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Forget chocolate eggs, chicks and Easter bunnies, Easter celebrations in Spain are all about sombre processions, ancient statues and religious floats. Spending Holy Week in Spain is quite an experience with festivities and parades going on all day and night. Here’s our pick of the best Easter celebrations in Spain.
One of the most famous and most elaborate Easter celebrations in Spain takes place in the Andalusian city of Seville. The celebrations here date back to the 16th century, and today feature around 50,000 people taking part in its parades. Here, the huge religious floats are typically carried on the heads of the worshippers. One of the most magical parts of the parades here, are the people who stand on their balconies and spontaneously sing to the procession below. The best parades usually take place on Good Friday, and feature some of the most exquisite statues.
The Semana Santa celebrations in Zamora are one of the oldest in Spain, dating back to the 13th century. The parades differ greatly from day to night, with the daytime ones characterised by lots of music and colour, and the nighttime ones by silence and prayer. The processions are also special here because they are accompanied by Gregorian chants and choral pieces. The highlights of Holy Week in Zamora include the Cristo de las Injurias, on Easter Wednesday and the Jesús Yacente brotherhood on Maundy Thursday, where they carry the 17th century statue of Christ and sing together after midnight.
Holy Week celebrations in Salamanca are particularly spectacular, mostly because they take place in one of Spain’s most attractive cities, filled with grand honey-coloured buildings such as the famous university and the Plaza Mayor. As well as the processions, the highlights are the services held in the chapel of the old university on Maundy Thursday. Everyone comes dressed in their finery and at the end, traditional chocolate and sweets are given out.
Visit Valladolid‘s Easter celebrations if you want to see some of the finest examples of Baroque religious sculpture in the country. The best parade to watch is that on Good Friday, which begins with bands of brotherhoods who ride through the city on horseback making proclamations, followed by the ‘Sermon of the Seven Words’ in the Plaza Mayor square. In the afternoon on Good Friday, the Passion Procession will take place, featuring 31 of these exquisite baroque statues, which were created around the 16th and 17th centuries. The day ends when the float of Virgen de las Angustias returns to her church and everyone begins to sing.
Granada, like Seville, really goes in for the sombre and serious Easter processions. The processions go on all day and sometimes during the night too, and are accompanied by drums and horns. One of the most interesting processions is that of the Cristo de Silencio on Holy Thursday. The procession happens at night by candlelight and takes place in complete silence, save for the banging of a single drum.
Murcia, located in the south of the country, in another fascinating city for Easter celebrations, particularly because of its connection to the famous religious sculptor Francisco Salzillo, who lived during the 18th century and made many of the floats, which are still used in the processions today. The best parade to see is the Salzillo Parade held on Good Friday at 7am, with the first ray of light, which must touch the float of the Fraternity of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth or the face of the Virgin Mary ‘La Dolorosa’.
Like in Seville and Granada, Easter processions in Malaga are serious and solemn. The celebrations here stand out for their elaborate processional thrones dressed in gold, as well as the tradition of freeing a prisoner, which dates all the way back to the time of Charles III. A group of prisoners escaped and carried a statue of Jesus through the streets during an Easter procession, and then voluntarily returned to their cells. King Charles III was so impressed that he decided to free one of them – a tradition which remains today. This takes place on Easter Wednesday, while Good Friday is another interesting day to celebrate in Malaga.
Easter in the city of Cáceres in Extremadura is a historic and beautiful occasion, set against the backdrop of this UNESCO World Heritage city. The religious brotherhoods and Easter processions here date back as far as the 15th century and feature many historic statues and religious icons. The most important procession takes place on Holy Wednesday when the Cristo Negro, a 14th century statue, is paraded through the streets. Everyone must stay in complete silence when the statue passes.
Cartagena is located on the coast, just below Murcia, and is known for its unique and varied history. The Semana Santa celebrations here are some of the most famous in Spain. The processions are a little unusual because they symbolise a rivalry between the religious brotherhoods – the marrajos and the californios. Other differences include the fact that children take part in the processions and give out sweets along the way. Almost all of the processions here take place at night.
The Easter celebrations in the historic city of Cuenca coincide with Religious Music Week, so are made extra special and emotional. The processions first took place here during the 17th century, when the first religious brotherhoods were founded. Today, the Easter parades feature over 30,000 people. The highlight of the week is the Camino del Calvario procession, held early on Good Friday morning. The parade is accompanied by drums and trumpets, heralding the statue of Jesus.
Easter Week in Lorca is one of the most important in its calendar, and it was even declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest. It’s known as the festival of the Whites and the Blues because of the rivalry between its two main religious brotherhoods. It also differs from many other Easter weeks in Spain, because people dress up as Roman emperors, Egyptian troops and Roman Gods. Chariots, horses and even Cleopatra play a role in this Holy Week.