While Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a major deal throughout all of Spain, in the southern city of Seville, it is king. So I was a bit surprised to discover early on in my semester abroad that Seville was actually king to another major celebration called Feria that generally begins two weeks after Semana Santa. After all of the fasting, abstaining, praying and general piety of the Lent and Easter periods, Feria is a time for the people to “let loose.” Feria also is a splendid showcase of all of the positive stereotypes that make up Seville (and the Andalusian region in general)-bull fighting, full flamenco attire, flamenco dancing and sherry. And like everything that is Spain, the festivities go well into the early morning hours, as midnight is generally a good starting time for things to really get going.
The festival’s official name is Feria de abril de Sevilla (Seville April Fair). It begins at midnight on Monday and runs six days, ending on the following Sunday. Each day the party or la fiesta begins with a parade of carriages and riders, and at midday, carries Seville’s prominent citizens who make their way to the bullring, La Maestranza, where the bullfighters and breeders meet.
The fair’s history dates back to the mid-19th century when it was originally organized as a livestock fair by two councilors born in Northern Spain. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that Feria reached its peak and became the elaborate and global spectacle that it is today.
For a college student to learn that Feria meant another week without classes, when only two weeks prior classes were also shut down for Semana Santa, was about the best news one could receive. Although I quickly made plans to do some traveling (the week off from classes for Feria was when I traveled to Italy), I luckily arrived back in Seville at the tail end of the celebrations and could still celebrate and partake.
During Semana Santa, neighborhoods at some course during the week are either closed to traffic or inundated with mobs due to the processions taking place. For Feria however, it’s much simpler to get to the festivities and get around if you want to avoid them. For the majority of the fair, celebrations take place on the side of the Gualdalquivir River that is across from the Cathedral and Giralada, on the outskirts of Los Remedios neighborhood.
I had arrived back in Seville from Italy on a Friday evening and the next day bummed around for the most part. A friend of mine from the program called me up asking if I wanted to join him and another person from the program for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. I of course said yes and met up with them later. When they spoke about heading over to the fairgrounds I was leery. While I would certainly never forget the incredible scene that was Semana Santa, a part of me still hadn’t yet recovered from the sheer mobs that crowded the often narrow streets and would have caused someone who was claustraphobic to go into shock. However, I was completely wrong about Feria.
Feria was everything that Semana Santa was not. Whereas for Semana Santa people were dressed to the nines, including the babies in prams (Spanish people as a whole are some of the best dressed individuals I have ever seen) for Feria people either looked like me (casually attired) or were decked out in full flamenco dresses (mantillas, heels and all!).
While normally I eschew fairs in the United States, I’ll admit I had a marvellous time the night I spent at la feria in Spain, I I went on rides (there are typical fair rides such as Ferris wheels), enjoyed playing some carnival style games, and just hung out with friends. As the semester had progressed, I and many of the people I had gotten very close with in the beginning, had somewhat gone our separate ways, but that night we reconnected. I also heard a rousing version of the song “Volare” by the Gipsy Kings and attempted to dance the sevillana to it, rather haphazardly I may add. But it’s a song I still love today and always remember the first time I heard it, in a caseta (little tented booths that populate the fairgrounds) at the Seville feria.
When I look back on my international experiences abroad, I sometimes wish I had partaken in more cultural pursuits. Yet one that I did, even though I was apprehensive initially, I will always remember- that (late) Saturday night I spent on the fairgrounds in Seville.