Popayán is the capital of the province of Cauca and is located in the southwest of Colombia at an altitude of 1760 meters above sea level. Popayán is considered not only one of the most beautiful and best preserved cities in Latin America and ideal for a Colombian holiday, but also has a great historical and cultural richness. The city played a crucial role during the time of the viceroyalty of New Granada.
This elegant city of white streets is considered to be the Jerusalem of Latin America, an attractive destination during a Colombia tour, where Holy Week is celebrated at its finest.
Holy Week processions of Popayán are one of the oldest traditions in Colombia and have been recognized by UNESCO in 2009. The history of the festivities dates back to 1566, barely 30 years after the founding of the city. Because the Catholic tradition was introduced by the Spanish conquerors, the inhabitants of the city have a very strong Catholic faith. For this reason, over time, artists have dedicated their inspiration to the various passages of the Passion and Death of Christ.
The religious tradition of the festivals was so strong that even during the civil wars in the country truces were agreed, so that the sacred customs were not affected by conflicts. As a result, the religious festivals of Popayán have been preserved throughout the years, undisturbed by the political and social changes the country has experienced.
During Holy Week 6 processions take place. The most important are the opening of Holy Week on Palm Sunday and the processions on Tuesday and Good Friday. During each procession, parishioners march in a sacred silence, interrupted only by the chorus intonation of prayers and antiphons. A visit is especially recommended for religiously motivated tourists.
The Committee Pro Semana Santa (community of volunteers responsible for the organization of this great event) needs a year to prepare the religious festivities. The processions of Popayán are led by a strict organization.
The arrangement and maintenance of the stations where the processions are carried out was delegated by the pastors through a municipal decree of March 29, 1675 to the laity. Likewise the honor to load the “Pasos” (platforms on which the sacred art figures are carried) is inherited from father to son. These platforms can weigh up to 600 kilograms and are carried by eight people who walk the city’s ornate streets and only make small stopovers during the more than two-kilometer-long procession.
Participating in the Holy Week in Popayán is not only based on a religious motivation. It’s also about upholding more than 500 years of tradition and history. This ritual is unique in Latin America and is characterized by its songs, prayers and incense during the processions. A visit to this very special week can definitely be a highlight on a Colombia travel.
Since Holy Week, the Festival of Religious Music has also been held during Holy Week, which was declared a Cultural Heritage of the People in 2004. Thanks to its rich and historic history, the festival is one of the oldest in the world.
The preparation of the largest religious festival of the Catholic Church has led to a collective language and sense of community among its inhabitants. For tourists it is therefore not only a unique aesthetic spectacle, but also shows the social cohesion, a collective sense of identity of the local population and should not be neglected in a Colombian holiday.