Feria de abril en Sevilla

Michael Kagan

Ahhh, Sevilla! It conjures up so many wonderful images and associations! Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Bizet’s Carmen were set there. This area in southwest Spain, thought to be founded by Hercules, was inhabited by Phoenicians, Romans, and Visigoths, taken over by Muslims in the eighth century, then reconquered by Christians in the thirteenth. The wealth of the New World was brought there. Franco’s Fascist forces took the city quickly at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It is famous for its Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, with "floats" of Jesus or Mary being carried through the streets, accompanied by "penitents" in costumes borrowed more recently by KKK members in the US. And don’t you associate Flamenco and bullfights with Sevilla? Living an hour away from this fascinating city, with a population similar to Seattle, we have come to appreciate its ancient buildings, narrow pedestrian lanes, wonderful food, lush parks and gardens, varied neighborhoods, and special ambience. But we were most fortunate recently to take in the grandest, most elaborate social event in Andalucía, one that should be on everyone’s list of things to see and do in Spain.

The annual Feria de abril began in 1846 as a livestock trading venue, but quickly became the place for the nobility, the elite, the most successful business people and their families to show off their finery, their horses and carriages, and their hospitality. The permanent fairgrounds, across the Guadalquivir River from the city, comprise 24 city blocks, with cobblestone streets named after famous bullfighters. (We found a plaque honoring one whose portrait we bought at the bullring several years ago and hung in our house.) There is also an enormous area devoted to a very colorful, busy, impressive amusement park. I've heard that 5 million people attend this fair over the course of the week!

Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla

The drive into Sevilla is always anxiety-producing, with its spaghetti-like network of highways that curve off in all directions. Trying to figure out where to park was worrisome, thinking about hundreds of thousands of people doing the same. (I knew of an underground garage, but it would have meant a significant walk and a big fee.) These concerns proved groundless, however, as the city had things very well-planned. A sign on the highway directed us to an enormous parking lot, where, for only seven euros including parking, we could catch one of the very frequent buses that would take us directly to the fair and back! We joined the parade of couples and families, many of the women and girls in flamenco dresses, lots of men in formal suits, for the ten-minute bus ride, and started our evening of local culture.

Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla

Walking past stands selling souvenirs and snacks, behind which were all the rides, we arrived at the area of the actual Feria. Even on a pleasant Thursday afternoon, the whole area was very crowded, in spite of the fact that many people wait till almost midnight to arrive! We found ourselves in a unique, temporary city of over 1,000 casetas: fancy “tents” between 20 and 100 feet wide, and 100 feet deep, decorated to look like living rooms or dining rooms, some with crystal chandeliers, most with framed photos or art on the walls. All had small stages for live Flamenco music and dancing, tables and chairs, a bar, and a kitchen in the back, from which came plates of delicious fish, jamón, croquetas, and other treats. The bars offered beer, wine, our favorite sherry (Manzanilla), and a very refreshing drink called "rebujito". This came out by the pitcher: a mixture of Manzanilla, with its unique taste and aroma of the salty sea air, lemon soda, and mint. It’s a real favorite here in Andalucía, for good reason: the chilled carbonation goes well with most foods, especially on a hot day, and is all too easy to drink….

Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla

 

Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla

The facades of the casetas were painted gaily, including the name of the club, trade association, or prominent family to which it belonged. Only members or invited guests could enter, a policy enforced by beefy security guards at the entrances. (Fortunately, there were a few tents open to the public, and i tried not to feel like a loser while being in one!) The tents are snugged up right against each other, and on the street in front of many of them, some of their members were on horseback, dressed in the traditional flat-brimmed round hats, tight trousers, short jackets, and riding boots. Waiters brought them plates of food and refilled their glasses so they could eat and drink on their equine perches.

Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla

There was a continuous traffic jam in the cobbled lanes: elegant carriages drawn by horses or mules ferrying passengers (women in gorgeous Flamenco dresses, men regal in suits with bright, solid-colored ties), driven by men in top hats or tri-cornered hats, tried to work their way down the lanes crammed with pedestrians. (People pay 95 euros per hour for these rides.) We were able to look closely at the adornments of the well-behaved livestock: fancy harnesses, shiny bells, colorful pompoms on their bridles, braided tails and manes, decorations etched into their rumps. As always, i was impressed by the beauty and poise of the livestock. However, after 8 pm, the carriages disappeared due to safety concerns with the diminishing daylight.

Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla
Feria de abril en Sevilla

After walking around for a couple of hours, we ducked into one of the public tents to get out of the sun, to sit down, and to have some refreshments. Sharing a round table with another couple, we enjoyed a bottle of Manzanilla, a plate of jamón, and some special green peppers fried whole in olive oil. It was fun to see people of all ages dancing sevillanas, a particular dance form influenced by Flamenco, with actual steps that most local people know. And they sing along to the words. (I tune in a radio station on my phone and listen to sevillana music often. It is much happier and gentler on the ear than Flamenco, though i enjoy that, too.)

Feria de abril en Sevilla

Back out in the fairgrounds, we walked around some more, and headed to one of two Ferris Wheels, where for 3.50 euros each, we rode high above the fair and the city. The setting sun illuminated the sky in pastels, the amusement park was garishly colorful, and the lights over the lanes and around the casetas framed them in soft yellow patterns. We found our way to the main entrance to the fair, the puerta that takes a different form each year, then all the way back to where the bus dropped us off, and finally to the car for the drive home to our quiet beach. We were so glad to have been able to experience this unique and famous event, where people eat and drink while singing and dancing all night, and celebrate - i don't know what - life i guess!

[Editor's note: The use of lower case 'i' for the first person pronoun singular is not a typo. The author prefers the lower case.]