This weekend I visited Málaga, for the start of Santa Semana, the Easter holy week. In the past Malaga has not been high on the list of cities to visit, since many are only familiar with its ugly industrial hinterland when driving from the airport to Marbella or the countryside.
However, the city has a fascinating old quarter and during Santa Semana, it is one of the most interesting places to be in Andalucia.
Unlike many of the towns on the Costa del Sol, Málaga is a real working city, predominantly catering for its inhabitants rather than the many seasonal, transient visitors to Andalucia. This makes for a vibrant, dynamic environment.
Saturday night we visited some of the many tapas bars in the narrow streets of the old town, enjoying a few beers with small plates of tasty snacks. At one a gypsy traveller entertained us with classic Andalucian ballads, whilst at another, called Quita Penas!, we enjoyed some of the best seafood tapas in the city. The bar was very busy, with an energetic and friendly crowd, packed around tables, or like us, standing at the long bar, whilst the staff shouted orders, cooked the fish and served the tapas.
I stayed at the Art Deco Hotel Larios, perfectly located on Calle Marqués de Larios, where all the main processions pass. In addition, adding a little sparkle to the stay, I bumped into Melanie Griffiths with her daughter, in the hotel bar! Antonio Banderas is Málaga born and he and his family were visiting to experience the festivities.
In Andalucia, Santa Semana is the most important festival of the year. Each church community prepares throughout the year for these immense processions that recount the Easter story; from Palm Sunday to Christ’s cruxification and resurrection.
The main focus of each church procession is a huge float or “trono” that is intricately decorated – each is a historic piece of art. The floats are carried on the shouldes of men, some as blindfolded penitents, who have to sustain the weight for many hours. The watching crowds get most excited when the floats leave and return to the church – at this point the crowd first falls silent, then breaks out in loud applause as the float passes the church doors. In addition, in each procession there are bands and of course the distinctive hooded members of the brotherhood, who carry candles, banners and crosses.
This Palm Sunday there were two types of float – one depicting the Virgin Mary accompanied by sad music, and the other depicting Christ with the cross.
These processions are planned and rehearsed by these religious fraternities and brotherhoods of the Church – this is still a country where the Church commands significant respect and funding, both privately and indirectly from the state.
I’ll upload a photo album this week with some of my pictures. From what I am told, Málaga is a little more brash and “full-on” in its celebrations with highly decorated floats compared to the more subtle, sophistication of Seville or the intimacy of Ronda.
The streets of Málaga were full with people, all going from street to street, following the various processions scheduled throughout the day. The crowds combine devout Catholics together with tourists, visitors and camera crews from local TV networks.
Another traditional item seem in the streets on Palm Sunday, as well as the ubiquitous palms, are branches or twigs of olive, offered by the churches. The spirit was very friendly and optimistic throughout the town. A lovely example of this was when we stopped a couple to ask them where they got their olive twigs from, and in addition to explaining where the nearest church was, they immediately offered me their small palm cross decorated with rosemary and olive.
The churches across the city were open throughout the weekend, offering evening mass and sunday services. Once inside one is greeted by the intoxicating mixture of thick incense, burning candles, crowds of people and the highly ornate gold, silver and carved festive decorations.
All the walking – and sometimes running – from street to street was tiring, but a perfect “pick-you-up” was the local speciality cake, called torrijas; a pastry of egg custard, cream and sugar!
Finally, a visit to Málaga would not be complete without a mention of the Picasso Museum. It is housed in a restored, but sterile Moorish palace in old town. To be honest I was not that impressed by the collection, but then I am not hugely knowledgable about the artist. Combine that with snooty armani-clad docents, and I suggest you do not go out of your way to visit it. Most people queue to get in, simply to say they have been. If that is the case, then do as we did and visit half an hour before closing in the evening and you have a private view!