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.
putting 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.
horse 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.
colourful 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.
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.