Visit the Lycos City Guide

Seville's April Fair : Spain At Its Best

by Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore You are the  th visitor here since 22 June 1996 ! Welcome !

The word `Spain' invokes images of a most vibrant nation, Latin passion, proud bull-fighters, flamencos, and of course, of Carmen and Don Juan. Seville in the Andalusian region in southern Spain is the very embodiment of the Spanish character and spirit, and its cultural richness is best manifested by the annual week-long festival in this city during the last week of April -- Abril Feria, or April Fair.

We arrived in Seville on 27th April, the second day of the Fair. The shops were closed by mid-day during this festive week and we had to get our groceries fast. After that we visited the main sights of this city famous for its Moorish/Islamic influences in architecture, cuisine and culture. The Cathedral with its Arabic minaret (the Giralda) and the Alcazar Reales (Moorish palace) may be grand but what really attracted us was the sight of beautifully dressed Sevilliaņos (the city's citizens) going to the site of the feria. Clothed in folk costumes of multitudes of bright colours, these Sevilliaņos -- ordinary people, not performers of some cultural dance troupes -- were the best attractions of the city and a hint of the joyous celebrations we were to witness the next day.

We set off for the fair site the next day. The fair site was located to the southwest of the city and the traffic approaching the site was a sight to behold -- hundreds of vehicles, including motor vehicles, horses and carriages crowded the streets, along with their most colourfully-dressed occupants.

The site itself is a flat ground with streets named after famous bullfighters and cultural figures -- fitting for a festival that arose in the 19th century as a popular revolt against foreign culture and habits. The Sevillaņos decided to turn one week in the year into a celebration of Spanish traditions and culture. Noblewomen on horse

It was a rainy day but it didn't bother the Sevillaņos anyway. Proud noblemen in their smart formal black or brown riding suits and their female counterparts paraded through the feria streets on their equally elegant Arabian stallions. Women of all ages were seen in their most exuberant and glittering Andalusian dresses walking on the streets or riding on carriages, unaffected by the pungent mixture of horse excreta and mud everywhere on the ground.

Numerous small wooden structures which have walls and roofs made of canvass of red and blue stripes and decorated with colour light-bulbs and flags graced the site. Known as casetas, or little houses, these were set up by various organisations -- clans, neighbourhoods, trade unions, employers (with well-known names like Renault and Gillete), political parties (that of the Spanish Communist Party was flooding all over, in a terrible mess not unlike the fortunes of its foreign counterparts !) and what have you. Inside these casetas are chairs and tables where people sing, eat and drink while watching others dancing the local form of flamenco, the sevillanas. And these go on for twenty-four hours a day, for one whole week ! Nobody wants to dance with me !

Indeed, the routine of the feria is a demanding one. One sleeps for only a few hours a day, take turns to work for a few more, and then dances and eats for the rest of the day, everyday of this week, stopping only for an occasional mid-day horse-ride or to watch an evening bullfight. Even then, what is most amazing is that the Seville has 800,000 people and is Spain's third largest city, and it isn't a bit bothered about the disruption the festival caused to its industrial productive capability. Just imagine the effects of having such a festival in Singapore. But perhaps it is a small price to pay for having an annual reunion of friends and relatives, as well as the strenghtening of industrial relations, not to mention the promotion of traditional culture and customs, and of tourism.

Most of the casetas were private, admitting only members of the organisation and their families, though most people did `caseta-hopping', visiting friends and relatives in various casetas. There were a few public casetas, operated by the city council , for the benefit of people without any affiliations, e.g. tourists like us. It was at one of these where we met a group of municipal officials, mostly academics (and including the director of an archaeological park), whom amazed with our distant origins, piled us with Andalusian sherry and various Spanish snacks, and even invited us to join their friends at a private caseta, belonging to Aqua, the city's water works.   My girlfriends ? ; Sevillanas at full swing

Here, we entered the private world of the Sevilliaņos, one of gaiety and of sheer joie de vivre. Exclusive casetas for the gentries engaged professional flamenco dancers and musicians but the liveiest ones were those where everyone joined in the fun. At the Aqua, the ladies danced to the rhythmic claps and chorus of friends and relatives. Men seldom danced but were great singers of Spanish sentimentals and folk tunes. Little girls were seen learning the fundamentals from their mothers while the best dancers were the venerable dames in their forties and above, after years of participation in this annual fiesta. We joined their celebrations, even trying to dance the sevillanas. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously and were overwhelmed by the Sevillianos' hospitability, despite the embarressment caused by we asking for the Spanish rice dish, paella, in the evening, which no respectable Spanish gentlemen would want after mid-day.

We stayed with our hosts till about eight in the evening when some of them had to return home to settle some business. We were asked to join them again at 2 a.m. for a dance but as we had to set off early the following day for Cordoba, we decided not to return. A pity but we will certainly return one day to this most joyous festival.

Links to Spain :

  • Spain Internet Resources - the guide to Internet sites in Spain
  • Andalusia's homepage ; Sevilla's homepage
  • Webfoot's Guide to Spain with interesting links to Spain
  • Spain Online with all you want to know about Spain ; also visit its Discover Spain travel pages ; and its Seville homepage
  • Spanish National Tourism Office's Discover Spain - an useful Spanish travel resource site
  • Sevilla Homepage - a great page but it's all in Spanish ; Not useful if you don't know Spanish
  • Image Factory - this is afascinatingsite with fantastic photos on Spain and Seville ; worth a visit even if you are not interested in Spain !
  • Info. on Flamenco
  • Bull Fighting
  • Copyright : Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore 1998 TWC's Homepage Please email me your comments