Semana Santa in Granada, Spain

No 51

The cultural heritage of Andalusia combines Moorish and Catholic elements, a rich intertwining that is evident in the region's flamenco, tapas, and bullfighting traditions. This large swathe of southern Spain is, broadly speaking, known for the intensity of its culture. And things are often most intense during Semana Santa, the Catholic holy week that leads up to Easter.

One centerpiece of the festivities is the highly organized procession that winds through the cobblestone streets of Granada, home to both a landmark cathedral and the world-famous Alhambra mosque. Here as elsewhere, local cofrades (centuries-old Catholic brotherhoods) spend the year leading up to Semana Santa preparing for these processions. They begin and end in churches, and feature ornate floats and representations of Christ on the cross and the Virgin Mary, in tune with an overarching theme of sin and sacrifice. A somber drumbeat keeps the rhythm, and brass musicians play their instruments in minor key. The fraternal costaleros don robes and walk through the city in perfect synch, creating the illusion that the figures they carry are drifting freely through space. The marchers spend weeks, if not months, practicing in order to achieve this effect.

Behind them follows a huge crowd of nazarenos—anonymous penitents in robes, veils, and pointed hats. The headwear gestures heavenwards, a symbol of the wearers' entreaties for forgiveness. Beneath the extreme order of these ceremonies lie deep-red reserves of faith and feeling, awaiting permission to be released.

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