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Semana Santa is creepy, and it’s meant to be.

Every year for Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), cities and towns all over Spain commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice by a show of penitence, in which participants’ identities are hidden by hats and face coverings. Some nazarenos walk through the city barefoot, and others bear crosses. The photo above shows some nazarenos taking part in the tradition, here photographed walking towards Seville’s Plaza San Francisco. No city’s show of devotion is greater than Seville’s during Holy Week, with thousands of people taking active part- we spotted plenty of young children and even babies dressed in the nazarenos‘ distinctive garb.

Each nazareno belongs to a hermandad, or brotherhood, which are based in city parishes. During Holy Week, each hermandad or cofradía gets its chance to take floats bearing the images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary from their home church all around the city. The floats, or pasos, are often hundreds of years old, so parades can be cancelled at the last minute if the weather is poor. The floats are borne on the shoulders of strong, beefy men known as costaleros. It’s quite a job, as some of the parades can continue for as long as 13 hours or more- so usually costaleros will switch at some point.

 

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Holy Week in Seville is certainly one of the most memorable sights I’ve seen just about anywhere. We were lucky enough to be staying in an Airbnb apartment in the Calle Hernando Colón, a street in which pasos go by each night during Holy Week. Watching from the balcony was certainly better than standing in the street below (being short, I can’t see much from street level when it’s crowded, and I also felt a bit claustrophobic), and the telltale mournful music alerted us each evening to the coming of the pasos. Afterwards, the small living room of the apartment would fill up with incense smoke. We were even lucky enough to see two performers from the balcony opposite sing saetas, or traditional religious songs, in homage to images of the Virgin and Jesus on the cross.

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We heard one man in the street -a Sevillano– commenting to his companion that while he loved Holy Week, he hated the crowds. I heard that Seville welcomes over 1,000,000 people during Holy Week, and they quickly fill the ancient streets, which are especially narrow in the city centre: they are expressly designed to bring shade to a very sunny city.

The photo above was taken in the Real Alcázar, a stunning Moorish palace (with later Christian additions) in the centre of Seville. Despite a busy Maundy Thursday in the city, the palace was relatively uncrowded and the cool, shady gardens were a perfect respite.

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We crossed the Guadalquivir just once in our weeklong trip, to visit Triana, the barrio famous for gypsies and authentic flamenco. It certainly didn’t disappoint with its jewel-toned prettiness, although it appears to have been gentrified in recent times, and is now perhaps home to a more well-heeled kind of resident. I also especially loved the barrio of La Macarena, a more working class, everyday kind of area. The food we had there was some of the best of the trip, and it was here that we saw the paso of María Santísima de la Esperanza Macarena Coronada, Seville’s most popular image of the Virgin.