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Seville | All the Fun of the Fair

Let it never be said that the Spanish don’t know how to party. And the place to party is at the annual local feria, or fair. Every town and city (and some city neighbourhoods) has its own, but one of the biggest and most famous is The April Fair (Feria de Abril) in Seville. Coming two weeks after Semana Santa, the big religious festival leading up to Easter, the fair is an almost pagan celebration of spring, and is all about having a good time. This year the official dates are from Tuesday, April 21 to Sunday, April 26, although in fact things really get going the day before, leading up to the alumbrado, the switching on of the lights, at midnight on Monday.

portada 2015putting the finishing touches on this year’s portada 

But the fair isn’t only about having a good time, it’s also about tradition – though like many traditions it’s not as hoarily ancient as you might think. The first April Fair was held in 1847 (okay, it’s old, but not as old as El Jueves or the Vela de Santa Ana) on the Prado de San Sebastian, and was initially a horse and cattle fair that was a kind of modernised version of mediaeval fairs. It moved to its present location, a purpose-built site on the southern edge of the suburb of Los Remedios, in 1973 (within living memory, so barely a tradition at all), by which time the cattle were long gone, and the fair had developed the character it has today.

feria horseshorse carriages and casetas

So, what’s it all about, and what are some of the traditions that make it so beloved by most Sevillanos? Well, first of all there’s the fairground itself. Even before you arrive, making your way towards it among the hurrying crowds generates a sense of expectation and excitement. You enter the fairground through a specially constructed gateway, the portada, which is rebuilt every year to represent some aspect of Seville (this year it’s the facade of the Bellas Artes Museum). Inside, especially at night with the strings of light bulbs and paper globes, everything is hustle and bustle and that strange combination of the tacky and the magical that is the hallmark of fairs and circuses the world over.  The streets are lined with small marquee style tents, called casetas, where people congregate to eat, drink and socialise, though the fact that most of these are private tends to exclude outsiders. You can, of course, get something to eat at one of the fast food stalls, or treat yourself to candy floss or some other sugary concoction.

feria dressescolourful flamenco dresses

In many ways there are two fairs. Daytime is for the horses and carriages that parade around the fairground, with the men dressed in the traditional traje corto (short jacket and tight trousers), and the women in traditional flamenco dresses, a time for society folks to  see and be seen, so if you like horses and spectacle this is the time for you.

At night is the second fair, the fair of lights and noise, the drinking of many rebujitos (sherry with 7-up) and dancing of Sevillanas  (a folk dance with flamenco style music) in the casetas, with traditional fried fish and  puchero to ward off hangover, that often carries on until dawn. You should also pay a visit to the Calle del Infierno (Hell Street) funfair, where the younger element can mostly be found, and scare yourself to death on one of the rides. On your way home stop for churros and chocolate, the breakfast for those who haven’t been to bed yet. The fair always ends (officially) with fireworks at midnight on the last day.

feria casetascasetas

The feria is also bullfighting season. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to experience the atmosphere of a bullfight, tickets are available here.

To get to the fairground you can take a taxi, one of the regular bus services 6 or C1/C2, or the special Feria bus service that runs from the Prado San Sebastian. It’s also possible to walk, especially if you’re in the southern part of the city.

If you’re here for Feria, renting an apartment will give you the flexibility and do-as-you-please freedom to enjoy late nights and sleeping in, as well as seeing more of Seville.

Malaga | Three New Museums

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Already an important centre for the arts, especially for a city of its size, with the Picasso Museum, Carmen Thyssen Museum and the Contemporary Arts Centre all being internationally recognised, Málaga has recently moved up a gear with the opening of the new Centro Pompidou Málaga, the Russian Museum and the Bullfighting Arts Centre.

new museums malaga

The new Pompidou Centre is, of course, an offshoot of the famous Pompidou centre in Paris’ one of the world’s largest and most prestigious collections of 20th century art, and only the second such after the Pompidou Metz. The agreement between Malaga and the Pompidou will last initially for five years, with the option of another five. The Málaga collection is being housed in the large glass cube at the end of Muelle Uno in the renovated port, a variation of the glass pyramid at the original.

The new centre will be in three sections. The first will house the permanent collection, consisting of around 80 paintings and other works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Rineke Dijkstra. The second will be for temporary exhibitions on particular themes (starting with Joan Miro’s works on paper, and female photographers of the 20s and 30s), lasting between 3 and 6 months. The third will be devoted to workshops for children and adolescents to encourage the next generation of artists.

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The Russian Museum, a branch of Saint Petersburg’s State Russian Museum, can be found in Málaga’s old Tobacco Factory (itself an important example of 1920s regionalist architecture), which it shares with the Automobile Museum. Its permanent exhibition is of Russian art from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries, with items ranging from Byzantine icons, through Romanticism and Avant-garde to Soviet Realism, and of every size from the very small to the monumental. The 1,000 or so works on display form the largest collection of Russian art in western Europe, and are a fascinating window onto a culture at once familiar and exotic.

The museum will also house a series of temporary exhibitions tracing the relationship of Russian and European art, an auditorium and reading room and digital resources creating a virtual museum of the parent institution, as well as a Children’s centre with computer games and creative workshops.

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The Centro Arte Tauromaquia can be found in the former tourist offices in the Plaza del Siglo in the centre of the old city, which have been totally renovated to accommodate a multi media salon and more than 300 pieces of the Juan Barco art collection, possibly the most complete and comprehensive in the world of bullfighting. Posters, paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures, including works by Picasso, Goya and Salvador Dali. Definitely a must see for anyone fascinated by the romance of the bullfight.

These three new museums will make Málaga one one of the most important cities of art in Spain, and are a great reason to be one of the growing number of visitors here, whether you stay in a hotel or rent an apartment.

Seville | San Vicente Neighbourhood

For the typical visitor to Seville the San Vicente is probably the least well known and most under appreciated neighbourhood in the historic centre of Seville. Lying northwest of the city centre between Calle Feria, with its provisions market and the famous El Jueves (Thursday) street market, and the River Guadalquivir, it’s the furthest away from the main monuments, and the least obviously touristy part of the old centre. Nevertheless, it has its charms, and is well worth taking some time to explore, especially if you’re renting a holiday apartment in this essentially residential neighbourhood.

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San Vicente apartment building

Historically, it’s part of the Moorish new town, the northward expansion of the city built during the 10th and 11th centuries, as is shown by its relatively regular layout compared to the warren of narrow twisty streets immediately behind the Metropol Parasols in Plaza Encarnación. During Seville’s Golden Age following the discovery of the New World in 1492 the riverside here remained undeveloped, being above the “bridge of boats” where Triana bridge now stands, and inaccessible to the ships that plied the Americas trade. After the building of Triana bridge in 1861, and the coming of the railways (Plaza de Armas shopping centre, as can easily be seen from its design, was originally a train station), this part of the river bank could not be reached from the city, as it was walled off for security. Major redevelopment only came with the 1992 expo in the Cartuja across the river, when the rails were torn up and a new walkway built along the riverbank. Now you can walk or cycle all the way from Las Delicias near the Plaza España to the northern edge of the modern city. Great for anything from a gentle stroll to a serious morning run.

alameda

Alameda de Hercules

On the other side of San Vicente you can find the Alameda de Hercules, one of Seville’s best places for nightlife, with lots of bars and clubs. Until a couple of decades ago it was something of a red light district, and although it’s been renovated and gone upmarket it still has an edgy and bohemian feel to it late at night. During the day it’s a popular spot for a stroll or a lunchtime drink.

It’s also an area with some of the oldest churches and convents in Seville. The convent of San Clemente, near the Barqueta Bridge, was founded in 1248, immediately after the Christians reconquered the city, and the convent of Santa Clara soon afterwards. After a period of disuse and neglect this latter has recently been reopened as an arts and cultural centre. The Torre de Don Fadrique, within the a convent precincts, is now also open to the public. Also worth visiting are the church of San Lorenzo, in the pretty little square of the same name, and the Basilica of Jesus de Gran Poder next door (and not in the street of the same name), the home of one of the most popular of the Semana Santa statues.

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Plaza San Lorenzo, the church, and Basilica de Jesus de Gran Poder

There are also lots of good places to eat, and lots of argument about which are the best, but three that are on almost everyone’s list are Al Aljibe in the Alameda de Hercules, Eslava (a popular neighbourhood bar that’s a personal favourite of ours) and La Azotea, which is a bit more expensive, but definitely worth the extra.

Seville | Triana Ceramics Museum

ceramics museum (1)award-winning interior design by AF6 Arquitectos

The Triana district of Seville has long been famous, among other reasons, as an important pottery and ceramics producing area (the Plaza España was designed partly as a showcase for Triana ceramics). However, although you can still find pottery shops, and even a few small scale workshops, in the Alfarería (a place where pottery is made or sold) neighbourhood behind the market, the industry is sadly not what it once was, and it’s perhaps a sign of the times that one of its most famous landmarks has recently opened as a museum.

The Ceramica Santa Ana, on the corner of San Jorge and Callao streets, has one of the most famous frontages in Seville (decoration and signage in ceramic tile, of course), and still functions as a shop and showroom, and the Centro Ceramica de Triana (the museum) can be found in the building next door, which used to be the Santa Ana pottery factory. It’s not much to look at from outside, but as soon as you walk past the reception area you realise that this is because everything faces inwards into the main courtyard – the principal production area of the factory. The exhibition areas are in the buildings overlooking the courtyard, which have a facing of randomly sized pottery tubes called a celosia, which provides shade for the interiors while still allowing light to enter. The installations, designed by Miguel Hernández Valencia and Esther López Martin of architects AF6, are a blend of traditional and modern, partly inspired by the objects that were left lying around when the factory closed.

ceramics museum (6)mural made from baked clay pieces found in the factory

Not surprisingly, given the availability of suitable clays in the immediate vicinity, the history of pottery making here goes back a long way, at least as far as the Romans. Indeed, two of Seville’s patron Saints, Justa and Rufina, martyred here in the 3rd century, are traditionally said to have been potters. Under the Moors new techniques were introduced, and the craft of making decorated tiles in particular reached its peak. Later Italian and Flemish styles flourished, but there was a gradual decline until the 19th century, when an English potter and trader named Charles Pickman opened a modern factory in the Cartuja. Other entrepreneurs followed suite, and the revived industry reached a new peak in the early 20th century. Failure to modernise, however, led to another decline and many of the local manufacturers went out of business in the 1960s and 1970s.

ceramics museum (2)restored 18th century hand-painted tile panel

The core of the new museum is still the old kilns, which are of various ages stretching back to at least the 16th century, the ponds for storing the wet clay, and mills and basins for pigments. Upstairs there is a temporary exhibition about the restoration work carried out by the museum, and two permanent exhibitions, one detailing the history of local pottery making and techniques, with collections of locally made pieces, and the other about the neighbourhood of Triana, its traditions, and its fierce sense of local pride. These make it an excellent area to rent an apartment and experience the real character of a local neighbourhood. Below you can watch a video showing the restauration of the museum.

Seville | 7 Secret Corners of Seville

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fountain in Plaza Cabildo

Chances are that if you come to Seville you’re going to do all or most of the standard tourist sights – the Cathedral, the Alcázar, the Plaza de España and the Metropol Parasol are my personal big four, and are worth a few hours of anybody’s time, and there are other well-known attractions, too. But there are other places, each with their own special charm or story, that you quite probably wouldn’t find, or whose significance you wouldn’t realise, unless they were pointed out to you. They’re not really secret, of course, but some of them are hard to find (others are hidden in plain sight), but I think they’re all worth making the effort to visit. There are a few others that didn’t make the final cut for one reason or another, such as the Atarazanas, Plaza Doña Elvira or the Corral del Conde, and other locals could probably add some more, too. But here are my personal seven favourite secret corners of Seville.

Roman Pillars in Calle Marmoles

On the corner of a couple of quiet residential streets between the Barrio Santa Cruz and the city centre you might stumble across three pillars that are all that’s left of a Roman temple. These are the oldest structures still in situ in Seville, though two more columns from here can be seen at the entrance to the Alameda de Hercules. Their rather humdrum location just makes their age all the more impressive.

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pillars of Roman Temple

The Judería Wall in Calle Fabiola

Okay, it’s just an unremarkable short section of ten-foot high wall, with no plaques or memorials to tell you what you’re looking at, but this is, in fact, the only remaining section of the wall that once enclosed the late mediaeval Jewish quarter, separating it from the rest of the city. A good place to stop and ponder on human stupidity for a moment. Then go and have a beer.

 

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the Wall of the Juderia

Plaza Cabildo

The Plaza Cabildo is a half-moon shaped square that can be reached through a covered passageway directly opposite the main entrance to the cathedral on Avenida de la Constitución. The flat side is part of an old internal city wall, but the semicircular building with the decorated “eaves” is from the 1930s. Of interest is a little shop that sells confectionary and other items made in some of Seville’s convents, named El Torno after the little turntable that kept you from seeing the nuns, and on Sundays there’s a collectors’ market.

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detail – Plaza del Cabildo

Plaza Santa Marta

This is another little square that you probably wouldn’t find if you didn’t know it was there. It’s at the end of a little alleyway behind the statue of the Pope in the Plaza Virgen de Los Reyes, which in less time than it takes you to say “Where does this go?” leads you from the bustle of the city centre to a quiet, secluded nook shaded by orange trees. Purely coincidentally the collectors´market was held here before it relocated to the Plaza Cabildo.

Baths of Doña Maria Padilla

This is one of my favourite places in the whole of Seville. They can be found in (or at least under) the Alcázar Palace. They’re rather inappropriately named, being neither baths, nor belonging to Doña Maria Padilla, although she was contemporary, being the mistress of Pedro I, who built the main palace. They are, rather mundanely, rainwater tanks storing water for the gardens, but the long vaulted chambers, the play of light on the water and the muffled quiet make this quite unique.

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Baths of Doña Maria de Padilla

Casa Moreno

This little abacería (a small specialist food shop with a bar in the back) in Calle Gamazo has an atmosphere all its own. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it looks semi-private and is full of locals, it’s really very friendly. Just go in, and have a beer and a couple of montaditos, and come away with that feeling you’ve touched the soul of Seville.

Plaza de la Escuela de Cristo

This tiny square, not much more than a patio, between the Santa Cruz church and the seminary, is the closest thing to a real secret on this list, as it’s only semi public, the entrance door (at the end of an alley off Calle Ximenez de Enciso) being locked at night. But with its cobblestones, orange trees, fountain and a cross in one corner it has an undeniable special charm.

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Plaza de Escuela de Cristo

In addition to these there are hundreds of buildings with charming courtyards or ornate decoration. Many of our apartments in the historic centre can be found in such locations, making you feel a part of this beautiful city.

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Patio San Isidoro apartment building