Semana Santa in Antigua: Alfombras

I have so far completely neglected one of the coolest and unique activities of Semana Santa: alfombras. Alfombras are beautiful temporary works of Easter street art in Antigua that people spend all night creating, exist in a finished state for mere hours or minutes, and then are sacrificed beneath the feet of the processions.

Good Friday is the day with the most processions (five) and also the greatest quantity and most elaborate alfombras, popping up throughout the day as processions weave their way through the city from 4am Friday morning to 4am Saturday. They are created by residents, their friends and families, and holy men who start laying them down in the dark of night to be ready for the first procession of the day; each alfombra is intended to be at its best when the procession arrives, so is targeted for completion just before it is destroyed.

Some travel advice says you MUST get up at 4am on Good Friday to see the alfolmbras. (Don’t even get me started on FOMO–fear of missing out–and the “best time” to see things in general.) It is true that in order to see every single alfombra you would need to get up at 4am and trace the procession routes slightly ahead of the floats for the next twenty-four hours. But I believe this to be completely too extreme. You can see plenty of wonderful alfombras by waking up at a normal hour. I made it out by 8am and saw tons!

Families gather from around the country to work together on their project; for many families it is a longstanding annual tradition to make an alfombra at a particular street location and procession time every year for decades.

These “carpets” are actually made mostly of carefully placed colored woodchips or sand. Creators stand on low bridges made of wood planks to increase their reach and precision. Stenciling is very common, though many–more often made of flowers instead of woodchips–are also laid freely by hand. They are then periodically finely sprayed with water to keep all pieces in place.

Typical alfombra creation and preservation techniques.
Stenciling in a pair of parrots, like my blog backdrop!
All children were invited to create a playdoh animal and add it to this alfombra.

Beyond the colored flat designs, 3D elements are also incorporated, most often flowers and food. One of my favorite and most elaborate was a diorama of Antigua’s Parque Central made out of bread, complete with the center mermaid fountain with water coming out of their breasts.

Parque Central, approached by a tiny procession on the right.
A model of the Good Friday procession, complete with Jesus in a casket on top.
Melon and kiwi tortugas!
Flowers flowers everywhere.

These beautiful things are the essence of temporary and exist only for a few hours, if that, before they are destroyed. A cleanup team trails the processions and immediately sweeps up the debris, but leaves behind a rainbow of confetti in the cobblestones. I found it a sweet reminder throughout the city that something beautiful, now mysterious, used to exist there.

There they go, taking out another alfombra.
Doing the dirty work as a risen Jesus recedes in the background.
A lovely echo.

P.S. You may now notice that the background wallpaper of this blog is a detail of a supremely kickass parrot alfombra from an Antigua Semana Santa past!

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