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Caught up in the Semana Santa in Málaga

by Silke Elzner

We have truly arrived in Spain. Our dream destination of Andalusia is our new home. And it feels unreal. It’s been such a long process, so much planning involved, that we are still not quite prepared to accept that this is now the place where we belong.

We do not feel foreign, we actually feel welcomed. But at the same time we are busy processing a myriad of cultural nuances, linguistic challenges, everyday unknowns. It’s tiring and draining but overall we seem to cope well.

Our first week in Spain coincided with the Easter Long Weekend. Arriving that time of year in Andalusia is a bit like a crash course in cultural differences.

In Australia and Germany, the Easter Long Weekend is the most generous occasion where people enjoy the extra long weekend. With Good Friday and Easter Monday off, most families will want to pack their bags and head off to a holiday location.

Not so in Spain. In most work places, these days are normal working days. There is no Easter Hat Parade and no Easter Egg Hunt, this weekend feels like a normal weekend altogether.
A trono with Jesus is carried through the streets of Malaga

The Holy Week is the Spanish way of celebrating Easter

However, this doesn’t mean that Easter isn’t celebrated in Spain. People just celebrate it differently. They don’t take the weekend off, but instead they celebrate for a whole week. This is called the Samana Santa, or Holy Week.

It doesn’t mean that the Spanish would have time off during the Holy Week. Instead, there are festivities in the streets and an overall pleasant and cheerful atmosphere. During this week, there are processions in many city centres of Spain, and in Andalusia in particular. And Malaga, our new home, is probably one of the best known Semana Santa destinations in all of Spain.
Brothers during the procession

The processions are a feast for the senses

The processions start on Palm Sunday and have a history that dates back some 500 years. They are a big thing in this city, and people flock to the streets in particular during the most popular processions on Thursday and Good Friday.

They are indeed a spectacular sight – no matter whether you watch these processions at night or during the day, it is something that you would take in with all your senses. The chanting of the people in the procession and the response from the crowds, the smell of the incense, the music played by the marching band… you cannot help but feel enchanted by the whole performance.

It is the brotherhoods that bring Malaga’s traffic to a standstill during the Semana Santa. They carry the so called tronos, or floats, from their brotherhood houses to the churches, along elaborate routes that are lined with spectators. These brotherhoods, or cofradías, are meeting all year round for special meetings and classes, but during the Semana Santa they fulfil their holiest of all obligations by carrying the tronos through the city streets.

They look strange in their robes with their pointed hoods. Their resemblance to the infamous Ku-Klux-Klan is odd but nothing to be concerned about. Those that have been chosen to carry the heavy tronos on their shoulders are given a great honour.
Mary is carried through Malaga as part of Semana Santa

No escape from the crowds

We don’t like crowds. We usually do not seek out large gatherings, processions or parades of any kind, or large sporting events. So we decided to give the Semana Santa processions in Malaga a miss to focus on other areas of interest instead. After all, there are so many other things that we wanted to do and see in Malaga before starting our tedious task of setting up a new life in Spain.

We took the train into the city on Easter Sunday, pretty confident that we would be able to avoid major gatherings and the route of the processions altogether. Not so. As it turned out, the processions were taking place in pretty much the whole city centre, and we eventually ended up right in the middle of the action. We did try to find different routes through the old town but just like in a Fred Kruger movie we ended up in the midst of the procession with every other turn.

But this wasn’t as bad is it might sound. The crowds weren’t too big after all. Even though it was Easter Sunday, there weren’t that many people watching, and the way the procession carried through the streets, there were many options to get a good view at the beautiful tronos.

Yet, because of the weight of the tronos (they weigh several tons and require at least a dozen men to carry them), the pace was slow. Every other minute or so the procession came to a standstill as the weigh bearers put down the trono to recover from the heavy load. This gave us plenty of time to take in all the small details of the processions.
Different Brotherhoods take part in this event over the course of the week

The Semana Santa as an introduction to the culture of Andalusia

In the end, it was a memorable and heart-warming experience. What we witnessed was a time-honoured tradition, deeply routed in the cultural landscape of Andalusia. The people around us accepted this display of faith as part of their heritage, supporting their loved ones who were walking in the procession and encouraging them to carry on. The atmosphere was lively and cheerful, not solemn and silent.

The tronos with their beautiful statues of Jesus and Mary, the flowers decorating them, the heavy smell of incense, the dozens of candles, they all added a distinct flavour to our experience. A cultural experience that we had been craving for so much while we were still living in Australia.

In the end, we were glad that we had been caught up accidentally in the Semana Santa processions. It was a vital part in understanding the culture in our new home, in getting to know the people around us and to get a better understanding of what makes them tick.

Andalusia, we have finally arrived. We are ready for you. Wonder what else is out there? Check out my comprehensivs Andalusia Travel Guide!

What you need to know about the Semana Santa in Malaga

The Semana Santa is a great excuse for a quick city escape to the south of Spain, or for a day trip from your holiday resort on the Costa del Sol.

It is best to take public transport to the city centre due to street closures and a general lack of parking space options.

Malaga’s city centre is perfectly walkable and is mostly pedestrianised.

The Semana Santa processions are a reaction to the end of the many centuries long Muslim rule in Spain and are therefore unique to Spain.

You will find them in many other cities in Spain, but in Malaga they are known for their particularly cheerful and colourful atmosphere.

Processions take place every day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, with different brotherhoods taking the beautiful decorated yet heavy tronos from their houses to the churches and back.

Each day has a different flavour to it, depending on the participating brotherhoods and their routes.

The probably best known person to take part in these processions is actor Antonio Banderas, who is a native of Málaga.

The procession route follows Alameda Principal, Rotonda del Marqués de Larios, and part of calle Granada.

Highlights for many spectatators is the exit of the tronos of their respective brotherhood houses, or temples.

The most dramatic processions can be witnessed on Thursday and Friday.

Further Reading

Tips and Ideas for Visiting the South of Spain

Andalusia Travel Blog: Plan Your Next Holiday!

Crowds cheering on a tronoWhite hooded brothers during the Semana Santa in MalagaCofraríasIncense in the streetsTo carry the trono is a great honour Detail of the tronoCity officials partaking in the processionDetail in the robeParticipants carry unique insignia Brotherhoods in Malaga come in different coloursDetail of robes