The streets were jammed and as our driver tried to find his way to our rental I watched people hurrying in the traffic. As we got out of the cab, I instantly felt the warmth from the sunshine and sweet and spicy scent tickled my nose. We arrived in Malaga on Maundy Thursday in the middle of Semana Santa, the Holy Week. I never imagined that Semana Santa in Malaga would be such a beautiful, exhausting, educational and enriching experience.
Holy Week timeline
Holy week in Spain is a big deal, and Malaga is one of the few major cities that celebrates Semana Santa. I mean really CELEBRATES. Other cities in Spain that celebrate Semana Santa are Seville, Córdoba, Segovia, Toledo, and Madrid, in addition to a few smaller towns. When the Holy Week takes place is different each year, but Semana Santa 2019 starts on Sunday 14th of April and lasts until Sunday 21st of April. The Holy Week days in Malaga are Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday.
The celebration of the Holy Week may vary from region to region, and from city to city. But if you want this experience for purely educational reasons it is enough to see Semana Santa once. Whatever city you will stay in during the Holy Week you will get the sense of what it is all about. The processions of the Holy Week in Malaga start on Palm Sunday, and there are in total 9 parades that day. The first one begins at 9:45 am and with the last finishing at 1:15 am the next day (night). All processions take place from various churches and religious brotherhoods in the city, making their way around the city en route to the cathedral. There are between 6 and 9 processions every day, except on Holy Saturday when there are no processions. The most important parade of the week takes place on Easter Sunday and starts at 10:00 am. You will find Holy Week timelines in every hotel and rental apartments, so you don’t have to figure it out in advance.
As we were unpacking in our apartment, we heard loud music. We heard drums, trombones, and brass, and it was some kind of undefined mixture of marches and classical music. The music played was sad and complaining, yet powerful and energetic. It was beautiful and weird at the same time.
Our apartment was in the middle of the Old Town in Malaga and fortunately on one of the routes for processions. It gave us first-hand experience to Semana Santa events. The apartment’s location was also unfortunate because we could hear the evening and night processions very well as they passed under our balcony or on the neighboring street.
Holy Week facts
Holy Week in Christianity is the week immediately before Easter, the last week of Jesus’ life. Every day of the Holy Week commemorates different events of Jesus’ last days. Just as these days represent different events from Jesus’ days before the resurrection on Easter Sunday, so do the processions. Each day’s processions commemorate different events from those same days. The people participating in processions wear Nazareno or the penitential robe. It has several parts – a tunic which is different in colors depending on the day of Semana Santa and a conically shaped hood to hide the face of the person wearing the Nazareno. The Nazareno robe is of medieval origin. Each procession of the Holy Week in Malaga usually has two floats, one of Jesus and one of the Virgin Mary. On Good Friday most of the processions are silent, and with the last processions of the day the lights in the city go out.
Processions last at least a few hours and move very slowly, due to the weight of the floats and following frequent breaks, and the crowds. There are several places you can book a seat to watch the processions, but you can get much closer to the floats and processions if you watch them from the street.
When procession stops for a break, you can see the light from the candles, although not every procession had lit candles. You smell the incense, see the robes and the eyes behind the capes up close. And you see the magnitude of the floats and its decorations.
People wearing Nazarenos during procession carry candles or wooden crosses. You might also see many kids and some adults walking around with balls made of wax in their hands. The ball is the wax from the candles carried in the processions, that they have been collecting for years.
The bands following the processions and playing music wear military uniforms.
Holy Week in Spain
There are Holy Week celebrations in every Christian country, but these celebrations are as different as there are directions in Christianity.
Traditions of Holy Week in Malaga have a history of over 500 years. Processions are organized throughout the Holy Week, but indeed, the most spectacular ones are those on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. On Maundy Thursday, Cristo de Mena also known as Cristo de la Buena Muerte, arrives in Malaga port at around 11 am, is escorted by the Spanish Foreign Legion, and is probably the most popular, and certainly the most spectacular of the Easter processions. Good Friday is a day of silence, and there is no music accompanying processions.
Visiting Malaga during Semana Santa can be challenging and exhausting but also exciting and fun. The city fills with music, the smell of incense, colors, and people, both locals, and tourists. The Holy Week represents the celebration of Jesus’ life but also mourning and reflection.
Easter processions in Spain
If you are visiting Spain during Easter and the Holy Week 6 days with music, crowds, incense smell may be too much. Each day has a different commemoration, and the processions and floats are beautiful no matter the day of the Holy Week.
Palm Sunday procession
Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. Palm Sunday is known as such because the faithful will often receive palm fronds which they use to participate in the reenactment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. 9 brotherhoods process on Palm Sunday each is focusing on a specific historical event from Jesus’ life. The first procession starts at 10:00 am by the Brotherhood of Pollinica and is the brotherhood that has increased participation of children, and their presence is a signal that Holy Week has begun.
This day is for the parade of the figure of Jesus the Captive, the longest parade of the Holy Week. Only 6 brotherhoods are processioning on Holy Monday, and as on Palm Sunday, they commemorate different events, amongst these, are gypsies who accompany their Christ and virgin figures with song and dance as they make their way around the city center.
Virgen de las Penas, a parade of a throne and a religious figure with a mantle of flowers, takes place on Holy Tuesday. The virgin’s cloak is made entirely of fresh flowers from the gardeners of Malaga city. Men who carry the throne on their backs tend to pick it up higher and move it according to the music rhythm. There are 6 processions on Holy Tuesday.
The Holy Wednesday is a popular day of the Holy Week, the day when they release a prisoner. This act dates back to the 18th century. Its origin is due to the year in which the parade was suspended, but the prisoners decided to escape and make the parade by themselves. They later returned to their cells; this caused the king to determine releasing one prisoner every year, an act that is still taking place since then. This day some of the oldest and most traditional brotherhoods participate in the processions, 7 brotherhoods with 15 thrones in total take the streets of the city. In the processions, the Christ figure is accompanied by a pardoned prisoner, recently released from prison. There are 7 processions on Holy Wednesday.
Maundy Thursday is the day for the Parade of Legionaries. They land in the port of Malaga and are part of a procession through the streets of the city. Some of the most popular and historical brotherhoods take part in Maundy Thursday processions, and there are 8 brotherhoods participate this day. Brotherhood of the Holy Supper (Hermandad de la Sagrada Cena) carries one of the heaviest thrones of Christ of the Holy Week, where the first throne represents the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, and the second Virgin of Peace. Christ of the True Cross (Cristo de la Vera Cruz) is the oldest brotherhood of the city, dated to the 16th century. Its silent procession, the last of the night, is a unique feature of the festivities. 8 brotherhoods are marching on Maundy Thursday.
All processions during Good Friday are solemn and mostly silent. Good Friday is the day for the official townhall brotherhood and the religious figure called Virgen de los Dolores. The Virgin of the Dolores is a work of Fernando Ortiz of the 18th century and is carried on the smallest throne of Holy Week. The lights of the city fade off as the throne passes by. There are 8 processions taking place on Good Friday.
The procession of the Resurrection of Jesus and the Virgin Queen of the Heaven is the last procession of Holy Week. This procession is organized by the Brotherhoods Association, and all the brotherhoods attend. The floats depict the meeting of Jesus and his Mother after He had been raised from the dead. Their presence signals the end of Holy Week celebrations in this city. The black and purple gowns are replaced by white and green for the Sunday of Resurrections procession.
There are no processions on Saturday.
For exact timetable for processions read more on Guide to Malaga site.
Where to stay in Malaga
A word of advice is to book flights and accommodation early ahead. We stayed in a one bedroom apartment Livin4Malaga in Old Town Malaga, in 5-10 minutes walking distance to the Cathedral, shopping street, and restaurants. The apartment had a small balcony, bathroom with a shower, spacious bedroom with a king-size bed, and a foldout couch in the living room. In the living room, it was a kitchenette corner with fridge, cupboards, sink, and a dining table for four. The apartment was located on the third floor. There is an elevator in the building. On the rooftop terrace, there was a daybed, few sunbeds, sun umbrellas and a few high tables with high chairs. Bring your drinks and snacks and chill in the sun. Remember sunscreen!
We booked Livin4Malaga apartment through bookings.com here.
Bring earplugs and enjoy your stay in Malaga.
Read one of my other post on things to do in Malaga for your first visit.
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