A GUIDEPOST REPRINT: “Sevilla: A Must in Spring,” 13 April 1984 (Part 2)

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“TRAVEL – SEVILLA: A Must in Spring” (Part 2)
by Ben Jones
Photos in the original article and GUIDEPOST cover
by Ben Jones
First published in GUIDEPOST
13 April 1984


Ed’s note:
For easier read, “Sevilla: A Must in Spring”, a lengthy but enchanting piece,  has been split into two parts. The following is Part 2.


Flamenco, however, is another story. A combination of music, singing, dancing, foot stomping and hand clapping, it’s as charming as it is impassioned. Legend has it that the gypsies brought this unique art form to Spain from North Africa and the Arabic influence in the singing is certainly there. Most lyrics speak of lost love and some songs could almost be Iberian versions of the “My Baby Done Left Me” school of Mississippi blues.

“The dancers are what the crowds come for, to clap along to the snap of the castanets, to stare transfixed at the staccato footwork. This is the real stuff. . .”

But singing is only a part of the performance. The dancers are what the crowds come for, either to clap along to the snap of the castanets or stare transfixed at the staccato footwork. This is the real stuff, not the watered down versions of flamenco the big hotels put on for package tourists in Madrid or on the Costa del Sol. This music comes from the Andalusian countryside; there life is tough for the campesino out in the grape vineyards so he or she try to forget their problems by listening to the rich lyrics and machine-gun rhythm of the guitars and castanets.

Besides the “Real” area and the casetas, there’s a carnival section as well where traveling circuses and carny rides come from all over the continent to add to the gaiety. Along with the usual ferris wheels, spook houses and merry-go-rounds there’s a type of shooting gallery that’s uniquely Spanish. For about 90 cents you get the chance to take three shots with a pellet gun at a little plastic button on the front of a wine keg. When the button is hit, a stuffed animal pops out of the keg and the man in the booth rewards you with a shot of sherry or port wine. After five or six bull’s eyes, you begin to go wide of the mark and the gallery starts to make a profit.

“Before saying the last goodbye of the night, friends hit the snack bars for a cup of hot chocolate and the deep-fried ‘churros’ that help soak up all the excess alcohol in their systems”

“Long around five a.m. the party winds down and everyone drifts back home to get a little shuteye before the whole thing begins anew the next morning. Before saying the last goodbye of the night, groups of friends hit the snack bars for a cup of hot chocolate and the deep-fried ropes of dough called “churros” that help soak up all that excess alcohol in their systems. As the last lights of the fairgrounds die, a lone drunken voice is heard singing a remorseful ode to the flashing black eyes of a Seville maiden.

When the hoop and holler of the feria begins to pall, it’s a good time to see the rest of the city. As the Sevillanos say. “Quien no ha visto Sevilla, no ha visto maravilla” (He who hasn’t seen Seville, hasn’t seen a wonder), and truer words were never spoken.

La Giralda, superfamous belltower of the Seville Cathedral

The center for sightseeing in Seville is around La Giralda, the huge tower that’s the city’s main landmark. Originally built by the Arabs in the 12th century, it was used as a minaret from which Moslem holymen would call the faithful to prayer. When the Christians pushed the Arabs out several centuries later, they added a belfry and incorporated the building into the cathedral. The cathedral itself is the third largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. During Easter Week, the famous processions of penitents in their hoods and gowns along with floats depicting scenes from The Crucifixion leave from the cathedral on their marches through the city.

Across the plaza in front of the cathedral is the old Jewish Quarter known as the Barrio de Santa Cruz. It’s a charming neighborhood of narrow lanes, lovely wrought iron balconies and flower filled patios visible from the street. Some of the old houses have been converted into restaurants and souvenir shops where examples of Seville tilework and pottery are for sale.

Patio de las doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens), the Alcazar

Behind the Barrio de Santa Cruz is the Alcazar, an old Arab place the Spanish king Pedro the Cruel converted to his own use. The hybrid of European and Arabic architecture here is fascinating and well worth a visit. Outside the Alcazar is a series of gardens with fountains, statues and man´made streams that provide the foot-weary tourist a delightful place to rest beneath the flowering fruit trees.

A ten-minute walk from the Alcazar down Calle Menendez Pelayo is perhaps the most famous park in Spain, the Parque de Maria Luisa. Built in the 1920’s for the Spanish-American Exhibition, it’s a huge expanse of lawns, fountains, flower gardens and reflecting pools. Nearby is the impressive Plaza de España that contains an archaeological museum with exhibits from the Roman settlement of Italica, a few miles outside Seville.

The finale: Fireworks over the Rio Guadalquivir at midnight to ring down the Feria

And when the feria in Seville folds up and all the casetas, costumes, and carriages are put away until next year, the dedicated fiesta fanatic can travel 65 miles south to Jerez de la Fontera where the whole thing is about to happen again.

Jerez, besides being the world capital of sherry, is famous for its horses, and the residents like to show those fancy Sevillanos that they too can put on a hell of a party and they do. Each year in early May (this year from May 4th to the 8th), the whole city takes a few days off to celebrate the coming of spring and that special bond that exists in these parts between a man and his mount.

Feria del Caballo (Jerez Horse Fair): “Jerezanos like to show those fancy Sevillanos that they too can put on a hell of a party and they do”

Whereas the feria in Seville is strong on pageantry with the parades of riders and carriages, the Jerez Horse Fair puts more emphasis on performing and competition. Several years ago some members of Jerez’s upper crust (led by the wealthy sherry producers) wondered why Austria, of all places, boasted the famous Spanish Riding School of Lippanzer stallions while Spain itself had nothing even close. To remedy the situation they founded the Spanish Equestrian Center, a training school for young caballeros and their horses. During the feria the students from the center put on displays of riding techniques while their charges perform tricks and acrobatics. There are also races and grooming and performance competitions along with parades, flamenco contests and, of course, drinking, eating and hell raising in the casetas.

Seville and Jerez can be reached by plane or train from most major Spanish cities. Without reservations hotel rooms in either city are almost impossible to find during the ferias, but you should be able to locate accommodations in smaller towns around the cities and then taxi in every day for the festivities. There are two campgrounds in the Seville area, one in nearby Dos Hermanas and the other a few miles from Seville on the Madrid road.



Images (generic)
Featured image/Flavio~, CC BY2.0
Flamenco show/Alfred Essa, CC BY-SA2.0, cropped, via Flickr
Chocolate con churros (and purras)/Joy, CC BY2.0
Giralda/Pedro Lozano, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Alcazar (Patio de las Doncellas)/Cat, CC BY2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Fireworks for the Feria finale/Julie Raccuglia, CC BY-SA2.0
Jerez Horse Fair/Dominic Alves, CC BY2.0