Well, I said a little while back that I would write up my experiences of the Feria de Abril in Seville for those of you that may be wondering what it’s all about. It also gives me a chance to take a break from writing library related posts for a bit and publish a post on something different. They do say variety is the spice of life. And hey, who knows, maybe someone will read this post and develop an interest in libraries and the lives and loves of librarians. We can but hope. So, the Feria…
La Portada - the main entrance to the Feria
Ferias are held across Spain throughout the year. They were originally market fairs, but over time have become more about drinking, eating and dancing. The Feria in Seville is perhaps the best known and largest. It is held annually, two weeks after Semana Santa (or Holy Week) and lasts 6 days, from Tuesday to Sunday. Following the sombre processions associated with the Holy Week, the Feria provides a chance for Sevillianos (and tourists!) to let loose and have a good time.
The streets of the Feria
The Feria de Abril occupies a part of the city that is essentially open ground for most of the year. There has been talk of it being moved to another part of the city to make way for flats or housing, but for now the Feria remains in its usual space. In terms of size, the Feria is spread over 450,000m², across 15 streets and comprises 1,047 casetas (small stalls with tables, chairs, a wooden platform for dancing and, most importantly, a bar serving food and drink) – some public, some private. Private casetas are normally operated by groups of private individuals and you are only able to gain entry if you are family or if you are invited. Fortunately, my father-in-law is part of a group that operates a caseta, so I am allowed entry! If you are unable to access a private caseta however, there are numerous public casetas operated by professional associations, political parties, trade unions etc.
My father-in-law's caseta
At the entrance to the Feria is the ‘Portada’ – a colourful archway that towers above the surrounding casetas. The portada is slightly different each year, usually commemorating an anniversary of an event linked to Seville or to Spain in general. Given how it dominates the Feria, it is a handy reference point when you are making your way around the streets and casetas. Believe me, with the amount of people there it is very easy to lose track of where you are!
It’s not just the Portada that is colourful, vibrant colour hits you wherever you look. The women dress up in their traditional flamenco dresses (every year there is a slightly different style of dress in fashion – at least so I am told!) in every colour you can possibly imagine. The casetas are equally colourful as are the paper lanterns that hang overhead. After the piety of the Semana Santa, it is as if the people of Seville have cut loose in a veritable explosion of colour.
Paper lanterns line the streets
In contrast to the women, the men tend to wear either the traditional ‘traje corto’ or a suit (although there are a number of people who just wear t-shirt and jeans – given the temperatures Seville experiences, who can really blame them?). Of those that do wear a suit, some also wear either a silver tie pin or a lapel badge in the shape and design of the year’s Portada. Personally, I tend to wear a shirt and jeans most of the time (I’m not really a suit person and I find it awfully uncomfortable when wearing it for long periods) but on occasion I do wear a suit if I know that I am not likely to be there all day and night – that would not be tolerable!
A Feria tie pin
In general, people tend to arrive at the fair in the afternoon after finishing work. School children are lucky enough to get the week off so they can also join in the festivities – lucky buggers! During the morning the site can be rather like a ghost town with barely a soul around, save for the street cleaners and those replacing damaged paper lanterns. It is not unusual to arrive at the fair early afternoon and stay there right through until the early hours of the next morning, before starting all over the following day throughout the week. As the evening draws on and more people finish work for the day, the site starts to fill up and the streets become full of people eating, drinking and generally having a good time.
There are a number of stalls selling toys and sweets
One of the most important aspects of the Feria is the Sevilliana. Sevilliana is a type of dance that, as its name suggests, originates fromSeville. Normally there is a small raised platform in the caseta for people to dance on and people get up throughout the day (when they are feeling brave enough) and dance Sevilliana. I can’t pretend to know all the steps so I won’t even bother trying to explain it (or even sharing a video/photo of me attempting it!). Handily, however, I shot a short video of genuine Sevillianas which is much better than me tying myself in knots trying to explain it.
I have to say it is a pretty impressive sight, seeing a group of Spaniards dancing Sevilliana. One of the most wonderful moments at our wedding was when the Spanish contingent (some 100 or so) took to the dance floor and danced the Sevilliana. The non-Spanish guests could only watch in awe. It was certainly a sight I am unlikely to forget.
Toast topped with salmorejo, serrano ham and a quail's egg
But it’s not just the dancing that makes the Feria such a wonderful experience. The food is also fantastic. Seville is widely acknowledged as the home of tapas and there is always a fantastic range of dishes on offer. The best thing about Spanish food is that it is very simple food using the very best ingredients. Probably my favourite dish this year was Serrano ham on small slices of toast, topped with a quail’s egg – absolutely delicious, I couldn’t get enough of them! Another favourite of mine is salmorejo. Salmorejo is basically a cold soup made using bread and tomatoes and normally topped with boiled egg and Serrano ham – again, simple ingredients that make the most delicious dish. As well as serving as a soup, it is also used as a base for things such as pan de la casa (toast, a layer of salmorejo finished with a slice of Serrano ham). All this great food is washed down with either manzanilla (a type of sherry) or a mixture of manzanilla and lemonade (a rebujito). Normally I don’t go for sherry, but sherry over there tends to be a bit drier than the sickly sweet stuff we get over here (the stuff your grandma would love).
Manzanilla - normally served in an iced bucket
As well as the tapas and sherry, another staple of the Feria are churros. Churros are basically a fried dough (sometimes known as a Spanish doughnut) and they are normally served with a cup of thick, hot chocolate. Very nice, although perhaps not so good for the diet!
Bunuelos and hot chocolate - bunuelos are similar to churros
I hope this post has given you a taste of what the Feria has to offer. I absolutely love it and looked forward to it every year (although, due to volcanoes and babies, this is the first one we have been to for three years!). If this does convince you to join the festivities in the near future, do let me know and we can hook up and I’ll show you around! At least there will be one private caseta you will be able to get into!
If you want to see more photos, you can view the full set on Flickr.