Semana Santa: Cities That Celebrate in Spain

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    From Toledo to Seville and all Across Spain

    ••• Santa Semana in Spain. AIL Madrid

    When traveling to Spain for the annual March and April holiday of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, choosing which city you want to visit really comes down to which type of cultural experience you'd like to enjoy on your trip.

    While Seville is one of the most popular and extravagant cities to enjoy the week-long festivities, Zamora hosts a devout and traditional ceremony honoring the Passion of Jesus Christ and Toledo offers a modern twist to the festivities close to the bustling city of Madrid.

    For the more religiously-inclined traveler, the Castilla-Leon region is the best place to find more festivities and ceremonies centered around traditional Holy Week events. Along with Zamora, you can also visit Valladolid, Leon, Salamanca, Avila, and Segovia in the region. Alternatively, you can venture to the Andalusia region, especially Seville, for the biggest and grandest Semana Santa celebrations in Spain.

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    Semana Santa in Andalusia

    ••• Semana Santa in Andulacia. Vida Rustica

    Semana Santa is a big event in Andalusia, and the focal point of Semana Santa in Andalusia is in Seville. It is the extravagant elegance of the processions here that have made Spain's Semana Santa celebrations famous throughout the world. However, not far behind Seville is Malaga, another city well worth checking out.

    If you've already been to one of these two cities during Semana Santa, or if you'd like something a little less crowded, any big city in Andalusia will have something to see, and each city in Andalusia has a different mood to its celebrations. For example, in Córdoba Semana Santa is especially serious while in Jaen there is a strong folk influence. Read more on the various styles of Semana Santa in Andalusia, Spain.

    Semana Santa starts a little later in Andalusia than in other provinces, beginning on the Sunday before Easter Sunday (Domingo de la Resurreccion) itself. Other regions normally begin two days earlier, on Friday (Viernes de Dolores).

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    Semana Santa in Seville

    ••• Scene from "Semana Santa in Seville" by DER (Documentary Educational Resources). Image: DER

    In Seville, Semana Santa starts on Sunday with the Domingo de Ramos processions from various churches around the city to Seville Cathedral. There are between seven and nine of these each day between Sunday and Jueves Santos on Thursday. Processions all start at their respective churches at around 1 p.m. and arrive at the cathedral throughout the day until 3 the following morning.

    On Viernes Santo, Friday, shortly after midnight, another wave of processions begin. They start arriving at the cathedral at about 5 a.m., but some of them don't arrive until 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Proceedings return to normal in the afternoon, with processions leaving at about 3 p.m. and continuing until about 3 a.m.

    Saturday is a much quieter day with only a few short processions, most starting in the evening around 7 p.m. and finishing at around 11 p.m. or midnight. On Sunday, one procession, the most important one of the week, leaves shortly before 5 a.m. from the Santa Marina church and arrives at...MORE the Seville Cathedral at 2:30 p.m.

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    Semana Santa in Malaga

    Malaga is second only to Seville in terms of pomp and ceremony during Semana Santa. For details of where the processions leave from and where they go, see this Itinerary for Semana Santa in Malaga. The page is in Spanish, but the timetables for each day "Itinerario de las procesiones del" are self-explanatory, as is their map (plano in Spanish).

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    Semana Santa in Castilla and Leon

    ••• Semana Santa in Castilla y Leon. Hola

    Semana Santa in Castilla-Leon is a far more solemn affair than in Andalusia. It is seen as a lot more authentic than that of Andalusia, more a commemoration of Jesus's death than a celebration.

    While in Malaga and Seville there are numerous processions made up of just one or two floats (each procession pertaining to a single church), in Castilla-Leon there are far fewer processions, but each one has up to 11 floats. This means that the activity is more concentrated, and with most activities taking place in the evening, you are free to spend your days elsewhere.

    There are six principal cities in Castilla-Leon, each of which does Semana Santa in a similar way. These cities, in order of importance during Semana Santa, are Zamora, Valladolid, Leon, Salamanca, Segovia, and Avila. Note that Leon, Salamanca, Segovia, and Avila are the more touristy cities, but Zamora and Valladolid are the more famous cities with regards to Semana Santa.

    Semana Santa begins earlier in Castilla-Leon than in...MORE Andalusia, beginning two Fridays before Easter Sunday, making ten days of celebrations.

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    Semana Santa in Zamora

    ••• Semana is so important in Zamora that they have a statue dedicated to it. Image: Damian Corrigan

    Zamora is the smallest of the six Castilla y Leon cities but is the most famous when it comes to Semana Santa. Though there are more processions in Leon and Valladolid, they are not as old as those of Zamora, and Zamora's floats (called pasos) are designed by famous artists.

    Zamora's Semana Santa begins with one procession a day from the Viernes de Dolores (the first Friday) until the first Sunday (Domingo de Ramos). There is then one processions a day in the evening from Monday until Wednesday (Lunes Santo, Martes Santo and Miercoles Santo) and another one at midnight.

    Thursday (Jueves Santos) is an important day, with just enough time after the processions of the night before to get some sleep before a mass in the cathedral at in the morning. There are then three processions spread out over the day. In the evening, Zamora takes on a little of the partying of Seville, with people occupying the streets throughout the night. It is a family event, with parents and children mingling...MORE with drunk youths. It all ends with a procession at 5am, officially called "la procesion de las cinco de la mañana" (the procession of five o'clock in the morning) but commonly called "la procesion de los borachos" (the procession of the drunks), for obvious reasons.

    On Friday evening there are two processions. Saturday has just one procession as well as singing in the main square (Plaza Mayor) and events are rounded off on Sunday morning with one last procession, followed by a traditional meal of eggs and ham, called "El Dos y Pingada".

    See pictures from each procession with these pictures of Semana Santa in Zamora (click on each procession name).

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    Semana Santa in Valladolid

    ••• Semana Santa in Valladolid, Spain. Image: Rutger Moree

    Valladolid is another of the most important cities in Spain during Semana Santa. It is second only to Zamora in terms of the age and beauty of the floats.

    On Viernes de Dolores and Sábado de Pasión there are processions in the evenings. On Sunday there is a blessing in cathedral followed by a procession shortly after it at midday and another at night. The processions get more concentrated the further in the week you get. On Monday evening there is one procession, on Tuesday evening there are two, and there are three on Wednesday evening. On Wednesday night, at midnight, there are three important processions, again featuring 17th-century floats.

    Then there is then just enough time to sleep before Thursday's busy day begins. There is a mass in the cathedral in the morning, followed by another procession shortly afterward and an evening full of processions, beginning in the early evening and continuing until after midnight. Friday is no less hectic, with processions early in the...MORE morning, a sermon in the Plaza Mayor at midday and then more processions in the late afternoon. Thankfully, things are over reasonably early, to allow you to catch up on some sleep! Saturday has a couple more processions in the evening, and on Sunday morning, there is a final procession, followed by the releasing of doves to signify the end of Semana Santa.

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    Semana Santa in Leon

    Leon is interesting for the sheer number of processions. It doesn't match up to those of Andalusia, but there is more going on here than in other cities in the Castilla and Leon regions.

    There's just one procession on Friday evening, but there are four on Saturday evening, five throughout Sunday, four in close succession on Monday night, three on Tuesday evening, four on Wednesday evening, and five on Thursday.

    At midnight on Thursday night into Friday morning, things are a little different. Rather than a procession, there is a "ronda" where people go through the streets reminding people of the next morning's procession.

    On Friday morning there is a long, drawn out procession which lasts for hours, including an important meeting in the Plaza Mayor. There are then more processions in the early evening.

    On Saturday evening, there are three more processions, with a couple more leaving at midnight on Saturday night into Sunday morning. Sunday rounds off the events with...MORE another procession, a mass in the Plaza de la Catedral, and one last procession at midday.

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    Semana Santa Off the Beaten Path

    ••• Semana Santa procession, with Jesus entering the cathedral in Salamanca, Spain. Image: Schuma Devn

    Apart from Zamora, Valladolid, and Leon, there are other cities worth seeing in Castilla-Leon; in particular, Salamanca, Avila, and Segovia are worthwhile destinations for celebrating the Holy Week.

    In Salamanca, there are important evening processions from the first Friday until the last Saturday (not on the first Saturday). Towards the end of the week, there are more processions, with events during Wednesday night into Thursday morning, Thursday night into Friday morning and Friday night into Saturday morning. On Easter Sunday, events come to a head in Salamanca's magnificent Plaza Mayor, with a reenactment of the resurrection from midday, along with much singing and dancing.

    In both Segovia and Avila, there are events throughout the week, as at other cities in Castilla-Leon, but nothing that has been given the level of "international tourist interest." However, with the spectacular backdrops of Segovia's aqueduct and Avila's city walls, it is worth a side trip to...MORE check out at least one procession in each of these cities.

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    Semana Santa in Toledo

    ••• Semana Santa in Toledo, Spain. Image: Jorge A. Lopez

    Events begin early in Toledo and last for over two weeks. While most places start on the Friday before Semana Santa (called Viernes de Dolores), Toledo starts eight days before that. There are also some minor processions from Friday until Wednesday evening when there is a concert in the Teatro de Rojas.

    On Viernes de Dolores, there are more minor processions, followed by the big procesion de Viernes de Dolores at about 11 p.m. On Sabado de Pasion, Saturday, there are even more processions, a few concerts, and a re-enactment of the passion. On Domingo de Ramos, Sunday, there are activities in the morning starting with a blessing in the cathedral followed by a number of processions after midday.

    On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Semana Santo, guests can attend events each evening or witness small processions early in the day and larger ones to end each night. On Thursday, Jueves Santo, there are events throughout the day, including choir singing in the cathedral and the big procession...MORE of the day later on in the evening. Events continue until the morning, with processions until early morning.

    On Friday, Viernes Santo, things start early, with events throughout the night and in the early hours of the morning. Sleep is not an option, but there is a break for a few hours in the early afternoon for a siesta (nap). On Sabado Santo, Saturday, there is a major procession shortly after midnight, and events restart with morning choir singing and more processions in the evening.

    As the final day of the Holy Week, Sunday is a continuation of Saturday's midnight procession and restarts again in the morning with a procession of the resurrected figure of Christ. At noon, there is a solemn mass in the cathedral followed by the final processions.