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Entertainment & Culture

Sevilla Fair


It was originally a livestock Fair. The traders set up canvas tents which served as shelter for the businessman. Other small businesses, such as stalls that served food, drink, sold trinkets and sweets, etc. soon sprung up around these traders. Movement from buyers and sellers also brought different forms of entertainment: travelling theatre groups, fairground music, etc.

In view of such a festive display, the townspeople not interested in trading would gather around the grounds and organize dancing under the canopied stands. This led to the decorating of these tents.

Feria began to take hold in 1846. After initial resistance from Mayor Montelirio, the promoters, Ybarra and Bonaplata obtained support from the Count. This lack of confidence at first had to do with an existing local livestock fair (Mairena del Alcor). This along with another important horse fair close by (Feria del Caballo, in Jerez) led to doubts on the success of a similar event. In April, 1847, the Feria was officially established, lasting for a period of three days. Though it was in 1865 when the Feria de Abril finally received it first big launching. As soon as it was seen as viable, the City Council tackled as series of structural reforms making this a provincial, regional, national and international showcase of the city. The city and its residents soon made this event their own.

In 1899 the Royal Fair (Real de la Feria, name which the grounds received thanks to support from Queen Isabel II, earlier on), begins to acquire a style of the event similar to today's, once institutionalized and fully decorated.
The City Council (1910) publicized the Feria and its popular attractions in brochures produced by their own office. This brochure cited this irrefutable date demonstrating the influx of foreign visitors. During this period the Feria was enriched with lovely floral displays, sport events, horse races and great festivities held in the Maestranza Bullring.

During the Exposition of 1929, the Feria's fairgrounds were moved to the south of the city (Prado of San Sebastián) and remained so until 1972. The Feria had gained in the area of enjoyment while losing in the commercial aspect. It had becoming a stage for fun for the inhabitants of Seville and its surroundings as well as for visitors. This, along with the attendance of different personalities of the period, projected the event at an international level.

After 125 years in the Prado de San Sebastián and having grown extensively towards surrounding areas such as the Parque de Maria Luisa, Huerta de la Salud, the Audiencia, etc., the City Council decided to relocate the event to the present site in the Barrio de los Remedios, thus ending a period from 1847 to 1972.

Twenty eight years later the present fairgrounds have consolidated, streets carry the names of bullfighters and along with excellent organization this is now considered the ideal spot.


Advise on how to arrive and leave the Feria

By bus: This is without doubt the most economical option and also most entertaining way to see the set up of the fair before actually reaching it. A special regular service runs from the Prado de San Sebastián, with stops made at the entrance.

By Taxi: The most expensive option, thought also the most comfortable, especially when its time to return home. The struggle to get a taxi during the early morning hours seem to be of something of the past; people now line up in organized lines at the taxi stands.

By car: It is important to decide before heading out which parking lot, and what roads and roundabouts will be used. Having to get behind the wheel can and should determine the number of sherry's the driver will have.


Public Feria vs. Private Feria

The Feria de Abril has always suffered being labelled as closed and exclusive. Under this perception there has always been an error of approach: the casetas must not be mistaken as bars and establishments, but understood instead as a home that local families and firms set up during the duration of the fair. And, normally no home is usually ever open to the general public. Nonetheless, the chances of spending a full day at the fair without being able to enter any of the thousand plus striped colour canvas tents is next to none.

In the first place because there are at least 15 public casetas which are free to enter, including those set up by local municipalities. Secondly, Sevillians don’t only invite friends and acquaintances into their tents. It could also be that because one is from abroad, one doesn’t know anyone in Seville, or at least someone who has their own caseta. Even so, a good number of foreigners out of the blue find themselves being kindly invited to enter a caseta in order to get to know the real atmosphere of the Feria.

In short, the Feria offers many different ways to enjoy oneself, from the local fair-goer who for years has had his own caseta, to the visitor who attends for the first time. Everyone is guaranteed to have a good time


Essential vocabulary

Albero: (Pipe clay) yellow earth from the quarries of Alcalá de Guadaira, typical "rug" of the Feria grounds and the Maestranza bullring. During a very dry Feria... also the rug of the visitor's throats.

Alumbrado: (fairground lights) generically the name of the set of three hundred thousand light bulbs that light up the main gate and streets of the Feria nightly. The "testing" of the lights, Monday at 12pm, on opening night, marks the official inauguration of the Feria.

Calle el Infierno: (Hell Street) rides areas adjacent to the Feria grounds. Thousands of people enjoy these torturous, "infernal" rides, making it one of the most popular and lively areas of the Feria.

Mantón: (Shawl) large silk embroidered shawl women of Seville enjoy wearing, covering their shoulders and whose frayed edges have proven, yet no one knows exactly why, to get tangled in the buttons of the suits worn by men, even strangers...

Farolillo: green, white or read paper lanterns that cover the light bulbs on the streets of the Feria. If an April showers falls, this becomes the nightmare of the Municipal workers in charge of replacing them.

Paseo de caballo: (Passage of horses) circuit amongst the streets of the Feria in which expert riders move about. The established schedule is from noon until 8pm. Peak hour is around 5pm. The colourful attraction of the horses, riders and carriages increases year after year.

Portada: (Fairground gate) huge structure representing one of the city's monuments. Entrance point into the fair. Traditionally the meeting point for visitors. In the end it becomes one of the most difficult places to meet anyone.

Real de la Feria: (official fairgrounds) area occupied by blocks of tents, white washed sidewalks, tiled pavement and the grand gate. Contemplating this scene and these grandiose fairgrounds justifies paying a ticket to ride the giant ferries wheel.

Tablao: (dancing venue) wooden floor located in the centre of the tent, used to dance sevillanas (typical Sevillian dance). This floor comes alive during the zapateado (typical dance step) of the third sevillana.

Traje corto: traditional suit for men, used primarily by expert horse riders, although also frequently associated with stylish riding-habits.

Traje de flamenca o de gitana: traditional (polka dot - colour) dress worn by Sevillian women, at any age, and with a lot of style, when they attend the Feria.

Fino: (dry sherry) white wine from the Jerez region, served chilled; one of the essential elements of the "mare nostrum" on which the Feria sails.

Caseta: (striped colour tents) one of the thousand plus tents built with tubes, canvas and wood and where the Sevillians gather during the week long Feria. These tents for many act as home, while one's residence is reduced to a dormitory.

Manzanilla: (sherry) white wine from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz province). Less dry than fino. Over the past few years it's appears to be winning over the choice of the fair-goers.

Pañoleta: aside from being a district of the neighbouring town of Camas, it is the name given to the triangle which crowns the entrance of the "academy" known as the caseta.


Feria Timetable

The daytime Feria and the Feria at night traditionally represent two very different worlds. The Feria during the day is families, children, having lunch; a much more relaxed environment than at night. From 10 - 11pm onwards the youth inundate the official fair grounds. It reaches its climax at around 1 - 2am. Those who have to work the following day (remember that from Tuesday till Friday people only work half days) make quick stops at their home, while the rest remain inside the casetas or swarm around the grounds until dawn.

However, Feria experts begin to observe signs of change regarding this distribution of time. More people are choosing the daytime, with the sunlight on the tents and whitewashed streets and the traditional dress, the horses about, food served in the casetas. They tend to last into the evening, as long as they can. In the end it’s a question of tastes.


The Feria from Monday to Sunday

The Feria's character changes throughout the week. Doesn't feel the same during the first part of the week (Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) as during the holiday (Friday, Saturday and Sunday, around midnight).

The difference is that towards the weekend masses of outsiders arrive. It is during these days that the Feria acquires a feeling of agglomeration and by Saturday night it becomes very difficult moving about the official fairgrounds. Nonetheless, the imaginative Sevillians paint this "invasion" with exaggerated colours. With this wave of outsiders a considerable stampede of locals head to the beaches and countryside.

In the end a paradox is drawn: sometimes there are more people about the fairgrounds on Thursday than on Saturday.


Fair daily schedule

Monday: Caseta members meet up to inaugurate their tent with the traditional cena del pescadito (meal consisting of variety of fried fish).

La prueba del alumbrado: Lighting of the main gate and fairground lights. The City Council and the Municipal Band gather at the entrance of the main gate of the fairgrounds to turn on the gate lights and street lanterns for the first time. The Feria has begun.

Tuesday: official receptions take place, consisting of lunch with friends and work companions.
The ground's lights stay lit until three in the morning.

Wednesday: the Feria makes headway towards the most culminating moments. Today the lights stay on until four am.

Thursday: marks the beginning of the "big days". The passage of the horses can attract up to 500 carriages and 3000 individual horses.

Friday: arrival of massive crowds, including many famous personalities. Some 700 horse driven carriages shall gather on the fairgrounds. Tonight the "mythical number" of one million fair-goers is expected to be reached.

Saturday: just like yesterday, we shall experience the same crowds and splendour. Many casetas resemble the dressing room of the Marx Brothers. Some of the local don't make it tonight, but the recalcitrant fair-goers take over in numbers. The lighting stays up until 6am.

Sunday: farewell day. Miura bulls in the Maestranza bullring. By midnight when the brilliant fireworks are being set off, many of the casetas will have already closed. The Real (official fairgrounds) is inundated with melancholy. Sic transit gloriae mundi.


Inside the casetas (tenth-booths)

Being inside a friend’s caseta is unlike being in a bar with a friend. Instead it’s more like being in the home of a friend. One must assume this important premise in order to be clear on how one must behave in a caseta.


Caseta advise

Life inside a caseta holds the essence of the Feria. The casetas however are not all the same, in structure or in liveliness. A large caseta belonging to an association or club offers the advantage of space and live music or shows. Nonetheless, many people prefer the charm of a smaller, "familiar" caseta, tents that usually belong to a group of ten or fifteen partners.

The sevillana music is usually piped in (canned) and often space is cramped, yet most everyone knows each other. The chances of experiencing the true meaning of "art" of the event are greater in this setting. One is usually invited to a caseta by one of its members. Normally, upon arrival a royal welcome with the first convidá (wine toasting) is offered. From that moment onwards, the caseta becomes a place for conversation, friendship and sevillana dancing.

Although this last topic deserves its own chapter.