Holy Week adds appeal to this sunny spring break destination
Spring recess for DoDEA Europe students falls between April 6 and 10 this year. Wondering where to go and what to do on those well-deserved days off? While early April in northern Europe remains unpredictable, southern parts of the continent may already be experiencing T-shirt weather, making the likes of Malta, Sicily or Portugal’s Algarve region all solid choices. This year, however, we’re honing our sights on one region in particular: Andalusia, Spain.
Hundreds of miles of stunning coastline, whitewashed villages and vibrant cities, each with its own distinct identity, make Spain’s southernmost community an enduringly popular tourist destination. Its inland regions are among the warmest parts of all Europe, and even in early spring, the weather gods are likely to smile on you. Average April temps for its capital city Seville, for example, hover around 63 degrees Fahrenheit; hardly balmy, but contrast that with Frankfurt’s average of just 46 degrees over that same period.
The school vacation happily coincides with one of Spain’s most important festive periods of the year. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week preceding Easter, and Andalusia boasts of some of the most vibrant festivities in all the land. While celebrations vary from place to place, they have one thing in common: the depth of feeling they evoke in those taking part. Here’s a look at three Andalusian cities you can go to witness age-old rituals sure to stir up considerable emotion, even for non-Catholics or those without affinity to any religion whatsoever.
Granada: burning incense, ornate icons and the strains of music played on old-fashioned instruments transports the gathered crowds centuries back in time. Here, more than thirty brotherhoods of worship, known as “cofradías,” make their solemn ways through the streets of Granada during Holy Week. Most will be bearing highly decorated floats upon which statues of Jesus or Mary rest. They’ll be followed by “nazarenos,” recognizable by their long gowns with pointed hoods. Processions start late in the afternoon and continue deep into the night. Sights not to miss include the march on Palm Sunday, when children dress in costumes evoking the time of Christ and carry palm leaves; Wednesday’s procession, Los Gitanos, in which songs known as “saetas” are sung in praise of the statues as they’re borne up the steep and narrow cobblestone alleys; Thursday’s Silent Procession, which starts at midnight and takes place through the darkened streets; and the Good Friday March, when Granada’s residents request Jesus to grant them three wishes.
Side trips: you can’t miss the unsurpassed majesty and grace of the Alhambra, the famed Moorish palace and garden complex. The city’s Science Park offers interactive and educational exhibits of appeal to younger visitors. For a novel experience, head to the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Ski and Mountains Resort, Europe’s most southerly ski area. The ski season generally lasts until the end of May or early June.
Seville: the capital of Andalusia dazzles year-round, particularly during Holy Week. All eyes are on the pasos, oversized statues illustrating scenes from the final period of Jesus’s life. The pasos, some centuries old and works of art in their own right, are taken from the respective churches in which they’re kept and carried about the city streets, through the cathedral and then back to their usual resting places in processions which can last for 12 hours or more. Their immense weight is borne by the church brotherhood members known as the “costaleros.” Here too will you see the “nazarenos” in their long dresses and pointed caps. Seville’s women wear an elaborate veil of lace known as a mantilla, held in place with an elegant comb. A high point of the Holy Week traditions are La Madrugá processions beginning on Holy Thursday and into Good Friday, the best attended of which venerates The Virgin of Hope of Macarena, a wooden image of the Virgin Mary dating back to the 17th century.
Side trips: The royal palace known as the Alcázar is worth anyone’s time, particularly Game of Thrones fans, who might recognize its Water Gardens for the role they played as part of the fictional city of Sunspear. Those who can’t get enough of the series might wish to make way to the well-preserved town of Osuna, as the battle scenes of Danzak’s Pit were shot in its bull ring.
Málaga: Holy Week here is experienced with more exuberance and cheer than solemnity and silent contemplation. More than 5 million tourists flock to the city at this time, eager to be part of it all. The floats at the center of the processions are known as “tronos,” so huge they refuse to fit through church doors and require up to 270 persons to bear their immense weight. By day, marchers in military uniforms play their instruments and belt out their rousing anthems.
On Holy Wednesday, a rather unique tradition plays out. Legend holds that in 1759, prisoners broke out of jail to take part in one of the processions. When the parade ended, they returned to their prison, and a plague that had engulfed the town began to ease. The ruler of the day, Carlos III, subsequently enacted a decree allowing a prisoner to be released on this day, a privilege renewed to date on the Bishop’s Square.
Side trips: El Caminito del Rey, a 5-mile hiking trail linking up gorges, canyons and a large valley by means of paths and boardwalks, makes for incredible photo ops and is not for those with a fear of heights. Alternately, head to the town of Nerja, which tempts with sandy beaches and hidden coves and the scenic outlook known as the Balcón de Europa. Just down the road are the Caves of Nerja, a vast underground network of limestone caves brimming with massive stalactites.
Easter celebrations aside, Andalusia’s temptations include flamenco, tapas, whitewashed villages and sherry. With so much to experience, lasting memories from your Andalusian holiday are almost guaranteed.
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