are still sacred. In the southern autonomous community of Andalucia, these traditions are so well-preserved that visitors from around Spain and the world descend upon the region to observe the festivities of Holy Week, known in Spanish as Semana Santa.
Semana Santa began over 500 years ago in Andalucia as a way for common people to understand the Passion of the Christ. To showcase the story, massive wooden floats are created – a labor that starts early in the year – with statues depicting Christ, Mary, and a number of saints. The heavy floats are carried by 25 to 50 men through the streets in somber processions amid thousands of onlookers. The festivities begin on the Thursday evening before Easter and continue through Sunday. The best places to see the processions are the cities of Seville and Malaga. If you’re planning to join in the festivities, particularly in Seville, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Book early. This can’t be stressed enough. With many European countries including all of Spain having school holidays during this time, all the hotels and hostels will be booked in advance. Even if you can get a room, they will be quite expensive. AirBNB rooms, usually a cheap alternative to hotels, will also be more expensive. If necessary, check the surrounding towns for available rooms and book bus tickets into the city. Carmona, a small pueblo outside of Seville, is a good destination should you find no availability in the city. Also, book your flight well in advance as this is a hot Easter destination and flights will sell out quickly.
Plan to sleep in the Seville airport as a last resort. It is not open 24 hours and there’s no sleeping allowed in the airport. One traveller I know attempted this and was forced to couch-surf at a stranger’s home. Don’t risk it, plan in advance.
Arrive as early as possible. The first procession begins on Thursday evening and the streets will be packed with people trying to watch. The earlier you arrive, the better spot you’ll snag for watching. Expect huge crowds of people and be aware of your surroundings and your belongings as pickpockets may take advantage of the high number of unsuspecting tourists.
Be reverent and quiet during the processions. These are somber events that are highly emotional for some people. You’ll be amazed at how quiet a group of thousands of people can be, and you may even find it eerie. Also, there will be a large number of people dressed in long gowns, capes, and pointed hoods – which look eerily similar to the American KKK outfits. No need to worry though. This is part of the tradition and has nothing to do with racism or violence.
Be overly concerned about your personal space. Spain is a culture that prides itself on affection and closeness, and with that comes a lack of personal space “bubbles” that Americans are so fond of. People will bump into you and stand close to you. Try to adjust your expectations before arriving to minimize annoyance.
Around The City
Expect to pay more for everything. Because so many tourists will flock to Seville, restaurants and bars will likely raise prices. But Spain in general, and particularly the south, will still have cheaper wine, beer, and food than the US or the UK!
Eat the oranges. The orange trees lining the streets of Seville give the city a very pleasant aroma in the spring. It may be tempting to pick an orange directly from the tree, but they are bitter oranges, only to be used for making marmalades.
See the city. While you’re not watching the processions, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much the city has to offer its tourists. Take advantage of your time there and don’t miss some of the top sights such as the Cathedral, the Plaza de Toros, the Torre de Oro, and walks along the Guadalquivir River. Order a glass of wine and some tapas at an outdoor patio and breathe in the fresh air while watching horse-drawn carriages pass by.
Rush yourself or the locals. Seville is a laid-back, charming destination worlds away from the hustle and bustle of cities like New York and London. People are friendly and love to stop and chat with their neighbors, which may sometimes leave you waiting for a drink or food, but stop to appreciate the community feel of the city and take your time to enjoy the food, drinks, sights, and people.