We finally managed to visit the Feria de Abril in Sevilla in 2013. It takes place two weeks after Easter (which gives the people a fortnight to recover from the festivities of Semana Santa). This means that the date varies each year and sometimes parts of the fair may even be held in May. It runs from Monday night until the following Sunday and is located in the Barrio Los Remedios. For more detailed information in English there is a very good website - here.
One of the entrances to the fair ground is through the famous “portada”, which is somewhat different every year. The fair ground itself is made up of rows and rows of “casetas”, large tents that are owned by Sevilla's rich families, businesses, clubs or political parties. There are over 1000 of these casetas, but only a very few are open to the general public. Starting from midday the streets in the fairground fill with visitors, many of whom are dressed in their finest Andalucian outfits.
It’s an occasion for ordinary people to promenade along the streets from early afternoon into the night, and the more wealthy and important members of Sevilla's society to make sure that they are seen parading in smart carriages or on horseback.
Mules are often used in pairs to pull splendid carriages, quite a contrast to the more rustic wagons pulled by long mule trains during the Romería to El Rocío. The animals are groomed to perfection, their heads engulfed in decorations made from tassels or flowers.
For some of the rich Sevillanos, mules don’t seem to display status enough and so lots of carriages are drawn by spectacular horses as they parade through the streets. Most carriage drivers wear black frock coats and top hats, while the mule carriage drivers tend to wear the traditional Andalucian grey suits with wide-brimmed hats.
Each caseta is unique and a huge amount of effort is put into adorning them with stunning flower decorations, wallpapers and paintings. As the Spanish people don’t tend to eat lunch until mid afternoon, the tents remain empty in the middle of the day, waiting for guests to arrive.
After parading up and down the streets for a couple of hours, by mid afternoon more and more carriages stop outside casetas, offloading their hungry passengers. This is when the real fiesta starts in earnest, and then it continues well into the night.
Entrance to most of the casetas is by invitation only, so the few public tents are usually very crowded and it’s not easy to find a free table. Small restaurants in the back cook and serve tapas and drinks, which are actually incredibly good value for money. On finishing their food, revellers immediately get up and start Flamenco dancing, much to the delight of those still seated.
The great thing about Flamenco sessions in Spanish fiestas is that everybody takes part: the old and the very young, the tall and the short, the slim and the stockier ones, those dressed for the occasion or visitors just pitching in from the street in their every-day clothes. Even people who haven’t known each other before get up and start dancing together. It makes for quite an outstanding people watching spectacular!
Some dance for just a short while; others hardly leave the dance floor. We couldn’t help but take lots of photos of these wonderful characters.
Although most folk spend the rest of the day partying in the casetas, there are always some who carry on promenading. Apparently all horse activity has to stop by eight o’clock in the evening, so people have to make sure that they get seen before then!
While some people sit in style in small, elegant carriages, bigger carriages are crammed full with happy passengers who enjoy the attention of any passer-by with a camera.
Some carriages seem to be especially desirable to join and one wonders how all the aspiring passengers manage to squeeze in.
Some people just ride around on horseback, although not so many on the day we went. We repeatedly saw the same guy going round, but every time he passed us he seemed to have a different lady sitting behind him!
As usual during Spanish fiestas, the people are very well behaved despite vast amounts of alcohol being consumed. The police are present but don't really have anything to do, other than promenade themselves. Of course, during the Feria, policemen patrol on horseback too.
Almost as big as the area with all the casetas is what the Sevillanos call “Calle de Infierno” - Hell Street. It’s a massive amusement park with Ferris wheels and all sorts of rides spinning victims up and round and upside down at high speed. Most of these rides made us feel queasy just watching!
All in all it was an amazing, although rather exhausting, experience and a spectacle not to be missed, if the opportunity arises. It’s a more formal display of Andalucians dressed up in all their traditional finery than the deeply emotional Romería (see 2010 and 2013 reports), but that’s what makes it unique.