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Posts from the ‘Semana Santa’ Category

Seville | A stroll down the Avenida

Much of the charm of the historic centre of Seville (and, it has to be admitted, many of its inconveniences) lies in its networks of narrow streets and little squares, and after the main monuments have been seen striking out into the back streets in exploration mode, not knowing exactly what you might find, or how to get back to your apartment, is one of the city’s great pleasures.

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The Avenida from the Ayuntamiento with the Adriatico on the right

There is, however, one outstanding exception to this rule. The Avenida de la Constitución, which runs from the Ayuntamiento (town hall), past the front of the Cathedral and Archivos, to the Plaza Puerta Jerez, is almost every inch a modern European style boulevard; wide, traffic free and tree-lined, with the terraces of pavement cafés strung intermittently along it and transportation provided by sleek modern trams that glide quietly back and forth, with the occasional clang of the bell to warn an inattentive pedestrian of their presence.

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Arquillo Mañara – entrance to the Moorish Alcázar

But only almost every inch. One of the fascinations of this stretch of road is the surprisingly harmonious combination of styles of different cultures and times, from the Torre Abd El Aziz (early 12th century), through the Cathedral (15th century) to a number of important early 20th century buildings.

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Old and New

The modern name is in honour of the Spanish Constitution of 1980, but prior to that its different sections were known by a number of other names, including Genovese (as attested by a small plaque near Starbucks), after the Genoese merchants settled there by Ferdinand III after the Christian conquest, las Gradas (the steps in front of the Cathedral), Libertad (during the Second Republic) and Queipo de Llano (during the Franco era).

Despite its centrality and importance in the modern city, this area remained outside the city walls throughout the Roman, Vizigothic and Moorish Caliphate periods, and a secondary arm of the river ran from where the Ayuntamiento stands today, along the course of the Avenida, before returning to the main river in El Arenal. It was by this means that the Viking longboat, discovered under the Plaza Nueva, reached its final resting place during the raid of 844 AD. From the early 12th century the site of the Cathedral and the area in front of it were enclosed by a new wall, with exit gates near the later Plaza San Francisco at one end, and near the Cabildo at the other. At the same time the Alcazar enclosure was extended to the Torre Abd El Aziz, the Miguel Mañara arch being the gate to the palace compound.

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Main entrance of the Cathedral

The second half of the century saw the building of the Grand Mosque, and further extension of the city wall towards the river. From 1401 work began on the demolition of the Mosque and the building of the new Cathedral, completed in 1526, and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. A large section of the frontage is actually a separate church, the El Sagrario, built in the 17th century in the baroque style.

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Casa Alvaro Davila in the early evening light 

The Avenida in its modern form was created in the first third of the 20th century, as part of the preparations for the 1929 Spanish American exhibition. The northern end was substantially widened, and the fine buildings along this section all date to this time, including the emblematic Adriatico (the circular building facing the town hall), and the Casa Álvaro Dávila (now a bank) on the corner of Garcia Vinuesa. The southern end, between the Archivos and the Puerta Jerez, did not exist at all until the 1920s, the area being occupied by the Convent of Saint Thomas and the University of Saint Mary of Jesus, of which only the chapel remains. Most notable of the buildings on this newly created section is the Coliseo, now government offices, but originally a cinema and theatre. The ticket windows can still be seen in the facade. Pedestrianisation and the installation of the tramway came in 2007, together with new orange trees, ornamental streetlamps and a cycle path, and the absence of traffic has helped to convert the Avenida into a pleasant and interesting place to stroll.

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Café Life

This has also resulted in something of an explosion in the number of bars and cafés, mostly aimed at the tourist trade. Best places to stop for a coffee and a snack are the Horno San Buenaventura and Genova cafe-bar, and just off the main drag is one of my favourite traditional tapas bars, Casa Morales.

From the Plaza San Francisco to the main entrance of the Cathedral is the official “carrera” or processional way, for the city’s big religious festivals, especially Semana Santa (Holy Week), and at these times the avenue is lined with seating and thronged with people. It’s a great spectacle, but normal life does come to something of a halt. At Christmas it’s strung with lights along its entire length, and the annual Bélen (Bethlehem) Fair is held in the street between the Cathedral and the Archives.

Booking an apartment in this area of the city is surprisingly easy, and veoapartment has a wide variety from studios to larger family apartments.

Seville | Spring Flowers

jacarandasjacaranda trees in blossom

With the equinox less than a fortnight away, the last week has seen a definite shift from winter to spring in southern Spain. It’s not as if winter is really tough here, of course, but the days are short and the nights chilly, and the blue skies and sunshine are harbingers of the year’s reawakening.

Spring has always been a good time to come to Seville. For a start, the weather is near perfect (as in most places the changing of the seasons can bring a little unpredictability), warm enough for shorts, sandals and T-shirts, but without the sweat and exhaustion inducing heat that will kick in during June. It’s the season for eating al fresco, strolling through the parks, gardens and charming squares with which Seville abounds, or relaxing on the terrace of your apartment with a siesta-time cocktail.

1-0504_macarena-seville-apartments-terrace-spain-01flowering plants on sunny Macarena Terrace

Early spring, around mid-March, is also the time for one of Seville’s best (and free) attractions, for this is orange-blossom season. The orange trees (around 30,000 of them) are decorated with the delicate white flowers of the azahar, and for around three weeks the air is filled with one of the most delightful scents known to mankind.

orange blossomazahar – aka orange blossom

The colours of spring are everywhere in the city, which is vibrant with flowers and blossoms of every hue. Particularly worth looking out for are the blossom of the almond trees, and in June, just when you thought it was all over, the purple of the jacaranda erupts for a couple of weeks, a blaze of glory to finish the season.

spring blossomsalmond blossoms in Maris Luisa Park

Seville is justly famous for its two Spring Festivals too, the first deeply religious, and the second its “have a good time” party week.

Semana Santa, Holy Week, leading up to Easter weekend, sees the streets full of processions with statues of the Christ and the Virgin Mary being carried to the Cathedral, huge numbers of penitents and Nazarenos in their pointed hoods carrying crosses or long candles, the smell of incense and the distinctive brass band Semana Santa music. Being a spring and rebirth festival flowers again figure prominently. Religious observance has declined, but the processions still draw huge crowds (especially the overnight processions on Thursday through to Good Friday morning), and are a moving and emotional experience. The celebrations in Seville are said to be the largest and most elaborate in the world, and are worth seeing even for the non-religious. They also say there are two types of Sevillanos – those that watch all the processions, and those that leave town for the week.

flowers virginflower-festooned procession float – photo courtesy of ABC.es

Two weeks later it’s the April Fair, La Feria de Abril. The modern fair grew out of an older horse and cattle fair, and during the day this is still evident in the horse and carriage parades. But the primary purpose nowadays is to dress up in your flamenco finery, put a flower in your hair, drink lots of rebujito (a mix of dry sherry and 7up), and dance the night away. The main venue is on a purpose built area of small marquees on the edge of town, but the carriages, horses and polka dot dresses can be spotted anywhere in town. April Fair is also the main bullfighting season, when the upper crust can be found eyeing each other up outside the bullring (a kind of Spanish Ascot) before the main event.

feria flowerswomen  at the Seville fair with “flowers” in their hair

More than any other time of year the spring is when Seville is at its most alive and colourful, and the chance to visit and experience its unique atmosphere is not to be missed.

Seville | Spanish Lifestyle

1-IMG_20140216_133811street life in Seville

Although the notion of a Spanish national character can easily be overdone, there are some cultural biases that people from the English-speaking countries will probably pick up on. The Spanish are generally ebullient, noisy and outward going, with a smaller personal space than you’re used to, and this combination can make them seem a bit “in-your-face”, especially given a widespread lack of foreign language skills (the Swiss and the Belgians can look smug at this point; the Brits and the Americans should probably keep quiet). But really, they’re by and large friendly and hospitable.

Timetables. Partly as a product of climate, and partly because Spanish clocks are an hour out of kilter, everything happens later in the day than you’re used to. A lot of people don’t start work until 10, lunch starts at 2 not 12, and carries on through siesta until 5. Then everything opens up again until 8 or 9. Dinner (usually tapas if you’re eating out) is after that, and may carry on until midnight, especially in summer. In school holidays and at weekends you’ll also see lots of quite young children out and about at this time.

There’s a good reason why “siesta” is the most widely understood Spanish word in the non-Spanish speaking world – it’s just such a good idea. Although a long afternoon break is anathema to the corporatist work ethic of much of Northern Europe and America, it actually conforms to the natural rhythm of the human body. And in the days before aircon, or if you’re working outside, what else could you be doing in the heat of the summer sun? It also allows you to stay up late and get up early.

jamonjamón Ibérico de Bellota

When it comes to eating out the hustle, bustle and sociability of the tapeo is an essential part of Spanish culture in general, and Sevillano culture in particular. Despite the buzz, it’s essence is laid back and informal, with lots of sharing and conversation, and at the end of the evening, lots of lingering over a final drink. People often go from bar to bar, but no one ever tries to move you on to clear the tables for the next shift. Visitors often remark on how civilised this way of eating and drinking feels.

Before the tapeo, if work schedule and weather permit, is the paseo, the evening stroll. The Spanish live outside more than their northern counterparts, and on a warm spring or autumn evening what could be finer than a walk out of doors and perhaps a bit of window-shopping?

arenal (2)Bullfighting is still very popular in most of Spain, though not, of course, as popular as football. They still kill the bull, and the ritual and symbolism are part of every Spaniard’s repertoire, even if they’ve never been to a bullfight. These days the social, see and be seen, aspects of attending a bullfight are as important as the fight itself (unless you’re a bull).

Religious processions are very popular throughout Spain, though not, of course, as popular as football. Although strict religious belief and observance are in decline, Spain is still very much a Catholic country, and in Seville participants prepare all year for major events such as Semana Santa (Holy Week) which still draws huge crowds.

Even if (unfairly) the Spanish, especially in southern Spain, don’t have a reputation for working hard, they do have a reputation for knowing how to party. Every locality has its annual fair where they dress up in flamenco costume, dance the night away and drink lots of rebujito (a cocktail of sherry and 7up). In Seville the Feria is in April.feria flamenco dresses

All this, of course, just scratches the surface, and if you want to find out more about why so many people love Spain and its relaxed lifestyle, you need to come and stay in one of our holiday apartments and experience it for yourself.

Seville | The View from Triana Bridge

Every city has its impressive and/or beautiful monuments, the things that residents boast about, and visitors come to see, but often it’s the less spectacular sights and sounds that capture the heart and make a place feel like home.

0131_betis-blue-1-01view from our Betis Blue apartment

The Isabella II (Triana) Bridge in Seville is definitely one of those places. It connects the old city of Seville proper with the neighbourhood of Triana on the other side of the River Guadalquivir. Triana, whose origins go back to Roman times (it is thought to be named for the Roman Emperor Trajan, who was born nearby), has always been a neighbourhood outside the city walls (an arrabal in Spanish), a marginal community that was something of a refuge for “outsiders” such as the gypsies. It also sat astride the main road westward to the Aljarafe and the coast, which is why the Muslims built a castle on the site of what is now the Triana market, followed in 1171 by the famous “bridge of boats” that was the only crossing of the river until it was finally superseded by the Isabella II bridge in the mid 19th century. The castle, meanwhile, became first the headquarters of the Order of St George, giving it its modern name of Castillo de San Jorge, and then from 1481 to 1785 of the Spanish Inquisition. By about 1800 the castle was demolished, and became the site of the Triana market.

lovers locks-001lover’s locks on the Isabel bridge

With their working class and immigrant roots Trianeros have always regarded themselves a breed apart. Many of those who sailed on the voyages of discovery and trade to the New World came from there, as did many famous flamenco artistes and bullfighters, for whom this was the way out of the ghetto. During Semana Santa (Holy Week) the processions of El Cachorro, La O, La Esperenza, and La Estrella are among the most fervently followed in all Seville, and the annual July fair of Santa Ana, Seville’s second largest, has been held since the 13th century.

0131_betis-blue-1-apartment-14view of Triana from the Seville side of the river

The bridge itself, with its arches and iron rings, is highly distinctive, and if you’re walking across it you may notice that the railings are often festooned with padlocks, sometimes bearing the names of those who have chosen this way of “plighting their troth”. At the Triana end the Carmen chapel and the roof of the Triana market above Saint George’s castle are also instantly recognisable. It’s certainly worth taking the time to pause midway across the bridge and looking down the river at some of Seville’s other landmarks. On the left are the wharves of the old river port, once one of the busiest and most important in Europe, where the sailing ships moored to load and unload the riches of the Americas. Beyond are the Torre del Oro and the towers of the Plaza España, and on the right the unusual shape of the old Moorish dock.

Our Betis Blue apartments on the Triana river front are the perfect place to be a part of this special atmosphere.

Fiestas, Ferias and Festivals of Andalucia

Andalucía is justly famous for its fiestas (a word that means both party and holiday), which cover the full range from the solemn (often passionately so), to the riotous and celebratory, especially in spring. So, if you’re planning a holiday in the South of Spain this year, and are thinking of experiencing one of the traditional fairs or some religious processions, now’s the time to be getting out your diaries and making a note of the dates.

The first fiesta of the year (after the Magic Kings on January 5) is definitely the party kind. The Cadiz Carnival, which this year takes place from February 27 to March 9, is the largest on mainland Spain, a ten-day spree of processions, concerts, children’s shows, street theatre and the like, many of them with a satirical edge, the highlight being a singing competition for satirical and humorous songs. Oh, and there’s lots of eating and drinking, too.

semana santa 2012the Macarena procession in Seville

In April it’s the turn of Spain’s biggest religious festival, Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week), which this year is from April 13-20. There will be processions in every city, but the biggest and best (and the most) are in Seville. The atmosphere, with the distinctive brass band music, the elaborate floats, the hooded penitents and all the little rituals, is absolutely unique, but if you’re coming to Seville to see it bear in mind that hotels and apartments can double in price and fill up quickly.

Other religious festivals include Corpus Christi (June 19) and the El Rocio pilgrimage (June 4-9). It’s worth being in town for the departure of the pilgrims in their wild-west style covered wagons drawn by oxen.

rociothe Seville brotherhood leaving for El Rocio

In the meantime it’s the turn of the traditional spring fairs. The biggest is Seville’s April Fair (which this year, because Easter falls so late, is actually in May, from the 5th to the 11th), which is immediately followed by the Jerez Fair (May 11 to 18), and a little later by the Cordoba Fair (May 24 to 31). Both of these are easily reached by train or car from Seville. Typical of all the fairs are the little marquees, or casetas, where people gather to eat and drink rebujitos, the traditional sherry and 7-Up cocktails, horses and carriages, and fairground rides and fast food stalls. They also coincide with the local bullfighting season too. The Seville casetas are mostly private, so if you don’t know anyone who is a member of one the Jerez and Cordoba fairs will be more fun and friendlier. The Malaga Fair is a bit later, running from August 16-25, and has more daytime activities away from the Fairground itself, including a re-enactment of the fall of Moorish Malaga to the Christians.

cordoba patiosthe Patios of Cordoba

Two other festivals that are worth seeing are the Patio Festival, or Festival of the Flowers, in Cordoba (May 8-19), which takes the form of a competition for the best patios and balconies in the city, and the city is full of the colours and scents of the spring flowers, and the Fiesta del Carmen in Malaga on July 16, which celebrates the patron saint of fishermen with an unusual water-borne procession.

Veoapartment has holiday rental apartments in both Seville and Malaga, that make a perfect base for experiencing these fabulous Andalusian festivals. For a complete listing of upcoming events in 2014 check out our city information pages for: Seville and Malaga.