Semana Santa

Semana Santa (or Holy Week in English) is a major festival in Spain and celebrated in different ways throughout the country.

Rather than the Easter weekend itself, it is the week leading up to Easter that is celebrated here in Spain with both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday official public holidays. Most towns and many villages celebrate Holy Week in one way or another, ranging from small highly religious processions to lavish and ostentatious extravaganzas. One factor, however, is common to all events and that is the underlying gravitas and devotion to the Spaniards religious beliefs. Whilst there are some spectacular displays to be seen here in Andalucía, the nearest spectacle is staged in Lorca in the adjoining autonomous region of Murcia.

Semana Santa represents Spain’s brotherhoods’ processions and unique, age-old traditions specific to each region. There are several brotherhoods in Lorca, but the most important are the Blue (azul) and White (blanco) fraternities, both of which display vigorous rivalry. The procession takes place in the Avenida Juan Carlos I which is a long, straight street ideal for the spectacle of biblical and passionate processions, chariot races and floats depicting scenes from both the Old and New Testaments in which different historical characters are represented. Every character bears some relation to the life, passion and death of Christ, and the up swelling of Christianity as a major religion. As part of the procession, spectators will be rewarded with people dressed as Roman emperors, Egyptian troops, Roman gods in chariots and on horseback, and virgins adorned in lavish, rich embroidered robes. In fact, many of the costumes are outstanding because of their elaborate locally done gold and silk hand embroidery, as well as the various brotherhood banners. The procession embraces devotion by the brotherhoods by the chanting of Marian hymns and serenades as well as music played predominantly on drums and trumpets. Members of each brotherhood, dressed in their uniquely coloured and decorated robes, carry their religious statues which are adorned with flowers for the occasion. These statues are then displayed in local churches for the rest of the year.

Each brotherhood carries a huge float (paso) made from either wood or plaster, which display sculptures depicting different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Many of these floats are works of art by Spanish artists and some date back hundreds of years. They are huge structures and can take up to 150 people to carry them which is devotion in itself! On the more ostentatious side are huge floats adorned in gilt which depict different aspects of history including Cleopatra and the antiChrist.

Many of the participants in these processions will be seen wearing a penitential robe (nazareno) that comprises a tunic and a hood (capirote) with a pointed tip which fully conceals the face of the wearer. The use of these robes dates back to medieval times when penitents could show repentance without revealing their identity. Some people feel threatened by this garment as it is more recently associated with the anti-establishment Ku Klux Klan movement in the USA, but it has far greater religious significance. Dependant upon where the procession is taking place, nazarenos may carry processional candles or wooden crosses, be barefoot, or even carry shackles and chains on their feet to signify penance.

Regardless of religious viewpoints, the Semana Santa processions are not to be missed. Whilst the general atmosphere of the festivities is usually solemn, the grand processions are simply spectacular, yet simultaneously emotional. Spain knows how to party, however, and despite the underlying message of the Passion of Christ, it is a fun time and one easily becomes absorbed in the rivalry between the ‘blues’ and ‘whites’.

Next year, however, as a complete contrast, I’m looking forward to experiencing a re-enactment of the Passion staged by the inhabitants of a small village in Granada province.
 

 

 

 

Journeys Into The Unknown

Although it’s hard to realise, it’s twenty months since I relocated to Spain …

For many British people who retire to Spain, life basically consists of lying in the sun around the pool, consuming copious amounts of relatively cheap booze, and venturing out to local shops and bars owned by fellow Brits. Many appear to live in a comfort bubble within a 20 km radius of their homes and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve mentioned places that I’ve visited, only to be greeted with the ‘where’s that?’ comment. It has become very apparent that people simply don’t look at maps or, indeed, are incapable of doing so, but for those struggling to read maps, there are easier ways of finding places, notably the Internet, as well as enquiring at local information centres. For those who do make the effort, there is a wealth of history, culture and scenery to be discovered almost on the doorstep.

I appreciate that Spain is a large country and that many places cannot be visited in a day. I am fortunate in living in the north east of Almería province which affords easy access to Granada and Jaën provinces as well as the autonomous region of Murcia. To put things into perspective, Almería province covers 8774 sq kms, which is the approximate size of Cornwall and Somerset combined but somewhat smaller than the total area of Dorset and Devon. As well as coastal towns and villages, there is an abundance of secluded coves, and moving inland, one will find mountains, valleys, hidden villages, lakes, forests and ancient monuments. When navigating mountain roads, many of which are maintained to a good standard, one can expect ever-changing vistas with a surprise around virtually every corner. Admittedly, some roads are very narrow and twisty, even degenerating into dirt tracks, but persevering with these will reward the traveller with uninterrupted views and frequent hidden gems.

As a general rule, I do try and explore new places at least twice a month. Of course, this is weather-dependent but for the most part, the sun shines! Having said that, some of the mountainous areas can look stunning with cloud formations looming overhead, and their overall appearance changes to reflect the seasons. Quaint villages with their narrow streets, plazas and churches are a joy to wander around, and maybe partake of a drink in the local bar whilst soaking up the views! Obviously, to experience these hitherto unknown places, a car is essential, but seeing as public transport in this part of Spain is fairly minimal, almost everyone has access to private transport.

Much of the interior of Almería province consists of a parched, lunar landscape with low mountain ranges and dried-up river beds. However, two areas of the desert boast exceptional geological features, namely the Karst in the Yesos de Sorbas Natural Park which is the most outstanding gypsum landscape in Spain, and the eroded mountains of the Tabernas Desert Natural Park. Nestling in the shadows of the Sierra Alhamilla Natural Park is the town of Níjar, famous for its primitive earthenware ceramics, and further into the mountains at 550m above sea level is the village of Lucainena de Las Torres. This quaint Andalucian village boasts narrow streets with whitewashed houses, and the 18th century church faces a ‘mirador’ or viewing area giving panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscape. Of particular interest are the remains of large kilns used for iron extraction from the rocks. Mining began in 1895 and due to its secluded location, a special 35 km railway line was constructed to transport extractions to the Mediterranean coast. The industry functioned until its closure in 1942 and the recently renovated kilns are now a site of special historical interest. The eight round kilns, which were constructed in 1900, were used to transform the rock into a much richer material. The kilns were filled from the top with alternate layers of rock and charcoal, and after cooking, the nuggets of ore were removed from the mouth of the ovens and loaded into wagons for their onward journey by train. Each oven was capable of producing 50 tonnes of ore per day.

To the south east, and close to Almería city, is the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park. This is the largest coastal protected area in Andalucía comprising a wild and isolated landscape of specific geological interest. Offshore are numerous tiny rocky islands and underwater extensive coral reefs teeming with marine life. In the northern corner of the province lies the Sierra de María-Los Vélez wooded park, bordered by the towns of Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco, the latter boasting an interesting castle. For those wishing to stay closer to home, local fiestas are a great way to experience regional culture. As the Spanish are very family-orientated, with several generations often living in the same house, they are proud to share their country and heritage. And that is just part of what my home province of Almería has to offer …

So, to those who simply want to soak up the sun, I say good luck and beware the health risks. However, they are missing out on an enrichment of life, education, enjoyment, and fun! Travelling in this part of Spain is a pleasant experience with generally little traffic and discovering some of these hidden places is, indeed, a journey into the unknown!

¡Feliz viaje!