Several months ago I booked our flights to Seville. I knew it would be before Easter but I didn't realize the week BEFORE Easter was such a big deal in the city. Sometimes the best surprises are left to chance. I didn't grow up Catholic but I do know what Holy Week is about. MarocBaba on the other hand had absolutely no idea what was going on and what the significance was.
We had an absolutely amazing experience, one that many would think is strange being that we are Muslim. I fully believe the beauty of traveling is to be a part of and experience the lives of other people around the world. It opens your eyes, it broadens understanding and it teaches us that we're all more alike than different.
As an American the first thing that struck me was the outfits of the nazarenos. They are not KKK members, this has nothing to do with that. In fact, the perception is a great example of how ill-intentioned people (KKK) hijack something sacred and holy to others. The hoods and robes are a sign of humility. Nazarenos embark on this spiritual experience as a way of self reflection and a way to atone their sins. The lack of sight is so that they can focus inward and concentrate on repentance. You'll see some with shoes and some barefoot, again another means of sacrifice.
If you're planning to visit Seville during Holy Week (or Semana Santa) here are some of our tips for making the most of your experience.
1) The processions are nearly everywhere in the city center so you won’t really be able to avoid them. Get the guidebook or app for routes so you know where to go and where might be better to avoid.
2) Monday through Wednesday are known to have smaller crowds as it’s typically just local residents in attendance, but that doesn’t mean small, it just means smaller. Palm Sunday will have huge crowds everywhere. The procession begins mid-afternoon on Palm Sunday and continues until early morning.
3) If you come across a procession and need to get to the other side of the road it will be almost impossible to turn around and find a different way. The good news is, it’s ok to cross through the procession when they’re stopped. Don’t walk through while they’re walking. When in doubt find someone that looks like they know what they're doing (i.e. is Spanish) and follow their lead.
4) There are food options everywhere – really walk 10 feet and you'll find something new. But, be prepared for crowds. We really enjoyed going into crowded restaurants and bars and ordering things we saw others eating. It gave us a great opportunity to meet local people who were very friendly. Don’t try to find something empty, we don't think it exists this time of year!
5) If you’re overwhelmed with processional activities, try going to an area that has fewer crowds. We visited the Plaza Espana and Parque Maria Luisa one afternoon and it was wonderful as there were not many people around. You may also want to consider a day trip out of the city or head to one of the rooftops of Seville where you can see what's happening below without being mixed into it.
6) Dress Up. We were impressed by how well everyone was dressed. You don’t need a 3 piece suit and formal gown but don’t wear ripped jeans and a tank top. Remember as fun of an atmosphere as it is, this is a religious festival and occasion. This might be the one thing that resonated with MarocBaba the most, he commented time and time again how nice it was to see families all dressed up and out together. It really is a family atmosphere.
7) If you want to sit and watch processions, then bring or buy a little chair and find a spot. Every day the processions are hours and hours long but you’re not stuck in place. A chair may just make you more comfortable.
8) Rooftops are great spots to watch the crowds. You won’t get an upclose view but you can see the show on full display and listen to the music from the accompanying musicians. Or, flip on the TV –the processions are broadcast on Seville’s TV station.
9) Get out of Seville. Semana Santa happens all over the country and you might find experiencing it in a smaller Andalusian city is more your style. Do it! It's very easy to rent a car and drive around this region. You'll discover lots of little villages worth stopping for. This post is really helpful to find these lesser known Andalusian villages.
Learn The Lingo:
- nazarenos – hooded robed people
- penitants – men carrying crosses
- cofradia – church fraternity group
- pasos – floats
- capirotes – the pointed hoods
Processions happen every day from Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) until the Saturday before Easter. They happen across the entire city BUT all processions go by the Seville Cathedral at some point. You do not need tickets to watch, in fact anywhere you go in central Seville you're likely to bump into one or two processions. Our favorites? The nighttime processions are beautiful; the candles and music make it all the more magical.
Need a place to stay? Compare hotel prices and book a great hotel – but make sure you book early!
If you're traveling on a budget check out this post with some more ideas on which hostels in Seville to choose.