Tarragonas Semana Santa
on the celebrations of Holy Week
...in a small bar to the side of the plaza.... 12 fully uniformed Roman
soldiers, leaning against the bar,
knocking back beers.
Good Friday morning dawned bright and cheery and we quickly got ready,
jumped on the motorcycle and headed into Tarragona. We arrived in the
old part of the town, up a very steep road made of stone - polished
smooth by centuries of traffic. The old town is full of ancient Roman
ruins, including an amphitheatre close to the beach and right in the
middle of the old houses, the remains of the vaults of the Roman Circus,
where chariot races were once held.
We stopped for a coffee in the large central plaza outside a wonderful
shop full of salamis, dried peppers and whole legs of pig (trotter and
all), hanging from the roof. In Spain this specialty is called Jamon
Serrano - a type of cured ham. A young woman seated outside the
cafe explained the curing process to us.... basically the whole leg
is treated in salted water then left tohang outside in the woods for
up to two years. This accounted for the rather green look of the outside
of the ham! This same women informed us that the Semana Santa procession
began at 7.00pm that night, rather than 7.00am. We decided to enjoy
the city in the quiet of the early morning then return in the evening.
Upon our return we were met by an entirely transformed city. This time
we entered the city on foot, through one of the old gates and discovered
that already it was filled with people, cramming the narrow streets
that we had walked with such ease earlier this same day. The crowds
carried us in past the cathedral. Here we discovered hundreds of people
sitting on the stairs leading up to the front of the church. We headed
for the plaza where we had sat in the morning - sat at the same table
by the hams and salamis and enjoyed a coffee and watched the swifts
diving back and forth, catching insects between the buildings on either
side of the plaza. Most of the Tarragonians around us were very well
dressed and it seemed that this was an evening for meeting up with friends
and family. We witnessed many affectionate greetings between young men
and women and grandparents and children.
The clock at the end of the plaza struck every half hour and as the
sun set it started getting chillier and still there was no sign of the
procession. By this stage it was 8.30pm and we were in a pretty silly
mood. We started singing songs and coming up with all sorts of ridiculous
explanations for the delay. We were in great spirits.
Finally at about 9.30pm we heard the distant beating of drums and the
clatter of feet on the stone streets. The procession began spectacularly
with about 100 Roman soldiers marching rhythmically to the beat from
a team of drummers. The costumes were very bright - each soldier carried
a shield and a large spear. They repeatedly struck the spear on the
ground and marched in a strange sideways sliding motion.
Following the Roman soldiers were the first series of cofradias
- the religious brotherhoods. They were dressed in long gowns with very
tall pointed hoods and completely masked faces with eye holes cut out
- frighteningly like the Ku Klux Klan. This first group were all in
black but as the evenings procession continued we saw blue, gold
and red. They appeared quite menacing, walking in a slow shuffling manner.
More reassuringly, a long line of beautiful, young children followed
in long black robes and lace collars, carrying huge candles. And then
we saw the first of the floats - enormous platforms depicting
scenes from Christs life (I think maybe it was the stations of
the cross, but I am not sure). These scenes consisted of life-size and
lifelike figures of Christ on the Cross, the Last Supper, a Roman soldier
whipping Christ as he carried the cross, Christ being lifted down from
the cross. All were bloody and gory.
The platforms were carried by between 8 and 12 large men dressed in
the cofradias outfits. The platforms were carried like a sedan chair,
with two men each holding one of four or six wooden poles. Like the
Roman soldiers at the beginning of the procession they marched in a
sideways, sliding motion to the rhythm of drummers marching behind them.
This made the platforms swing and sway.
At about 11.00pm we decided it was time to go. This proved to be easier
said than done.... and so the real fun began.....
Having quite successfully mapped the old city earlier in
the day we were quite confident of our escape route out of the walled
city. What eventuated however would make a rather splendid escape scene
for a James Bond film....
Our first move was to head back to the last main street before the old
city. Thwarted by the procession crossing the street in full strength
we laughed, linked arms and headed back into the old city, up a narrow
street that we knew led to the cathedral. This decision was made in
the belief that by now the procession would have passed this point.
Aaaagh! Not so. As we approached the end of the street we could see
the pointy-hatted silhouettes of the confradias passing, backlit by
the glaring lights of the film crew documenting this significant Millennium
Year procession. About face, we cried and headed back along
the narrow street. This time we thought we had it sorted. We remembered
a smallish plaza - to one side of the cathedral that had been completely
deserted this morning and that according to our reckoning was situated
behind the flow of the procession. The closer we got to the plaza the
more nervous we became.... we could hear the quiet hum of many voices
and a strange but bright glow from the direction of the square.
Before we realised it, we literally tripped into the plaza and the sight
blew our minds. Like some bad drug trip we were confronted by hundreds
of the confradias - mostly with their hoods pulled back and faces exposed,
smoking cigarettes and drinking beers. There were 10 enormous floats
sitting around the edge of the plaza still waiting to JOIN the parade,
and everywhere there were musicians wandering around with their instruments
in hand, practicing notes or tuning. It seemed we had stumbled into
the back stage plaza of the whole parade! And there were hundreds of
people milling around.... one hilarious sight in a small bar to the
side of the plaza.... 12 fully uniformed Roman soldiers, leaning against
the bar, knocking back beers.
We then realised the full direness of our situation...the procession
was only about halfway through and it was snaking its way down through
the old city in every direction, there was no escape.
We cut across the plaza, dodging spears, candles and musical instruments
and spotted a small group of travellers plotting a similar escape. They
boldly crossed the stream of the procession, so with equal nonchalance
we crossed too and moved quickly along the pavement next to the procession.
This all went pretty smoothly, as the procession was particularly loud
and boisterous here with drums and clarinets, trumpets and even bagpipes.
We managed to make a good 200m on the procession.
But suddenly all went very quiet and solemn. Two long lines of the confraidas
were passing and all that could be heard was the quiet shuffling of
shoes over the stone street. Worse still the street had narrowed right
down into a curve alongside the main outside wall and there was suddenly
no pavement. Undaunted, we and the other escapees stopped and propped
and watched the parade for about 30 minutes. We sat with our bike helmets
in hand, our backs against the old stone wall and watched. The action
picked up so we decided to make a run for it - we crossed the procession
once again and shuffled down the street through the crowd.
Suddenly we rounded a curve into the full glare and overhead swing-arm
camera of the film crew. I was completely overwhelmed. But at this point
it was sink or swim and with elderly Spanish men and women sitting on
folded chairs right on the street we had no choice but to join the parade
for about 30 yards. It seemed like a mile.Under blazing lights, with
heads down, wearing bright, reflecting motorbike jackets and trying
to be as inconspicuous as possible, we each marched behind one of the
cofradias, concentrating on not stepping on the back of their robes.
I had no idea where the camera was pointing and I am still convinced
we are part of the year 2000 documentary. (I got a deserved smack on
the leg and a stream of Spanish abuse from an elderly matron for my
performance). But we did escape.
An amazing Holy Week experience.
© Kate Christie
This journal is one of many emails sent home on my 12
journey on a motorcycle with my beloved (covering 46,000km, three continents
and 16 countries).
We rode from the most westerly point of Ireland, to the magical, medieval
city of Prague in Czech Republic. From Scotland's beautiful, misty capital,
to the dry stark edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. In between we
put the motorcycle onto 10 different ferries - small and large. We crossed
the Swiss Alps with their snow-covered peaks rising sharply over us
and then the French Alps in October in wonderful Autumn glory. We crossed
the High Atlas and the English Channel. And that was just the Northern
In Australia we road another 12,000 kms - down the east coast from Brisbane
to Melbourne, rode nearly every road in Tasmania, strapped the motorcycle
to another 7 ferries and got far too close to an emu 200kms out of Broken
Travel at HACKTREKS