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Posts tagged “alfombras

Holy Week in Antigua – A Close up of Alfombra Making

World famous for its Lent (Cuaresma) and Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebrations, Antigua and surrounding pueblos in the central highlands of Guatemala buzz with people, emotion and activities at this time of year more than any other. Families, friends, neighbors and communities spend hours together creating elaborate ceremonial carpets called alfombras along the route of religious processions.

Some make simple alfombras of pine needles strewn with flowers. Others create intricate, time-consuming works of art using stencils and sawdust (called aserrín) stained the varying hues of an artist’s palette. For these, they level a surface of sand or plain sawdust over the uneven cobblestones before sifting a fine layer of dyed sawdust to paint a colored background.

Placing their choice of cardboard or wooden stencils cut into various images and patterns on the blank canvas they carefully sift contrasting hues of sawdust to create the effect they want. Laying on platforms of sturdy planks of wood placed on blocks spanning the width of the alfombra, they avoid damaging their art.

After months of planning and hours of work and painstaking concentration, masterpieces carpet the cobbles in the path of processions only to be trampled moments later into an impressionistic mishmash between gray stones.

Here’s a photo tour of the elaborate process of alfombra-making! Click here to see all my Holy Week posts from previous years. For this year’s Semana Santa photos and all things Antigueño, check out Antigua Daily Photo.

Spraying a completed sawdust alfombra with water to stop it drying and blowing away in the wind, Antigua, Guatemala

Spraying a completed sawdust alfombra with water to stop it drying and blowing away in the wind

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Dyed sawdust (aserrín) for making alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Dyed sawdust (aserrín) for making alfombras

Stencils for making alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Stencils for making alfombras

Lying on raised wooden planks to decorate and avoid damaging alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Lying on raised wooden planks to decorate and avoid damaging alfombras

Close up of dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Close up of dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil

Adding detail using dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Adding detail using dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil

Sifting a base of dyed sawdust (aserrín), Antigua, Guatemala

Sifting a base of dyed sawdust (aserrín)

Sifting blue sawdust (aserrín) flowers on to the orange base using a cardboard stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Sifting blue sawdust (aserrín) flowers on to the orange base using a cardboard stencil

Arranging fresh flowers around the alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Arranging fresh flowers around the alfombra

A simple alfombra of leaves and flowers, Antigua, Guatemala

A simple alfombra of leaves and flowers

Scattering natural colored sawdust on a pine needle alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Scattering natural colored sawdust on a pine needle alfombra

Flower and pine needle alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Flower and pine needle alfombra

Using wooden stencils for intricate dyed sawdust alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Using wooden stencils for intricate dyed sawdust alfombra

Different hues of dyed sawdust, Antigua, Guatemala

Different hues of dyed sawdust

Showing scale and intricacy of dyed sawdust alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Showing scale and intricacy of dyed sawdust alfombra

Stunning detail of rear view of a Guatemalan indigenous woman, Antigua, Guatemala

Stunning detail of rear view of a Guatemalan indigenous woman

Crowds admiring the completed alfombra moments before the procession walks over it, Antigua, Guatemala

Crowds admiring the completed alfombra moments before the procession walks over it

Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 2

My post Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 1 was just a taster of the thousands of alfombras created during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, Guatemala. As so many intricate details grabbed my attention, I had to break them down into separate posts.

Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 1

Semana Santa (Holy Week) has come and gone again in Antigua, Guatemala along with thousands of ceremonial carpets known as alfombras, laid and destroyed in the path of processions.

This post is dedicated to details of these pieces of art made of dyed sawdust, pine needles, flowers, fruit and vegetables where biblical and Mayan themes, crosses and hearts predominate.

For more of my alfombra posts check out  Holy Week in Antigua: Alfombras and Just Kids: The Art of Alfombras. For all my Semana Santa posts including processions and velaciones (Holy Vigils) click here. Also, Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 2 is now posted.

Just Kids: The Art of Alfombras

Guatemalan kids love to express their creative side helping their parents in the art of making elaborate, vivid alfombras (carpets) of gaudily dyed aserrín (sawdust), pine needles, flowers and fruit during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Engrossed in their handiwork, mostly oblivious to onlookers, they play with color and form. Laying flowers and petals on carpets of soft, scented pine needles or sifting, spooning and massaging with fingertips psychedelic sawdust into carved out shapes in wooden stencils: this is the ultimate art class for kids!

Here are just a few images captured in Antigua at this time.


















Holy Week in Antigua: Processions

Incense fragranced smog chokes the air while dozens of robed, head-dressed men known as cucuruchos, shoulder an anda (float) bearing a figure of Christ.

Processions ceremoniously leave churches and tortuously navigate their way step by step along the topsy-turvy cobble stoned streets between crumbling ruins and colonial houses, trampling in their path intricate carpets (alfombras) of garishly stained sawdust and flowers.

After each block, new recruits subtly weave their way into the procession relieving the tiring cucuruchos from their burden. Organized by a brotherhood or hermandad, locals pay the church to participate, considering it a great honor and a way of displaying devotion to their faith.

At the tail end musicians blow solemnly on brass horns accompanied by the pounding of giant drums as they shuffle over the mishmash of impressionistic color splashed cobbles.


Streets jostle with locals, expats and international visitors waiting patiently for a view of the passing procession then mingling with the trailing hawkers crying out their wares.

Finally, locals salvage broken stems of flowers before the advancing tren de limpieza (cleaning train) of bulldozers, trucks and an army of men wielding brooms and shovels who clear up the aftermath of trampled sawdust and trash.

2. Volcano Agua looming behind


Processions vary but each one includes an anda bearing Christ carried by purple-robed men although the hermandad wear white robes and everyone changes to somber black after the crucifixion. A smaller float with women dressed in black and white, bearing a statue of the Virgin Mary follows.

The revered Franciscan monk Saint Hermano Pedro, also known as the Saint Francis of the Americas, imported the Semana Santa (Holy Week) tradition to Antigua when he arrived from Spain about 1650. He reputedly made the earliest alfombra in Guatemala and led the first procession.

These are just a few of the images I took of the processions during this period. More will follow in my next post.

4. Early morning procession on Good Friday with romans on horseback







11. Smog fills the air in this nighttime procession



14. Another nighttime procession against a backdrop of Volcano Agua





19. Anda with the Virgin Mary carried by women





24. Cucuruchos carrying the anda with Christ are the first to step on the alfombras. Those in front walk around them.

Holy Week in Antigua: Velaciones

Velaciones or holy vigils adorn churches around Antigua, Guatemala and surrounding villages at least every Friday throughout Cuaresma (Lent) and about two days before processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

1. Velación with fruit and vegetable garden arranged around the blue dyed sawdust alfombra

A brotherhood, known as a hermandad, organizes their church’s velación, displaying their religious processional image near the altar against a giant biblical backdrop. At its feet lies a vibrant handmade alfombra (carpet) of sawdust, hemmed by a huerto (garden), an eye-catching display of flowers, fruit, vegetables, candles and specially shaped loaves of bread, brought to the church as offerings the day before.

2. Velación with natural colored sawdust alfombra decorated with fruit, flowers and candles

3. Colorful sawdust alfombra surrounded with fruit and flowers

4. Alfombra dyed the traditional mauve of Semana Santa surrounded by a huge array of vegetables

5. Close up of the alfombra with an image of Jesus bearing the cross

6. A brightly colored alfombra edged with displays of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Some processional images sit below the backdrop

7. Another colorful velación

8. One of the processional images, a figure of Mary

9. Close up of a velación huerto of fruit, vegetables and specially made bread

10. Some velaciones have caged birds in the garden

11. The corozo, a giant seed pod, grows on a species of palm tree in Guatemala. It's a traditional adornment for alfombras during Semana Santa

12. Close up of the corozo seed pod

Sacred music plays while the faithful or the inquisitive flood into the church to pray and admire these temporary works of religious art. A festival atmosphere fills the evening air outside as hordes of visitors hang around in groups gossiping and jostling for the best bites around smoky grills and seasonal food and drink stands.

13. The faithful praying and admiring the velación at the front of the church

14. Smoky grills awaiting the hungry

15. Firing up the comal to cook tortillas

Holy Week in Antigua: Alfombras

A religious fervor of Holy Vigils (velaciones), masses (misas) and processions (procesiones) sweeps over the Catholic community throughout Lent or Cuaresma from Ash Wednesday (miércoles de Ceniza), forty days before Palm Sunday.

Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish, is the last week of Lent starting on Palm Sunday and ending the day before Easter Sunday. During this time, in Antigua, Guatemala, the passion and solemnity intensifies among the faithful with almost daily processions that bring the normal daily life of the city to a standstill.

Here, part of the tradition involves the laborious laying of ceremonial carpets or alfombras in the path of processions. The devout dedicate hours to create intricate alfombras, patiently sifting dyed sawdust through wooden and cardboard templates, slowly covering the grey cobblestones with multi-colored, elaborate patterns.

Others design simpler carpets of pine needles, seasonal flowers and fruits, the aroma mingling with incense and saturating the air. Hours to make yet in minutes solemn processions slowly trample these works of art to obliteration.

My third Semana Santa in Antigua didn’t disappoint. Every day, my camera in hand, I pounded the uneven streets capturing moments of the passion. This post shows a tiny reflection of the most elaborate alfombras over those three years.

1. Outside La Merced church on Palm Sunday 2007

2. Early morning in front of Ermita Santa Lucía

3. Crowds checking out the alfombra-laden streets before a procession wipes them out

4. The results of a dedicated all-night team effort

5. All-night teamwork also produced this elaborate alfombra

6. And another

7. In front of La Merced church on Palm Sunday 2011

My next few posts will cover more of Semana Santa.

Antigua: In the Land of the Maya and Volcanoes

Below is an article that I wrote for V!VA Travel Guides, published on their website and in their print guidebook. It’s about the city that has been my home for four years.

Also check out my article on International Living’s website Living in Antigua, Guatemala: An Expat’s View.

1. The city center. The cathedral and central plaza (Parque Central) against the backdrop of Agua volcano.

In a highland valley some 1500 meters above sea level, the charming colonial city of Antigua lies, surrounded by three volcanoes. It’s tickled by the skirts of the extinct Volcán de Agua to the south and is within the gaze of two (one dormant and one active) volcanoes to the southwest, the double-ridged peak of Volcán Acatenango and the smoking Volcán Fuego.

2. Antigua sheltering in the folds of Agua volcano.

3. Volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango at sunset.

Once the seat of the Spanish colonial authority in Guatemala, Antigua oversaw a vast area stretching from southern Mexico to the impenetrable Darién Gap. The city is officially named La Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, (“The Very loyal and Very Noble Knight’s City of Santiago of Guatemala”) but shortened to La Antigua Guatemala, or simply Antigua.

Nowadays, Antigua’s population stands at about 47,000 and its status as a world heritage site has preserved and restored its colonial architecture and old-world appeal. The local government only approves certain shades to paint the exterior walls of buildings and prohibits the display of signs or notices that are out of character with the rest of the city. Cobblestone streets are splashed with colorful house and shop fronts and old churches and crumbling ruins are dotted throughout.

4. Antigua's landmark arch with Agua Volcano peering beneath it.

5. Agua volcano looming over the colorful streets.

6. Distinctive La Merced church.

Due to its location, beauty, history, variety of cultural activities and outdoor excursions both inside Antigua and close by, it has become a thriving landing-place for globetrotters. The mixture of locals, travelers and expats gives it a certain worldly air.

Get a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding volcanoes and villages from the cross on the hill, Cerro de la Cruz, to the north. For security reasons it’s always advisable to go with a Tourist Police escort.

7. Antigua at the hemline of Agua volcano's skirts. View from Cerro de la Cruz.

If your time is limited, take a city walking tour of the main sights, ruins and museums. Wander through the handicrafts market to pick up souvenirs and take a look at how jade is transformed into jewelry and masks in one of the store factories. Get out-of-town to visit a coffee plantation and trek up to the edge of a flowing river of red-hot lava on Volcán Pacaya.

8. The central fountain in Parque Central overlooked by the cathedral.

9. The carved stone fountain adorned with mermaids spouting water from their bare breasts is the focal point of Parque Central.

10. The main tourist drag, the 5th Avenida. Lined with shops, restaurants and bars, spanned by the iconic Arco de Catalina and watched over by Agua volcano.

11. The ruins of San José el Viejo.

12. Santa Clara ruins.

13. Exquisite, handmade huipiles in the handicrafts market.

14. A jade factory inside a jewelry store.

15. Coffee beans.

16. Within arm's reach of red-hot lava on Volcán Pacaya.

Many travelers hang out here a while to recoup energy and recharge on the good eats. There is no shortage of restaurants in Antigua. Grab tasty bites from street venders, comedores (eateries) or restaurants serving cuisine from most corners of the world.  There are also plenty of bars to wash it down after.

17. Delicious street food.

18. International restaurant.

19. Street candy stall.

20. Fire artist performing during a fund-raising event in a popular bar.

Scores are lured by the well-earned reputation of the city as one of the choice spots to study Spanish and there are hordes of language schools of all calibers vying for the bucks.

21. This high-end Spanish school has individual classrooms in a beautiful garden overlooked by ruins. Many of the schools have ample courtyards and gardens to study in.

Volunteering opportunities are endless both in Antigua and in outlying areas with NGO organizations and projects all focusing on different social, educational, health and environmental issues. Many students invest their afternoons donating whatever skills they can offer.

22. The KIDS Restaurant is a T.E.S.S. Unlimited project to help kids learn English, develop social skills and learn to work as part of a team.

Forever a popular place to learn salsa, there are qualified instructors running classes for all levels in dance studios around town.

23. A restaurant based salsa studio.

There are infinite options for laying your head at night. The streets of Antigua are brimming with hostels, guesthouses and hotels of every description and for every pocket from penny-pinching to luxury.

24. Guatemalan style hostel terrace.

25. Luxury boutique hotel.

Tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy and language schools are one of the major employers along with hotels and restaurants. The production of typical handicrafts and fabrics and the cultivation of coffee, macadamia nuts and veggies are other big income earners.

High season is June through August and November through April. On July 25 the streets come alive with colorful parades for the Day of Santiago, the city’s patron saint.

26. A desfile or parade to celebrate Antigua's patron saint's day.

27. Trumpeters sweating under the strain and heat.

28. This desfile marched and thundered straight past my house.

Antigua is at its most crowded during Semana Santa (Holy Week) when thousands of people engulf the city to participate in and observe the ceremonies. Solemn religious processions slowly trudge the streets trampling in their path the beautifully elaborate and artistic alfombras (carpets) of dyed sawdust and flowers. Not to be missed for visitors in Guatemala at this time. Accommodation during Holy Week is filled to bursting and needs to be booked months in advance.

29. Procession during Semana Santa.

30. Finished stained sawdust and pine needle alfombras waiting for the procession to pass.

31. The 5th Avenida during Semana Santa. Making intricate sawdust alfombras in the path of a procession.