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Seville | Immaculate Conception Day and the Night of the Tunas

inmaculada abcphoto courtesy of ABC Sevilla

As in so many other places, Christmas in Seville seems to come earlier every year. The lights are switched on sooner, Christmas markets open earlier, and so on. In Seville, however, we do have an official start of the Christmas season, which helps to keep a check on the excesses. It’s the Day of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated as a public holiday on December 8. Not to be confused with the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception refers to the protection of the Virgin Mary from original sin by God’s direct intervention at her conception. Although believed in by many from quite early times, it only became Catholic dogma in 1854, and in Seville it was naturally seized on as another opportunity for getting out in the street to celebrate. The monument to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Plaza del Triunfo was built in 1918, the four figures around the base (Juan de Pineda, Bartolomé Murillo, Miguel Cid and Martinez Montañés) were staunch propagandists for the doctrine.

inmaculada sevillastatue of the Inmaculada in Plaza Triunfo Seville

Nowadays the most popular and visible part of these celebrations is the “Night of the Tunas”. This has nothing to do with fish (in Spanish these are atún). Tunas are roving bands of musicians (usually attached to various faculties of the university) in “medieval” costume, who can often be seen plying their trade outside the bars for a free beer while they chat up girls, but on the evening of December 8 they congregate around the monument for a friendly competition to sing the praises of the Virgin. Considerable crowds gather in and around the square, and the singing and festivities can carry on until dawn.


[watch from 3:35 – 6:05 to see the tunas in front of the Inmaculada]

On the previous evening (December 7), there is a vigil for the Virgin in the Cathedral, and the day itself begins with a less well-known tradition, the Gozos (joys) de la Inmaculada, three bugle fanfares that are sounded from the belltower of the Antonio Abad church in Calle Alfonso XII, followed by a marching band procession to the monument and on to the Murillo Gardens.

The main religious service in the Cathedral is held the following day, and includes the Dance of Los Seises (the choirboys) in front of the main altar, one of only three occasions each year when this is done. The choirboys (originally 6 of them, which is what gave the dance its name, but now 10) are dressed in medieval costumes, which because of a Papal edict can never be replaced, only repaired. The dance goes back to at least the 16th century, and probably longer, predating the Day of the Immaculate Conception.

_MG_8835.JPGLos Seises – photo courtesy of ABC Sevilla

If you’re in Seville The Night of the Tunas is a great excuse for staying up all night in the best Sevillano tradition, and after a day to recover, the serious business of Christmas can get under way in earnest.

If you’re thinking of taking a Christmas break in Seville why not try one of our  holiday apartments?

Seville | El Arenal neighbourhood

The Arenal neighbourhood of Seville is the southwestern part of the old centre, between the Avenida de la Constitución that runs in front of the Cathedral, and the River Guadalquivir. Its name is derived from the Spanish word for sand (arena), in this case the sand of the bullring, which is in this neighbourhood.

arenal (1)inside the Maestranza bullring

Crossing the Avenida at the corner of the cathedral takes you from the tourist district of Seville into an area with a quite different character. It was created by the extension of the city walls in the 10th century, some of which can still be seen around the Torre del Oro and the Torre del Plata (the gold and silver towers). During Seville’s golden age after the discovery of America it was the port area of the city, and even today it’s still a largely residential area. It was here that the treasures of the New World were unloaded, and from here that voyages of trade and discovery set sail.

arenal (4)Plaza del Cabildo

For the sightseer the main things of interest cluster around the southern end of the neighbourhood. Start at the Plaza del Cabildo, which is reached by a short passageway directly opposite the main door of the Cathedral. It’s normally a quiet place, away from the busy main avenue, with a section of the old wall, a fountain, and a semi-circle of shops and apartments with splendid frescos along the eaves. On Sunday mornings there’s a little collectors’ market selling stamps, coins and other items. Look out for a little shop called El Torno, where they sell cakes and pastries made in the local convents. The name derives from the turntable that separated the nuns from the buyers of their goods.

arenal (5)the Atarazanas

From there go through the Postigo del Aceite, the oil gate, into the riverside area. This is one of the few remaining city gates, and still has a little chapel just inside where you can give thanks or pray for good fortune as you enter or leave the city. To the right is a little artesan market for your souvenir shopping, and to the left are the Atarazanas, the 13th century dockyards. They’re not open to the public at the moment, but you can look in through one of the windows to see the visually stunning effect of its arched naves. If you’re lucky you may see storks nesting on the chimney above the building, something that always gives me a lift. Follow the building round and you’ll come to La Hospital de la Caridad, the charity hospital founded by Miguel de Mañara (sometimes said to be the model for Don Juan, though this is almost certainly not true). It’s still a working charity hospital but the splendid Baroque chapel is open to the public.

torre del oroTorre del Oro

Down by the river is one of Seville’s most famous and iconic buildings, the Torre del Oro, built in the early 13th century to protect the then Moorish city from the approaching Christians. In the 19th century it survived a couple of proposals for its demolition. It now houses a small naval museum with old maps and prints and model ships. You can also climb to the top for a view along the river, and to imagine what the area was like when it was the most important port in Europe.

arenal (2)Bullring Museum

A little further along the river is the bullring, one of the two oldest in Spain. Bullfights (to the death) are still held here during the April fair and in September. Even if you choose (like me, I have to admit) not to see a fight, it’s still worth taking a guided tour to experience the atmosphere of the arena.

Nowadays one of the Arenal’s great pleasures is its profusion of excellent tapas bars, many of them, such as the Bodeguita Romero, Casa Morales or Casa Moreno, retaining their traditional ambience and cuisine, making it a great alternative to the more touristy Santa Cruz for a proper tapeo. For tapas with a more modern touch try La Brunilda. Also pay a visit to the Arenal market to see how the locals shop and buy a few supplies.

arenal (3)Entrance to the Arenal Market

Last but not least there are several places where you can see flamenco. For a show try the Arenal Tablao in Calle Rodo. For something less formal pay a visit to Casa Matías on Calle Arfe (contrary to your expectations it’s not open late at night – go between 7 – 10 pm for impromptu flamenco).

El Arenal’s location close to, but not in, the main monumental area, makes it a great neighbourhood to rent an apartment for your stay at a reasonable price.

Take our virtual tour of the El Arenal barrio.

Seville European Film Festival 2014


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painter Curro González evokes Fellini for this year’s edition of the SEFF

Friday November 7 sees the beginning of the 11th edition of the Sevilla European Film Festival, an annual celebration of the best of European cinema, which will run until November 15. It’s a meeting place for professionals from all parts of the industry – writers, critics, actors and producers – as well as for the public, who have an opportunity to see something of the film world in action away from its most commercial aspects, and to interact with film-makers in forums and round tables.

The core of the festival is the competitions for best films by categories. Most important is the official section award, the Gold Giraldillo, won last year by Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake, but there also documentaries, short films and new-wave sections, among others, and awards for best actors, directors and scripts. Nominations for the European Film Academy Awards are also made during the festival. In addition there are lots of special screenings, retrospectives and tributes, and cinema for children and young people to foster both imagination and critical perception.

Principal venues are the Teatro Lope de Vega, Teatro Alameda, Cines Nervión Plaza and CineZona Sevilla Este, and the full program can be found here.

If you’re here for the whole week it’s well worth renting one of our apartments, and giving yourself a comfortable base for all your sightseeing and film-going.

Recipe | Migas

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One of the great things about renting an apartment for your holiday is that you can go shopping in the markets and try out Spanish recipes using authentic local ingredients. But what do you do with what you have left over on the last day? One answer could be – migas! Migas is a classic “waste not, want not” poor people’s dish for using up your stale/dry bread, together with bacon or ham, onions, garlic, and a couple of eggs. And although this year the Seville summer seems reluctant to make way for autumn, cooler weather is not far off, and this filling winter warmer is a must for your Spanish cookbook.

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  • 2 cups stale bread, crumbled up in chunks
  • 1/2 cup water (more or less)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • chopped chorizo or ham or bacon
  • 2 eggs
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • pimentón (smoked paprika)

How much water you’ll need depends on how old and dry your bread is. The idea is to make it moist again, not soggy wet, so sprinkle water over your crumbly bread until it starts to plump up. Once it looks like it’s reviving a bit, put a cloth over it and let it rest while you get on with the other stuff. When the bread is looking good again, add the pimentón (either sweet or spicy) and toss until evenly coated.

In a large saucepan sauté the diced onion and thinly sliced garlic in olive oil until lightly browned and then add the chopped cooked ham. If you are using bacon or sausage that needs to be cooked then add it at the same time as you start cooking the onion and garlic and sauté over low heat. When it’s all cooked through remove the mixture to a bowl.

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Add a bit more oil to the same pan and once it’s nice and hot toss in the paprika-covered bread bits. Let it brown a bit, then stir it around, slowly adding a bit more oil if the bread is looking dry. Once you like the look of the bread’s toastiness stir in the onion/garlic/meat, mixing it well. Make an opening in the centre of the pan by pushing the mixture to the sides, making room for the eggs. Add a few drops of olive oil to the pan and add the eggs. Let them cook about half-way through then toss them with the bread mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Seville | The Macarena Neighbourhood

No, we’re not talking about the 1990s dance craze (though there’s a loose connection), or about the football stadium in Rio de Janeiro (it’s not even spelt that way). We’re talking about the neighbourhood of La Macarena that forms the northeast quarter of the historic centre of Seville in Spain. A largely residential area away from the main monuments – the Cathedral and Alcázar Palace – and its more touristy neighbour the Santa Cruz, the Macarena’s working class roots (it is said to have once been the poorest slum in Spain) give it an authentic local atmosphere with plenty to see and do.

macarena (2)La Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena

The name itself is thought to come either from Macarius, a wealthy Roman said to have owned a lot of land in the area, or more probably from Bab-al-Makrin, the Moorish name for the Macarena city gate that still stands at the northern end of San Luis street, next to the longest surviving section of the mediaeval city wall that was built to enclose the new northern extension of the city in the 11th century.

The Macarena’s greatest claim to fame is probably the statue of La Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena, the Virgin of Hope, the most popular of the statues of the Virgin that take part in the city’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions. She was created in the late 17th century, probably by the famous sculptor Pedro Roldán and/or his daughter Luisa, and is the patroness of bullfighters. Even today, her appearance in the pre-dawn hours of Good Friday draws huge crowds onto the streets. She can normally be seen in the Basilica of Macarena, beside the city gate.

macarena (1)the Macarena Gate

La Macarena is also home to the city’s oldest provisions market, on Calle Feria, and to the oldest street market in Europe, El Jueves, the Thursday market. This antiques/second-hand/bric-a-brac market got its charter in the 13th century, and is still a fun place to come and look for a bargain, or just to feel the vibe. The provisions market, mentioned by Cervantes, moved off the street into its current quarters next to the Omnium Sanctorum church in the 18th century. Come here for all that fresh fish and fruit and veg, and the little bars around the outside, especially La Cantina, which serves the freshest seafood tapas in Seville. Behind the market, in the Palacio Algaba, you can also find Seville’s Mudejar Centre, a small museum that celebrates the culture and achievements of the city’s Moorish period. Worth a visit to find out how the past has influenced the present.mercado feria entrance to the Feria Market

One of my favourite things to so, here as in other parts of Seville, is just to wander around the neighbourhood streets, and see what you stumble across. For me, surprise treats have included some of the artesan workshops, particularly Rompemoldes, the old San Luis church, the Garden of the Moorish king, and the faded splendour of the Pumarejo Palace. Rent one of our apartments in the neighbourhood as abase and just go exploring this whole other Seville.