Seville, the cultural capital of the south of Spain, knows how to put on a festival and party in style. There's no better time to visit than during one of its infectious springtime festivals
‘Sevilla has a special colour’ or so croon the sevillano music duo Los del Rio, known worldwide for their multi-platinum hit 'Macarena'. Indeed it does, especially in the springtime, when the weather is just right, the sweet heady scent of orange blossom is in the air and the city gears up for its two most famous festivals, Semana Santa and La Feria de Abril.
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, celebrations in Seville are among the most spectacular in the world. Thousands of people flock to the city to watch brotherhoods from the city's many churches demonstrating their religious devotion by marching for hours with huge, elaborate pasos (floats) through the city. This atmospheric festival has held an important place in Seville’s history since the 16th century and little about it has changed since that time.
It starts on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday, the 17th April this year) and finishes on Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday, the 24th April this year). More than 55 religious brotherhoods from one of the city’s many churches make the procession through the narrow cobbled streets to Seville’s grand cathedral, the largest gothic cathedral in the world.
For tourists, perhaps the most striking image is of the nazarenos (members of the brotherhood that make up the procession) that precede each paso. They dress in habit and pointy hood which, except for two eye-holes, cover the nazarenos’ faces completely. Behind them are the acolytes (altar boys) carrying chandeliers and incense and finally come the pasos. These men arguably have the most difficult job of all. They train for months to support the load of the huge floats which weigh upwards of a ton.
La Madrugá is the climax of the celebrations starting just after midnight on Thursday and finishing around dawn on Good Friday. Large crowds dressed in dark mourning clothes gather around the cathedral at around three in the morning to watch two of the city’s most important brotherhoods arriving; El Gran Poder and El Silencio, in complete silence.
Look out for detailed pamphlets about the processions and routes or ask at the city's main tourist information centre on La Avenida de la Constitución.
You don’t have to be religious or even Catholic to enjoy Semana Santa and all the pomp and vigour with which it’s celebrated. However, if you prefer your festivals a bit less somber, wait for two weeks and join in the buoyant festivities of La Feria de Abril when, in stark contrast, sevillanos let their hair down and dance and drink the night away.
The festival, which began as a cattle fair in 1847, takes place over a whole week on the purpose-built feria ground across the River Guadalquivir in the Los Remedios area of the city. It kicks off with the alumbrado at midnight on the Monday night (2nd May) when the official entrance gate is lit up with more than 350,000 glittering bulbs marking the start of the festivities and it ends on the Sunday night with a firework show.
For one week the city comes together to party around the clock. There are parades of horses braided and garlanded with flowers with equally smart riders sitting astride sipping sherry under the Spanish sun. Ladies dress in beautiful flamenco dresses of every imaginable hue, adorn themselves with masses of traditional plastic jewellery, put flowers in their hair and dance the traditional sevillanas. Everybody is in excellent spirits.
Whilst many of the casetas (small marquees) are private, there are plenty of large public casetas where you can stop to take in the traditional dancing, down a rebujito or two (a refreshing sherry spritzer) and have a montadito (sandwich). For kids there’s the 'Calle de Inferno' where there are rollercoasters and traditional fairground amusements and snacks. If you want to get into the feria spirit look out for one of the Chino Bazar shops where you can pick up cheap feria style jewellery, and on Thursday at 'El Jueves' (the weekly flea market on Calle Feria) you can even pick up a second-hand flamenco dress.
Where to stay
Tryp Macarena Hotel Seville is a large, modern hotel located in the Macarena area of the city. It's a great place from which to view Semana Santa processions, a short walk from the bars and cafes of La Alameda and the cathedral and city centre are easily accessible too.
If money's no object then stay at the quirky-urban EME Fusion Hotel directly opposite the cathedral. There are four luxurious restaurants, a bar, spa and terraces overlooking La Giralda. You couldn't be closer to the Semana Santa action and a short walk over the river leads you directly to the feria site.
Sevilla 5 are a local company that have apartments for different tastes and different budgets all over the city.
If you're on a tighter budget, you can't go wrong with Sevilla Inn Backpackers Hostel. It's centrally located near to the cathedral and the river and free breakfast and internet access is included in the price.