Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is the most important religious festival in Spain. It starts with Palm Sunday, called 'Domingo de Ramos' which will be on April 1. One city in particular is famous for its Palm Sunday procession.
The city of Elche is in the Province of Alicante in Southern Spain. Elche has been lived in since the times of the ancient Iberians, a fact attested to by the discovery of a famous statue called the 'Dama de Elche' which is believed to be of an Iberian priestess, dating to somewhere around 4 B.C. The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 and is now the third largest city in the Valencian Community.
Some of the smaller sculptures made from the palm leaves
Elche, or Elx in the local Valencian dialect, is particularly famous for two things...its shoe industry and the more than 200,000 palm trees that are planted all over the city. The palms attest to the Moorish history of the city as it was the Moorish invaders who planted them to afford shade in a very dry area. The palm groves are a major feature of the tourist industry in Elche and there is a Museum devoted to the story of the palms.
The palm trees are used for the biggest procession of the year in the city with tourists travelling from all over Spain and further afield to watch as the procession files through the streets of the city on the day known as Domingo de Ramos.
Early in the year, the trees are covered with black bags to exclude all light, so that the palm leaves turn white. Local artists then use the white palm leaves to make intricate sculptures which are carried through the streets. These may vary from small crosses to very large and impressive statues.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the citizens of the ancient city threw palm leaves in the path of the donkey on which he was riding. The first documented procession in Elche took place in the city in 1371 and the parades have taken place every year since. The white palm leaves are also exported all across the Catholic world in time for Easter.
Whether you are religious or not, to see the huge procession and the incredible palm leaf sculptures is an experience not to be missed.