Alfombras of Semana Santa (Holy Week Carpets)

Semana Santa in Guatemala is a stunning combination of colors, smells and sounds. Guatemalans love colors, as evidenced by the brightly painted houses and beautiful woven fabrics here, but nowhere does this love of color appear more strongly than in the alfombras or carpets of Semana Santa.

These are not actual carpets, of course, but rather temporary ones created for the processions that wind around Antigua (and other towns/cities) during Holy Week. The carpets are designed months in advance in many cases and the stencils made or purchased. Every year, the designs are different, but the insane amount of work that goes into these temporary works of art is the same.

There are several different kinds of alfombras. The most impressive ones are made of colored sawdust, which is sold in bags of color or hand mixed with dye by those making the carpets. Here is a sawdust carpet (alfombra de aserrin) in progress:

A base of plain sawdust is laid down to fill in the cracks in the cobblestones and create a flat surface. On top of this, colored sawdust is smoothed out, usually using pieces of wood to form the edges.

The next step is placing stencils on top of the base coats and adding the elaborate colors. Sometimes multiple stencils are used to create more complex designs, such as portraits of saints.

Other alfombras are made of pine needles and flowers. Here’s an example:

These are made by arranging a thick layer of pine needles over the street, then topping it with flowers, sawdust or fruit and vegetables. It’s not uncommon to see children running along after the procession, darting between legs to grab flowers and fruit that hasn’t been completely destroyed yet.

The carpets take hours to create, so often, people work all night long on them, finishing minutes before the procession arrives to destroy their hard work. There are usually a couple of different processions going at any given point in the day, so the carpets have to be carefully planned to be done between one procession going through and the next one passing.  I will be posting more photos when my sister and I go to Antigua to check out the processions next week, so stay tuned!

If you want to see the alfombra making process, this is an interesting video:

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