Around the world, Easter is one of the most important times of the year for Christians and a fond family occasion for non-believers also. Holy Week is an integral part of the Easter festivities and, in the Spanish city of Malaga, things are taken to the next level. With incredible processions, floats, and visual spectacles all week long in the lead up to Easter Sunday, this time of year is incredibly important to the locals and forms a crucial part of the city’s culture. All of this makes Malaga a wonderful destination to visit in the run-up to Easter, allowing you to enjoy the festivities and the rest of what the area has to offer with a car rental from Malaga airport.
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week takes place during the last week of Lent and ends on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. It commemorates the Passion of Jesus Christ, beginning with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem to his death on the cross. Starting with Palm Sunday, Holy Week is, along with Christmas, the most important time of year for Christians around the world and, in Malaga, it is one of city’s main cultural and religious attractions.
Molly, from the travel blog Piccavey, has visited Andalusia during Holy Week – also known as Semana Santa – and has shared her thoughts with us: “Holy Week is quite unique in Southern Spain. Not only is it the first major holiday after Christmas but it is an important religious festival. There are recipes and specific foods that are typical at this time of year in Andalusia. As well as the dramatic Easter processions in Malaga and other cities.
“These local traditions involve all the family. Many are directly involved with the church and preparing each procession. Others are keen to see the processions each afternoon as they move steadily through the historic streets.”
When is Holy Week 2020?
Holy Week 2020 is between 5th April and 12th April. The Holy Week processions don’t occur on Saturday 11th April (this being the day between Christ’s death and resurrection). However, there are must-see processions on Easter Sunday.
The processions typically start in the afternoon and continue into the evening.
What to expect at Malaga Holy Week?
As mentioned, Holy Week in Malaga really is something to behold. Those from Christian backgrounds will be familiar with this time of year but for those who have never spent Holy Week in Spain, nothing can quite prepare you. Both sombre and celebratory, the whole city comes together in a spectacle of piety and pageantry.
Alicia, the owner and Manager of Oh My Good Guide, a Malaga tour company, spoke to us about what they believe makes Holy Week in Malaga such a special occasion to visit: “Every year, during the Passion Week, Malaga takes out to the streets in a real festival for all senses. There are processional thrones [‘tronos’ in Spanish] carrying holy images accompanied by penitents lighting and giving colour with their candles and robes; the band plays live music along with the fragrance of incense and flowers in the air as the procession goes on among hundreds of people that wait the whole year to see their favourite ‘tronos’.”
The team at tour company Explora Malaga know the festivities very well and shared with us why so many are drawn to this unique occasion: “The mixture of religious fervour, tradition and art make the visit to Malaga in this week a different experience than any other time of the year. The music, the smell of incense, candles and rosemary, the heaviest religious images in the world (up to five tonnes) with their intricate goldsmithing and the nazarenos uniquely dressed for each image marching along them make it a unique experience.”
What happens during Malaga Holy Week processions?
During Holy Week, the city’s 42 brotherhoods (a voluntary association of lay people) make 45 processions through the streets of Malaga. The processions include realistic wooden sculptures that tell the tale of Christ’s passion and the Virgin Mary’s sorrow.
A common feature of Holy Week in Malaga, and across Spain, is the nazareno robe, which is comprised of a tunic and a hood with a conical tip which conceals the wearer’s face. These robes bring further vibrancy to the proceedings as each brotherhood wears different colours.
The brotherhoods carry certain objects (insignia) during the procession, including candles, crosses, banners of gold, and a beautifully decorated standard.
Women wearing mantillas – a traditional Spanish lace or silk veil worn over the head and back – are also seen accompanying some processions. Their black attire is a sign of sorrow and mourning.
The most visually prominent and spectacular component of the Holy Week processions are the thrones. These are essentially gigantic platforms that support the sculptures depicting various scenes from Christ’s Passion and the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The thrones – normally two per brotherhood – are carried on the shoulders of the ‘bearers’ – some of which weigh up to five tonnes.
The aforementioned sculptures are often great works of art and have a historic legacy going back centuries. During the rest of the year, the sculptures are housed in their respective churches (or with the brotherhoods), acting as inspiration for worship. A sculpture of Christ might depict the crucifixion or the carrying of the cross, for example. While the Virgin is typically covered in luxurious dresses, her head veiled and adorned with a crown. Mary’s cape (or train) can reach up to eight metres in length, stretched out behind her.
Music is a big part of Holy Week too, with most of the thrones accompanied by marching bands. The bands will play processional marches, composed for this specific occasion. Saetas are also sung – these are a typical Spanish religious song without accompaniment. The saeta is sung to the sculptures from the street or an overlooking balcony.
Holy Week procession routes in Malaga
The processions all start and finish in their own churches or chapels, or if they are too big, their brotherhood house. They do, however, share a common route, known as the Official Route. This begins at the Alameda Principal, follows the Larios roundabout, Marqués de Larios street, Constitution Square, and Granada street.
The route is 850 metres long and there will be around 16,000 chairs and numerous grandstands for spectators to utilise. The Alameda Principal is considered to have some of the best views of the processions.
Oh My Good Guide has shared a couple of tips for those planning to experience Holy Week: “First of all, plan your trip in advance and make sure to book your stay as soon as possible. Malaga Holy Week is one of the most famous spots, together with Sevilla, to experience this festival. Be aware that streets can get extremely crowded during the afternoon and evening (mornings are for shopping), so it is not for the claustrophobic.
“Some roads, especially in the Old Town, get blocked off, so check with the Holy Week Procession Planning before parking your rental car there or if you want to avoid the crowd when going back to your hotel or apartment. Finally, take water and snacks with you and enjoy this unique festival!”
Molly from Piccavey suggests: “If you are travelling to Malaga during Holy week it’s advisable to do any travelling or errands in the mornings. That means before 1.30pm. After lunchtime, many streets can be closed off due to the crowds gathering. It may be difficult to find parking spaces or even to move the car. Also, many shops and businesses will only be trading in the morning timetable. Particularly if they are in the old town or on a procession route.
“Don´t miss some of the typical treats such as torrijas, which is like French toast, or leche frita, which is a custard-like dish. It is also popular to eat cod dishes (to skip meat at this time of the year) and chickpeas with spinach.”
Explora Malaga suggests: “If you do find a place to stay inside the city centre, you might be able to see the parades from your room, check this web page to see if any parades go near your lodging.”
Highlights of the Malaga Holy Week Calendar
When it comes to what processions to see during Holy Week, everyone has their favourites, but the highlights of the calendar include:
Palm Sunday – this is the first day of Holy Week, the day of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Nine brotherhoods take part, with processions featuring children carrying palm leaves.
Holy Wednesday – Wednesday features some of Holy Week’s most traditional processions, totalling seven brotherhoods and 15 thrones in total.
- One of the thrones (belonging to the Royal Merged Brotherhood) was made in 1649.
- The Brotherhood of the Dove’s throne, ‘The Virgin of the Dove’, is carried by 280 bearers.
Maundy Thursday – the Thursday of Holy Week is one of the most spectacular of the week, where spectators can see Spanish legionnaire troops escort the throne ‘Christ of the Good Death’.
Good Friday – Good Friday is a huge day in the Holy Week calendar – the day of Christ’s death on the cross. The processions take on a more sombre vibe of mourning.
- The last procession of the day belongs to the Servite Order, where the 18th century Virgin of the Dolores is carried as Malaga’s streetlights are turned off when the throne goes by.
Easter Sunday – part of the Holy Week processions (but not Holy Week itself), this is the day of Christ’s resurrection. As such, the procession of the Resurrection of Jesus and the Virgin Queen of the Heaven is the last of Holy Week. All brotherhoods attend this celebratory occasion, with the floats depicting the reuniting of mother and son.
Enjoying Holy Week in Malaga
As you can see, there is so much to look forward to during Holy Week in Malaga. What awaits is truly a cultural experience like no other and an occasion that won’t soon be forgotten. So, if you are exploring Malaga with a car rental this Easter, brace yourself for something truly special.
Take a look at the rest of our blog for further guides and advice on all things Andalucía.