I've saved mentioning the processions until now, mostly because Sevilla is the place where the processions became really obvious. But first a little explanation...
The processions had several different parts. First, you have the Nazarenos. Those are the classic processors, the ones in the robes and pointy hats. Each group represents a different confraternity from a different church. Some are purple, white, blue, black, you name it, including two or more colors. Each are divided into different sections within the confraternity, called branches. There could be as many 9 branches in the Nazarenes. Following that, there are sometimes woman in mourning, dressed in black skirts and jackets, wearing the classic Spanish mantilla with the really high comb underneath and incredibly high heels. I can't imagine how they marched like that. You might, within the Nazarenes, have penitents, who wear robes but hats that are unpointed. They carry crosses, and are usually barefoot or in socks (they're not actually doing an assigned penance, but by choice). They're the reason you never ever throw glass on the ground during holy week. The rest of the year, well, Spain spends a lot of money on street cleaning. But never during holy week. After these initial groups, you get to what everyone is waiting for, the palio, or what I think it is in English, pall. It is a pall, a massive pall, carried by at least twelve men underneath. There are generally two in each procession. The first contains a representation of Christ; Christ in the garden, on the cross, at the last supper, etc. The statues are massive, and look extremely heavy. The men carrying it are directed by another man outside, who uses a knocker to signal when to lift the pall. He then tells them how to turn corners and when to set it down. It's a really long process, and when they stand up and turn a corner, everyone claps. They don't carry it for very long, only about ten yards, and then put it down. That's why some of these processions can take as many as 12 hours. They are followed by a musical group, usually a marching band, then it begins again. The second pall is of Mary, and in the south it was a large Mary under a canopy with about a hundred candles in front of her which are re-lit anytime they stop. The face and colors of Mary differ in color, decoration, and expression, though even I wondered if I was seeing the same thing twice.
Kids are both participants and spectators. I thought it was quite funny, watching the spectator kids. They can ask the Nazarenes for a gift (candy or a religious image) and the Nazarenes can either ignore them, or give them something. Some also take a ball of foil and ask for wax drippings, and the Nazarenes will drip the excess wax from their massive lightsaber sized candles onto the ball. I saw kids who had quite a bit by Friday. The groups vary in seriousness, some that don't say a word as they go, and others that have a smoke when they stop (including the musicians, which was horrifying).
As for myself, I saw many parades, some by choice and others by necessity. It was like the triwizard maze. The walls kept closing in, and the way I came, I could no longer go back through. It took me an hour to get back to my hostel the first night. I learned a lesson after that-- the map they hand out is important to keep an eye on. I sat and watched the entirety of several parades, the first being 75 minutes long. I turned down another alley and got stuck in a crowd, and decided to stay and watch. I picked a suspiciously empty stretch of road, under an overhanging roof and next to a tiny wall that was sticking out. The alley was small, but I didn't realize how small it was until the palls came by. I literally stood on my tip toes, afraid those guys were going to move a little too far to their left. I had about six inches of room, and was able to stick my hand out and touch the edge of the pall, and see the small relic on the side. If I had new glasses, I probably would have been able to read the name. It was thrilling, in a scary kind of way.
Two other things you must do if you are in Sevilla. The first, of course, is the Cathedral. If I understood correctly, a large portion of the cathedral used to be a mosque, but was subsequently destroyed in an earthquake (all except the tower, the saving of which was credited to Saints Justa and Rufina, patrons of the city). So the cathedral is relatively new, built in a renaissance style. It's also the supposed burial place of Christopher Columbus, although the Dominic Republic believes his body to still be there, that when the Spanish lost that territory and went to bring Columbus's body back, they took the wrong one. Information conflicts on whether or not they've done the DNA test, and they'll probably never really agree. In any case, if his body isn't there, there's a marvelous tomb. It's also apparently the biggest cathedral in the world, and they have the Guinness World Record sheet to prove it. It is again, a lovely cathedral, and they have a nice tower you can climb up for no extra cost. Also, if you don't like or can't climb stairs, this one's mostly ramp.
Secondly, you should visit the Plaza of Spain. Used as a film location in the new Star Wars films, it's probably the most beautiful plaza I've seen yet. It's huge and round, with a small boating river on the outskirts and a fountain in the middle. Horse drawn carriages circle every few minutes, taking you on a ride through the park next to the plaza. It's really charming, and you can go up to the second floor of the plaza for some amazing views. You can also find the names and a map of every province in Spain painted on the bottom floor. Just watch out for the fan and sunglasses sellers on the stairs. Remember, don't take anything you're handed, and if someone tries to give you a branch, shake your head and keep walking. This is an excellent place to go if you need a break from processions.
Next to the plaza is a park I dubbed the park of non-native things, including many things brought from the 'new world', and at least one tree that I'm pretty sure I remember from Costa Rica. It's also full of parrots, but I doubt they intended that, and instead they were probably pets that people decided they no longer wanted. Since this park has some many tropic trees, the parrots were doing very well there.
There are many other things you can see, but I do recommend that if you're going to see specific things, go another time. If you want to see the processions, holy week is the time for you. But the alcazár, the plaza de toros, the torre de oro, and other famous locations are packed this time of year. If you'd like to see the palls but don't want to wait in line, you can always stop off at the churches during the morning. They're free to enter that time of year, and you can see the pall up close.
I suppose these posts have been a bit more general than specific. But it was such a crazy week, and so much happened, it's hard to put it in a post. If you'd like to know more details, I'll be back in the states in just about two months.
Hopefully, I'll be able to travel somewhere in my remaining six weeks in my program, but if not, my family and I are going to Paris and then to visit Monet's Garden, along with Burgos and Barcelona (and of course, Aranda). Then, on my way back to the States, I have a nice day layover in Berlin. So I'm sure I'll have hundreds more pictures to take, though I'm going to have to buy another thumb drive. Sixteen gigs just wasn't enough.