El Puerto de Santa Maria
This past Sunday (Palm Sunday) marked the beginning of a very important Spanish tradition - Semana Santa (Holy Week). All throughout Spain churches prepare their icons, some of which have been around since the 1500's. Then after Sunday Mass they take these icons out into the streets, laden with gold, silver, candles, and deep red or purple cloth. Some cities have larger festivals, usually the ones with the oldest and most grandiose Catholic churches... El Puerto de Santa Maria is one of those cities. We found a great hotel called Hotel Bodega Real. It was right on the river and within walking distance to all the historical sites. We planned to visit a church, a castle, and a bullfighting ring.
Construction of the Iglesia Mayor Prioral began in 1486... even before Christopher Colombus happened upon the Americas, and it was finished in 1504. Mass is still held on Sundays in this important historical and religious icon of the city. We stopped inside the Saturday before Palm Sunday to check it out. Words cannot describe the magnitude and beauty of this church... simply stunning, and so intricate. You can tell every carving and painting, every detail was completed with utmost thought and deep love for the task. It was a hallowed and pure place. I felt safe. It was a completely different feeling than any other church I've been to. You can really feel the presence of God. Sally... you HAVE TO COME HERE! Josh and I talked about you the entire time while we were there... this is just something we know you would completely appreciate and enjoy wholeheartedly. I could have spent hours just sitting there.
We saw the icons that were being prepped for the processions... they were huge. Some of them were solid wood, others made of heavy metals. Most were behind gates to keep visitors from smudging or breaking them (seeing as they've been around for centuries this has worked pretty well for them). I can't imagine less than 8 people having to carry each one of these immense statues. We went back to the church for Palm Sunday and listened in on part of the mass. There looked to be no foreseeable end in sight so we unfortunately had to head back home at around 4pm without seeing the parade/procession. It's a 7hr drive back to Madrid.
The Castillo San Marcos was built over the site of a mosque sometime during the 10th century. It is still the site of festivals within the town. It was all decked out for Semana Santa with seating for important religious and political figures, I imagine. We weren't able to go inside, but it was still pretty cool to see!
The Real Plaza de Toros was constructed in 1880. They still host bullfights in the arena. Bullfighting is a very old tradition in Spain, but has come under scrutiny over the past decade from animal rights activists. Personally, I have no desire to ever see a bullfight and would not be heartbroken if they were stopped. I understand it's an old tradition, but it still seems pretty cruel to me. Noah was eager to pose with the statue of the bullfighter out front.
We walked around the town all day, had some coffee, ate a bit of food, took in the surroundings. They have a riverwalk which is constantly buzzing with carnival-like atmosphere on the weekends. It was a great little town with a rich history. I would love to go back and spend more time. We didn't even get to have any seafood while we were there! As we were leaving we passed the restaurants along the river and everyone was eating their weight in various catches of the day. It smelled awesome. One of these vacations we're going to explore the whole Andalusian region. Yep... still in love with this country!