An Andalusian adventure: Semana Santa in Sevilla
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
This post has been a long time overdue, especially since I went to Andalusia over two months ago now! The past couple of weeks I've been on the go, 'ouisiyesing', hosting friends, travelling and basically making the most of the short time I have left in Spain. I've had this ongoing gnawing feeling to write but every time I've tried I simply couldn't put the words down on paper. Once you fall out of habit with something, it often becomes very difficult to draw yourself in again. However these past couple of months have been so formative for me and I feel like I've developed a lot personally, therefore I want to share my experiences with you all- despite the tardiness of the post!
So let's cast ourselves back to April 2019, I was preparing to travel to Andalusia with my two of my housemates and friends; Steph and Paige. We were about to embark on a 10 day trip to the South of Spain, hostel hopping and taking advantage of the Holy Week. I must confess that I was a little- if not very- anxious about travelling for 10 days. I've travelled for longer time periods but only with my parents. I'd cultivated good relationships throughout the year with both girls and I know that travelling with friends can often be a deal breaker. Nevertheless, I was excited about the prospect of travelling with my buddies and sharing this experience with them. The plan was to fly into Sevilla and spend three days there, then head to Cordoba for two days, up to Granada for three and a half days before returning to Sevilla to fly home. It was a lot in a few days but I relished the opportunity to see another side of Spain- after all Andalusia was the first region I'd ever visited in Spain and I absolutely fell in love with it. I was optimistic that I'd have that head over heels feeling again as soon as we touched down.
When we arrived, we weren't greeted with the sunshine that I'd ardently hoped for, it was overcast and lightly showering. I can't lie, internally I was a little disappointed because I was hoping for weather dissimilar from Manchester (where I'm from). However this was only day one of three and we had plenty of time to see and do everything we wanted. We'd picked the Black Swan Hostel due to the fact that it had a really cool terrace, free breakfast and appeared to have really homely vibes. I have to say that I was NOT disappointed with our stay. In terms of hostels- this year I've stayed at a lot of them and can confidently say that this by far was the best one. I even met a guy in Bilbao who also ranked it his best hostel stay ever. Now I'm not being hyperbolic but this hostel had everything you could want. A very good selection for the free breakfast buffet, you could bring in your own alcohol, the common area was really spacious, they held nightly (free) flamenco shows, pub crawls and you had the option to sign up for free dinner (which we did most nights of course because we've still got that thrifty student mentality). Without a shadow of a doubt I would 100% recommend this hostel to anyone who is travelling through Sevilla.
Despite the weather, we wandered around the winding streets surrounding our hostel, in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood and began to get a feel of Sevilla. Semana Santa is a huge deal in the South of Spain, particularly Sevilla. Even before we got into the centre of two we saw a lot of people dressed in what I could only liken to Ku Klux Klan style attire. Now as a young black female, my first instinct was of course not to approach them. However, as I learned later on, these people were not part of a far right terrorist Christian extremist group (thank God) but they were in fact called Nazarenos and they preceded the KKK. This type of clothing, although initially quite startling, is not affiliated at all with the former group. Men, children and women are clothed in these robes and pointed hats, and the Nazarenos are actually quite harmless. They bear huge crosses and march through the streets in large parades. Throughout the day we were often caught at crossroads and streets which were cordoned off in order to allow the processions pass. During our stay we were lucky enough to see at least two processions, both of which were a peculiar thing to see on a Saturday morning. The decadence, detail and immense amount of jewels and gold on view was dazzling. People were brought to either tears or a stand still watching statues of Christ on the cross or floats carrying pure gold furniture and ornaments. I too was quite moved by the displays. I would say that if you do plan to visit during this time period, be aware that a lot of roads are closed off and give yourself ample time to get to A-B because you never know when you'll get caught up in a procession.
Image of Los Nazarenos by Joaquín Sorolla (Valencian artist)
We also were able to take part in a free Sandeman's walking tour via the hostel the following day. Despite the clouds and a smattering of rain, our guide made it thoroughly enjoyable. She took us on an amazing tour of the old town as well as parts of the city we wouldn't even think to stop and visit. We passed the cathedral and tower, the old Tobacco factory, churches and many winding pathways. I will always recommend Sandeman's if you want to do a free tour- granted you pay what you think the tour is worth but I've done them in Lisbon, Sevilla, Madrid and Barcelona and loved every single one of them. This tour ended in Plaza España which was somewhere I'd bookmarked as a must see for some time now. It is truly stunning. The bright yellow and mandarin shades and the beautiful arches, bridges and tiled pathways make it truly awe-some. I could spend hours there, and during my three hour layover in Sevilla a few weeks ago I made it a priority to visit again. You can't go to Sevilla without seeing it and there's no excuse because its well connected and free! Also pass through the Parque Maria Luisa, which is stunning and a perfect picnic spot on a summers day.
The Cathedral and it’s Tower “La Giralda”
Later that day we also climbed the Torre de Oro, which is a former maritime tower. Within it there is a small museum which exhibits Spain's marine conquest. The best part is the view from the top of the tower of course.
We also went to see a flamenco show at the 'Museo de baile Flameco'. Now I won't lie to you, I had seen better flamenco. It wasn't that the performers weren't any good, on the contrary I feel like they were too polished. For me it lacked passion and intensity. Yes they were dancing with fortitude but it felt too rigid. The first time I'd seen flamenco was in Madrid, it was in a small bar on a tiny stage. The dancers had limited space yet they were able convey pain, sadness, remorse- anything they felt I felt too. However in this recent performance the dancers didn't convey their emotions to me. However, from one dancer to another, I still thought that the dancing was technically fantastic and the costuming was beautifully crafted- particularly the flamenco skirts. This is just one example of flamenco show and there are countless bars and performers in the city, perhaps we were just unlucky that night or maybe my expectations were too high. Despite this, I do urge you to see a flamenco show in Sevilla, it would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower or Rome without the Colosseum.
If you're looking for good view points in the city, I would highly recommend that you visit Las Setas. This piece of architecture is largely divisive in opinion amongst Sevillanos. It is definitely modern and nothing like anything you've seen in the city. It reminded me of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. You get amazing views from the top, overlooking the whole of Sevilla and there's even a cafe on the roof which you can visit- we were able to get a discount on drinks with our entry ticket.
Views from Las Setas
It’s also worth paying a trip over the bridge into the Triana neighbourhood which was formerly the Jewish quarter. There were a lot of restaurants and bars as well as beautifully coloured walls and houses. It's a nice contrast to the Santa Cruz neighbourhood and has a less crowded vibe.
The crowing glory of Sevilla had to be the Real Alcazar. As I mentioned earlier, we began and ended our trip in Sevilla. Initially it was simply impossible to visit the Real Alcazar, which had been recently popularised due to it being a filming location on Game of Thrones. During Semana Santa the entry queues stretched around the main plaza and we would have wasted half a day before we got anywhere near the entrance. So we booked our tickets in advance a few days before when we were in Granada and dedicated our final day to exploring. It was a stroke of luck that we had gorgeous sunny weather that day. It was bright and the air was fresh and we strolled through the gardens leisurely. The grounds are vast and I would definitely advise that you spend at least 3-4 hours hours here to truly capture the essence of the grounds. It's saturated with history and culture, a definite highlight of our trip.
So that was pretty much everything we did in Sevilla, normally I would have more foodie recommendations but a lot of the time we were eating either at the hostel or making our own packed lunches, which is a great way to cut down on costs. This is the first instalment of three on my blog dedicated to the Andalusian region which has truly captured my heart. the next post in the collection will focus on the beautiful town of Cordoba.