Live the Semana Santa in Seville as locals do

semana santa in seville

Semana Santa in Seville is probably the most famous Holy Week celebration in the world.

There are Semana Santa processions that go on all throughout Spain, but arguably the one in Seville is the most popular, the most important, and the most grand. People all over Spain and from around the world gather to Seville during this time, making the city an incredibly crowded and busy place.

The Cathedral and Giralda Tower are closed to visitors in the afternoon during Semana Santa.

Secure your visit getting your skip-the-line tickets in advance! You’ll access the Cathedral, the Giralda and the Iglesia del Salvador.

During 7 days Seville transforms itself into an incredible art and music performance. And even though Semana Santa in inspired by Christian facts and religious beliefs, you shouldn’t miss this amazing spectacle.

And the best part of it all is that it’s free!

What is Semana Santa?

Semana Santa in Spanish is the equivalent of the Holy Week. It’s one of the most important events of the city along with the Feria de Abril.

The origin of these festivities dates back from the 16th century when Sevillanos started to celebrate the passion and death of Christ. In order to confer solemnity to the event, religious brotherhoods (hermandades and cofradías) started organizing processions.

Although this tradition almost disappeared during the 19th century, a small group of Sevillanos decided to resume it in the early 20th century. This renewed tradition is what you can see today in the streets of Seville.

What happens during Semana Santa in Seville?

The focal point of Easter week celebrations are the processions.

A procession is a religious parade with a designated route. During this procession, each brotherhood in Seville parade a certain number of pasos from their home church to the Cathedral and back.

Each procession has two or three floats (or pasos in Spanish), one or two of them representing a very detailed and highly decorated scene of the Passion of Christ – known as mysteries (or misterios), and the other one an image of the Virgin Mary.

Processions run during the day and into the evening, some lasting all night. On average, a procession takes 12 to 14 hours to complete the route.

Brass bands provide the spectacle with an austere soundtrack, with shrill trumpets wailing over the dull thud of drums.

From time to time along the procession, local singers perform emotionally charged saetas from the balconies, a tribute to Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary. This emotional and powerful, a cappella performance is of the highlights of a procession. To sing the saeta is a sign of honor and only the best local players may perform them.

For 7 days, starting on Palm Sunday and ending up in Easter, Sunday morning, more that 50,000 people wear traditional robes to parade in one of the 60 procesiones that take place.

How to experience Semana Santa in Seville as locals do

You’ll surely find tons of blog posts and articles on Semana Santa, especially in Seville. Unfortunately, all of them avoid an essential piece of advice – a guide on how best to watch the processions.

And that’s what I’m here for. Because when I moved to Seville nobody told how to do it. So I had to learn the hard way…

Based on my own experience, here’s what I recommend you to do.

1. Get a print out of the processional schedule

Upon arrival, make sure to get a Semana Santa guide. This schedule coordinates the street names and times for each procession on each day, so you’ll have a good idea if there’s a processional nearby and at what time. The guide also identifies the dress of the different nazarenos, telling you which brotherhoods they belong to.

Where can you can get one of this?

  • Get a print out from my updated Semana Santa schedule.
  • Pick up a paper guide of the processional schedule from the tourist office.
  • Check the reception at your accommodation, which may also offer a specific Semana Santa guide.
  • All local newspapers publish a guide for the coming week the weekend before Easter. During the whole week, they publish the updated schedule of the corresponding day.

Even though these guides are in Spanish, they are usually in two different forms:

  • The form of easy-to-decipher timetables with a time of the day and the name of the street, so they are pretty straightforward. They include the route and at what exact time the procession is expected to leave its church, pass each point, arrive at its destination, and return to its church again.
  • Full guides to the colors of each hermandad, so you can identify them more easily, as well as a short history and even information about the pasos.

2. Get ready before you leave your accommodation

Here are some basic things that you should do before heading out:

  • Plan before hand what processions you want to watch and where. It will help you organize your itinerary and navigate the streets. However, keep in mind that you need to be flexible as processions are not always punctual.
  • Don’t be fooled by the Sevillano spring, the nights are cold and humid so bring some warm clothing with you.
  • Don’t forget to go out with your smartphone battery fully charged (and bring an extra power bank if necessary). You’ll soon realize that your smartphone is essential while hitting the street so you certainly don’t want its battery to die.
  • Go to the toilet right before you leave, and try to avoid drinking (even if it’s water) afterwards. Finding a toilet will be almost impossible.
  • The bars and restaurants in the most frequented areas put the counters at the door of the establishment and reduce their offer to fried food, sandwiches, beer, soft drinks and water, prioritizing the speed of service to the detriment of quality in many cases. So it’s best if you bring your own sandwich or snack with you – it will be cheaper and you won’t eat junk.

3. Never wait for a procession to get to where you are

Don’t go to the starting point or ending point for any procession. You’ll either sit there waiting for hours to see nothing or you’ll show up just in time and see nothing.

You can, however, go to the ending point, especially if it’s (very) late at night say 2:00 or 3:00 as you’ll experience something very special. The entrance of a paso in its home church is something sublime. But you have to be awake at that time…

The whole skill to watching the processionals is going at an off-time to a “not quite so popular” street. Don’t wait for the procession to arrive to the spot where you are, “search” for it instead. So navigate the streets until you find a decent spot and wait there.

Remember that, on average, a procession goes on for 12-14 hours! There is definitely an opportunity to see it with a front row view if you just wait for a more opportune time.

4. Learn how to cross a procession

As I just said, during Semana Santa in Seville a procession lasts a lot if time.

If you’re trying to cross a street blocked by a procession, you might easily have to wait an hour or more before the paso, the band and all the nazarenos have passed. In similar fashion it can be very time consuming trying to get round the procession.

So when should you cross a procession respectfully?

Wait for the procession to stop. They do so frequently, for several minutes at a time so the costaleros can take a short break. This is the moment you’re looking for and follow the locals’ example.

Needless to say, avoid getting in the way of the paso, and don’t walk down in the midst of the procession to move along the length of street.

When the procession is about to start moving again, you’ll hear or see someone hitting the pavement hard three times with his ornamental staff. So get out of the way of the procession.

How to watch La Madrugá like a Sevillano

The main night of processions is La Madrugá in which the processions start at midnight on Thursday night and go all the way until mid-day Friday.

Don’t be fooled by the weird timing of the processions – the old city center will be packed as it’s the most important time of the whole Semana Santa in Seville.

So be extremely patient as you’ll have to navigate the streets with thousands of people around. And make sure you have some warm clothing with you – you won’t regret it.

You can be part of one of these 2 groups of people:

  • Those that stay up all night and then head back in around 8:00-9:00 to get some sleep.
  • Those (probably families) that head out around 8:00-9:00 to watch for the rest of the day.

So I suggest going to watch the processions in between, say from 5:30 or 6:00 to 10:00 or 11:00, and then get some rest before heading out in the late afternoon or, even better, at night.

To plan your experience in advance

This article is part of a complete tutorial on Semana Santa in Seville where you can read all the information you need to organize your experience during this magical and unique week.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Semana Santa dates in Seville
2. What are Seville’s Holy Week processions?
3. Easter activities: daily schedule of Semana Santa processions
4. Holy Week Seville: What to see each day
5. Live Semana Santa in Seville as locals do
6. 9 tips to make the most out of Easter in Seville
7. When to visit the home churches during Easter (Seville)
8. How to survive Holy Week in Seville with children
9. What are the Semana Santa brotherhoods (hermandades)
10. Semana Santa glossary

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