FERIA Seville's Sensational Spring Fair
Updated: May 7, 2020
To visit Seville at any time other than during feria is both a blessing and a loss. What was originally a livestock fair in 1846, became, by the 1920s, a festive period beginning two weeks after Easter Sunday, gathering the entire city up with its irrepressible joie de vivre. Although called Feria de Abril, April Fair, it's date depends on Easter (I wonder if Pope Francis had this in mind when he recently mentioned he's willing to entertain the thought of Easter having a fixed date...)
So while it's true that you'll have to jostle with half a million revellers for 6 days, pay twice as much for your accommodation as usual, and perhaps not find a seat at your favourite tapas restaurant just when you want it, you will be treated to endless days and nights of music-filled spectacle, conducted with the customary elan for which Sevillians are famed. In short … it's worth it.
Fireworks at midnight last night were followed by the first major daytime event this morning, just after church, the Carriage Show at the bullring.
Plaza de Toros
Walking past the Cathedral from Santa Cruz, the pretty white-walled area of winding alleys where you'll probably stay if you only have a few days here, it's clear that most tourists are unaware of what's happening just a 15-minute walk away. Glide past the guides spinning the same spiels about the Alcazar that were repeating this time yesterday and follow the energy - you can feel it .. it's there, a slight quickening of step and even if you don't really now the direction of the placa, you'll get the sense if it just by being alert to the locals, it's all, and only heading in one direction - Plaza de Toros, just across the road from the Guadalquivir River whose C.16th waterway brought home all that silver which helped make Seville the grandest city in Europe.
Spanish fashion Summer 2019
Suddenly you're in the happily milling midst of it all. Self-conscious women ruffling along in swaying flamenco dresses, roses pinned high into black hair, sharply dressed senoritos, 'sauntering and sprucely dressed' young men, as Cervantes called them in the Sixteenth century, 500 years later sporting ankle-tight trousers, whilst immaculately suited older ones with gleaming brogues, silk ties and signet rings gather for a quick jerez at the zinc-topped bar to the left side of the ring - its walls adorned with crookedly hanging black-and-white photographs of toreodors and the Madonna - equally beloved.
Images of beloved toreadors sit side by side with Images of the Madonna
Quick breakfast : Coffee, olive oil, serrano jambon and tomato puree for the toast
Arrive early and order a tostada con jamon y café con leche and be swept into the festive atmosphere, but make sure you have your ticket first, a 5-euro seat in the top tier, mercifully under roof if its' very hot, and providing an expansive view, albeit through the colonnade, will cost you up to 4 times that if you have to resort to a scalper's ticket at the door on the day.
Even if you don't have a ticket, you can freely wander amongst the carriages and their traditionally attired drivers and companions queued patiently - not to mention their extremely well-behaved horses - in the streets leading into the entrance of the ring.
Lady riders made up about 10% of the total field
A sense of Old World nobility pervades relationships here as the steward greets each carriage driver with a slight bow, and both remove and doff their hats in a customary display of gentlemanly behaviour. They don't quite click their heels, but there is a sense of choreographed posturing, a dramatic elegance that suggests why no less than five operas may have been set here ... Old World, old money, Seville's landed gentry are infamous for their preference for the good life over, well, anything else, really.
The president and steward doff their hats to each carriage
There's always the first time, isn't there? Savour this one.
To enter the arena at the last-minute when seats are jam-packed and the music trumpets the first participants through the gates more usually reserved for bull is to draw in one's breath. It's exciting. Really exciting. Today is overcast, but I can only imagine the added intensity of a hot sun directly overhead turning the yellow sand of the arena to a golden glare. Have I been reading too much Fiesta? Perhaps, but for anyone who'll never see the inside of a bullring with its sand soaking up blood, this is, if I may put it one way, the next best thing.
In the second round of precession the two-horse carriages enter. This driver holds her whip upright to demonstrate her expertise and control
Over the next hour-and-half carriages enter from the door 90 degrees to the right of the collonaded exit. Seasoned followers will have their preferred seating area depending on whether they want to see the entry or the exit; Gate 17, where I sat, is directly opposite the exit gate from the arena and affords a wonderful perspective with the entries to the right, but top money is paid for a seat near the exit as the carriages trot towards you.
All eyes are on the participants, unless you catch that of the broad bean seller who'll scoop up a paper cone of pre-skinned fried beans. You can buy a beer, but no one is arriving with a picnic basket or bottles … save your appetite for a leisurely lunch at 2.
Even the snack seller can't take his eyes of the field
The spectacle consist of several rounds, each for carriages with a certain number of horses - starting with one and moving onto five - entering the arena and doing their best to put on a stylishly disciplined display whilst not getting in the way of anyone else trying to do the same thing. It reminds me of a tango dance floor. Limited space. Complicated manoeuvres, special costumes.
Horsemanship and style are applauded as drivers make their way around the arena cutting across here, bringing their horses into tight turns there, synchronised standing on the spot (I'm sure there are horsey names for all of these exercises), and generally stylish behaviour. The commentator announces each participant and gives them an allotted time before thanking them and requesting their exit.
Seville's Plaza de Toros comes alive for the penultimate carriage procession with 4-horse carriages . as the first daylight event for Feria de Abril
It is all very well behaved. It is not a race. There is no winner. The purpose is to delight the audience and bring fame to their origin - for entrants travel from Madrid and Barcelona, and when the 5-horse carriages have had their turn, the trumpets sound again and it's time to leave.
I'd have felt a lot better if clouds of cigar smoke hadn't wafted by almost incessantly (is that why Spanish ladies flap their fans even when it's not hot ?), and I wish I'd paid the extra euro for a padded cushion to put on the cement steps, but it would take more than a squeamish tummy and a cold seat to take the edge off a brilliantly unique spectacle that goes to the very heart of Sevillian life and culture. Pour out with crowds and enjoy the nonchalant posing, head across the river to the old ceramics district of Triana for lunch, and revel in a delicious siesta before an aperitif and light tapas this evening … for feria is only just beginning.
You really can't go wrong with Polka Dots during Feria
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