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What are the best cities in Spain to see the Semana Santa processions?

Semana Santa or Holy Week is held in Spain during the run-up to Easter Sunday. Celebrations and parades take place all over the country, but there are some cities that go all out.

What are the best cities in Spain to see the Semana Santa processions?
Best places to see Semana Santa parades in Spain. Photo: CESAR MANSO / AFP

Holy Week takes place this year from April 2nd to 9th, complete with passionate parades, music and elaborate religious floats. Andalusia and Castilla y León are where you’ll find the biggest and most impressive celebrations, although there are a few other standout towns and cities in other regions, including Castilla-La Mancha. 

Granada, Andalusia

If you’re really into Semana Santa and want to be able to watch non-stop parades all week, then the Andalusian city of Granada is the place to go. It was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest in 2009, along with the celebrations in Seville and Málaga. Some 32 brotherhoods take part in the Holy Week celebrations here, each hosting different parades on different days. One of the best parades here is held on Holy Wednesday when the Christ of the Gypsies float is carried through the streets of the gypsy district of  Sacromonte, filled with flamenco tablaos and cave homes. The hordes that follow the float sing saetas (religious flamenco songs) and recite poems along the way.

Seville, Andalusia

There’s no denying that Sevillanos love Semana Santa and there’s nowhere that celebrates it with quite as much fervour. Even during the lockdown during the pandemic in 2020 locals created mini processions out of paper and cardboard that could travel from balcony to balcony. The festival begins on Palm Sunday with the representation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem a few days before his death. There are around 60 brotherhoods that take part during the week. One of the most emotional parts of the processions in Seville are the saetas, flamenco songs about the Passion of Christ, which are usually spontaneously sung by locals.

Seville is one of the best cities in Spain to spend Semana Santa. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

Málaga, Andalusia 

The third city in the Holy Trinity of Semana Santa cities along with Seville and Granada is Málaga. One of the most unique aspects of the Holy Week celebrations here takes place on Holy Wednesday when every year one of the city’s prisoners is pardoned and released. The tradition dates back to the time of Carlos III when the prisoners, in protest against the cancellation of the processions due to an epidemic, opened the prison doors and carried the Jesús Nazareno statue through the streets on their shoulders, before returning to their cells.

Córdoba, Andalusia 

The maze of narrow streets around Córdoba’s Mezquita makes for an atmospheric setting for its 37 brotherhoods to parade through the city, along with clouds of incense and the soft flickering of candles. Unlike the loud passionate music accompanying the statues in some Spanish cities, many of the processions here are held in silence.

Penitents take part in a Holy Monday procession in Cordoba. Photo: François-Xavier MARIT / AFP

Zamora, Castilla y León 

The small city of Zamora, just north of Salamanca has been holding Holy Week celebrations since the 13th century. Processions take place during both the day and the night here, with daytime ones bringing lots of colour and music and nighttime ones solemn silence. Music is very important in the festival here with lots of choir singing and Gregorian chants.

Valladolid, Castilla y León

Another Castilla y León city to visit during Holy Week is Valladolid. There are 21 brotherhoods in Valladolid, the oldest of which, Vera-Cruz, dates back to the 15th century. The most important procession is the one on Good Friday, known as the General Procession of the Holy Passion of the Redeemer, which features statues by the famous baroque sculptor Gregorio Fernández.

Members of the “Siete Palabras” brotherhood take part in a Holy Week procession in Valladolid. Photo: Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP

Cartagena, Murcia

Many of the impressive processions in Cartagena take place at night or just at dawn, representing the pain and martyrdom of Christ. One of the most outstanding parades takes place on Holy Tuesday, when the city’s Marine Infantry and the army accompany the religious statues. Other must-see events include the Great Procession of the Cristo del Prendimiento de los Californios on Holy Wednesday and the Procession of the Santo Entierro de los Marrajos on Good Friday. Floats come adorned like in many cities with candles and flowers. 

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

Every year more than 30,000 people participate in the processions in the hilltop city of Cuenca in Castilla-La Mancha. The tradition of the parades here dates back to the 17th century. If you only have a few days to spend here, make sure your trip coincides with Good Friday and the impressive Camino del Calvario procession, which begins at 5:30 am, accompanied by bugles and drums.

The historic city of Cuenca makes for an atmospheric backdrop to celebrate Semana Santa. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

Cáceres, Extremadura

The city of Cáceres is located in Extremadura and is a great alternative to spending Semana Santa in Andalusia or Castilla y León. The city’s brotherhoods were founded in the 15th century and its Easter celebrations date back until this time. Its processions go through the historic centre, which adds to the beauty of the parades in such a stunning setting.

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Spain’s 3,000-year-old tuna fishing tradition

As the sun rises in the Gulf of Cádiz on Spain's southern tip, a team of fishermen lifts the tip of a vast system of nets with bluefin tuna trapped inside.

Spain's 3,000-year-old tuna fishing tradition

“Hoist!” they cry before men in wetsuits jump into the water to deliver a final blow to the fish captured using this 3,000-year-old netting tradition.

Dubbed an “almadraba“, the system of nets is designed to catch large bluefin tuna during their annual migration from the Atlantic into the warmer Mediterranean to lay their eggs.

The nets form a series of chambers that trap only the biggest of the migrating tuna.

The tuna are “practically like bulls” and their blows are like “the kick from a horse,” said the captain of the fishing boat, 61-year-old Antonio Ponce.

Tuna have been caught in this stretch of water using this method since the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean from around 1,200 BC.

Use of the technique in Spain almost disappeared in the 1970s due to a lack of profitability, but demand for quality tuna from Japan breathed new life into the sector.

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Over 1,600 tonnes of bluefin tuna are caught annually off the coast of Spain’s southern province of Cádiz using the “almadraba” technique.

Two divers swim next to a bluefin tuna, killed by shooting an underwater gun straight to its head. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

Around 500 fishermen in Cádiz use the system, according to the Almadraba Producers’ and Fishermen’s Organisation (OPP51).

Aside from Spain, the technique is only found in Italy, Morocco and Portugal.

‘Sustainable technique’

Because the nets only catch the biggest tuna, it is a “sustainable technique,” said José Luis García Varas of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

In the early 2000s, the global popularity of sushi put bluefin tuna in danger, but the establishment of regional fishing quotas allowed the species to recover.

Atlantic bluefin tuna was in 2021 moved from the category of “endangered” to that of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In Spain, the Japanese taught local fishermen to minimise the stress endured by the tuna to improve the taste of the meat.

READ ALSO – Mediterranean diet: Why the Spanish are eating far less fish

Fishermen now use a sawn-off shotgun called a “lupara” to kill the tuna instantly.

While the structure of the nets “has remained more or less the same for many years,” what has changed is “the way of treating the fish to achieve quality, to take away their suffering,” said Ponce.

The Japanese also taught locals how to consume parts of the tuna which were previously thrown away – and got them to eat raw fish.

Bluefin tuna “has 25 parts, 25 textures, 25 tastes. They were not known before,” said Julio Vázquez, the 43-year-old head chef at the El Campero restaurant in the coastal town of Barbate.

His menu includes 32 different dishes using bluefin tuna.

“When my mother or my grandmother cooked, there was not so much diversity,” he added.

The Spanish chef specialising in bluefin tuna Julio Vázquez prepares a tuna dish at his restaurant El Campero, in Barbate. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

Vázquez recalled that the bestselling Spanish cookbook 1080 Recipes by the late culinary author Simone Ortega had only one tuna recipe – for a gratin using tinned tuna.

While 80 percent of the tuna caught in Cádiz used to go to Japan, now 70 percent is sold in Spain and just 30 percent heads to Asia, according to OPP51.

Thousands of people head to Cádiz – a region of whitewashed houses and sandy beaches – to eat bluefin tuna caught using the “almadraba” technique.

The tiny resort town of Zahara de los Atunes – named after the tuna – holds an annual festival dedicated to the fish. Last year its bars and restaurants served 105,000 tapas during the four days of the event, according to the town hall.

“Here is all about freshness,” said Noah G. White, a 23-year-old chef visiting from Sweden, who asked for Vázquez’s autograph after eating at his restaurant.

“You can eat it raw and that is for me a delicacy in itself,” he added.