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Sightseeing in Seville

Feria de Abril

If you are planning to come visit Seville there is no question about it: come in April. The Feria de Abril (April Festival) is the single biggest event on the Sevillian calendar one of the biggest events in Spain. Believe it or not, Seville's signature festival has its origins in a Catalan (Narciso Bonaplata) and a Basque (José María de Ybarra) who, in 1846, requested permission from the Seville City Hall to hold an annual festival from April 19 to 21. City officials were reluctant at first, arguing that two other festivals were already being held near the proposed dates. Regardless, in 1847 Queen Isabella II officially granted Seville the privilege of holding the annual festival. The very first April Festival was a livestock festival and was held in the Prado de San Sebastián, which at that time was on the outskirts of the city. Today it is one of the centremost neighbourhoods in Seville. The festival was such a hit with the locals that in 1850 the livestock area had to be separated from the amusement area.

Throughout the 1800s the Feria gained popularity at an astonishing rate. The festival site was enlarged and by 1914 the length had gone up to five days, while in 1952 it became six days. While the first Feria de Abril had just 19 casetas stalls while today it has 1,047. Some private citizens own their own casetas, which are an extension of their homes, while the rest are normally put up by private companies. Some casetas are open to the public (acceso libre) while others are invitation only.

So what do you do at the Feria de Abril? Eat, drink and be merry. If there's one thing the Feria is known for it's food and drink. Try a rebujito or a lager and one of the many and varied typical Andalusian delights on offer. On the night before the festival, caseta owners participate in la noche del pescaíto (Fish Night), a traditional private dinner where the main course is pescaíto frito (fried Andalusian fish), one of Seville's most beloved dishes. The Feria de Abril is also known for its celebration of Seville's unique flamenco style: the sevillana. The sevillana and its characteristic style of dress is known worldwide and is the one aspect of Spanish culture which Spain is most associated with in the minds of foreigners, yet it is actually quite particular to the city of Seville.

Bienal de Flamenco

The Bienal de Flamenco (biennial flamenco festival) celebrates one of the customs Sevilla is renowned for: flamenco. Sevillian flamenco, with its characteristic sevillanas, is universally associated with Spain in the popular imagination. The very first Bienal de Flamenco was held in 1980 having been meticulously planned the year before by the Congreso de Actividades Flamencas. Flamenco has taken many forms over the years, most recently even adopting popular rhythms from Latin American and Anglosaxon music along with new instruments and sounds to form a new style known as flamenco pop, nuevo flamenco or fusión flamenca. Even before the advent of flamenco pop, flamenco had undergone modernisation in the 20th century, incorporating many new styles and instruments and changing its sound. This festival, however, is not a celebration of all flamenco but specifically of traditional, old school flamenco as originally sung in the 18th century, known as cante jondo. Jondo is listed in the Spanish dictionary as specifically referring to this style of flamenco and is the Andalusian pronunciation of hondo (though some linguists speculate it may instead be derived from a Hebrew conjugation used with some sinagogic chants). The festival lasts for about a month.

Online tickets for this and other events in Seville can be bought at this website.

Catedral de Santa María de Sevilla

La Catedral de Santa María de Sevilla is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the third largest religious building after Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1987. It is seven centuries old and has been maintained by Seville City Hall ever since it was built on the site of an old mosque damaged by the earthquake of 1356. Construction began in 1402 and ended 191 years later in 1593, though it has since been expanded in several phases until as late as 1928. This gives the Cathedral a remarkable architectural variety, with styles ranging from Mudéjar and Gothic to Renaissance and Neogothic. Oral tradition has it that the local clergy declared in their decision to have the cathedral built, Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos. ("Let us build a church so beautiful and grandiose that those who will see it may think we were crazy.").

The original Almohad mosque was built between 1172 and 1198. After Seville was conquered by the Christians in 1248 the mosque was repurposed as a cathedral with the addition of a Royal Chapel where many Castilian and Leonese monarchs were buried, including Alfonso X "the Wise", Ferdinand III and Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen. The cathedral proper as it stands today, however, was not started until 1402. The year before plans were drawn up to demolish the old mosque, which had been left in a very bad state after the earthquake of 1356. It is thought that the plans were originally designed by the Master Alonso Martínez and later continued by the Dutch-born Pedro Dancart, who was hired by City Hall. In 1439 Frenchman Charles Gauter de Rúan took over the project, for which he was paid a total of 1,000 maravedís per year. From 1498 to 1512 the Grandmaster Alonso Rodríguez was head of the project. A great Gothic cathedral without significant changes from the original plan, consecrated in 1507, was the final result. Four years after its completion, however, in December of 1511, one of the pillars collapsed due to excessive weight, damaging the central vault. Alonso Rodríguez was fired and, following a detailed study of potential solutions, Juan Gil de Hontañón was hired to design a new dome in keeping with the original style. This was finally finished in 1519.

From 1528 several annexes to the cathedral were constructed, including the Sacristía Mayor (Grand Sacristy) and the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) and others which were only half-built were completed. The last addition to the Giralda was also built during this period. The cathedral with all of its annexes was finally completed in 1593. All of these additions, including the addition to the Giralda, were designed in the Renaissance style, breaking with prior designs. From 1618 to 1758 a Barroque church, Iglesia del Sagrario, was constructed as a new annex to the cathedral.

The famous Giralda was originally a minaret during Islamic times and was later converted into a belltower. It is nevertheless architecturally independent from the cathedral.

La Giralda

The Giralda is one of Seville's most famous monuments. It was built by the Almohads in the 12th century. The lower two thirds of the tower are from the original construction while the upper third is a more recent Renaissance addition. The Giralda was based on the design of the Kutubia mosque's minaret (in Marrakesh). It was considered a masterpiece when it was completed. The Renaissance style elements on top of the tower were added between 1556 and 1568, but in spite of the great difference in style they are seamlessly integrated into the base. Originally it was 51 metres high. After the Christian add-ons it grew to its present height of 101 metres.

Originally a copper sphere crowned the minaret, but it toppled over during the earthquake of 1356 and was replaced with a Christian cross and bell. A statue, called the Giraldillo, has stood atop the tower since 1568.

In 1626 the Giralda was used as a site to pray for the end of a fit of rains which had lasted 40 consecutive days.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the main holidays on the Spanish calendar. While in most of Spain it's regarded as just another long weekend and break from work and school, in Andalusia it continues to be one of the most important holidays of the year with traditional Catholic processions. Sculptures depicting scenes from the Passion or the Virgin Mary are hoisted up by costaleros (bearers) and carried around town on a predefined route. Each sculpture and procession is planned and executed by a cofradía (confraternity). Each cofradía has its own route. During Semana Santa Andalusian television provides live coverage of the processions throughout the region. While every Andalusian city has its own processions, Seville's Semana Santa processions are doubtlessly the most important and the most famous. The Semana Santa processions of Seville are known and venerated not only throughout Spain but also throughout the Catholic world. Processions are an opportunity for cofradías to demonstrate their faith in Jesus Christ and when they are cancelled at the last minute (normally due to bad weather) it's a huge disappointment and some participants even burst into tears. These processions are not only held in Andalusia but also in many cities around Spain. Nevertheless, outside of Andalusia interest in the processions has waned considerably and what little interest remains tends to be secular and irreligious. In Andalusia, in contrast, they remain a very important part of the local culture even in secular society. Devout Catholics do still take them very seriously and diehard fans of the processions who are knowledgeable about their every detail, even to the point of memorising all the routes, are known as cofrades. For the rest of us, of course, there's the programa semanasantero (Holy Week Programme).

Semana Santa formally starts on domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), though in Seville the first processions start on the Friday before (known as viernes de Dolores) and ends on Pascua de la Resurrección (Easter Sunday). It is a lunar holiday and so the date changes from year to year. Generally Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the boreal Spring. If, however, this coincides with the Pascua judía (aka. fiesta del paso, the Jewish holiday of Passover), it is postponed by the Catholic Church till the following week. This measure was adopted by the early Christian Church, presumably to avoid syncretism between the two religions.

Teatro Lope de Vega

The Teatro Lope de Vega is a theatre located on Avenida de María Luisa, right next to Parque de María Luisa. It is a new building, having only been built in 1929 in the Baroque style as part of the trio of buildings constructed for the Exhibición Iberoamericana (Iberoamerican Fair) held the same year. A fire in 1936 destroyed all the seats. The pit also frequently filled with water when the city flooded. In 1980 it was declared a public theatre and in 1986 it underwent restoration. Since being restored it has transformed into one of Spain's most prominent theatres and hosts all kinds of shows, including plays, dance, opera, jazz and, of course, flamenco.

This is one of the main venues for the Bienal de Flamenco (see above) and many other productions. If you enjoy theatre don't let your visit to Seville pass by without catching at least one show at the Lope de Vega.

Isla Magica - Seville Theme Park

This is one of the best theme parks in Spain. The setting of Isla Mágica, a relatively young amusement park opened in 1997, is the discovery of America. This park is being rapidly and constantly expanded thanks to its immense popularity and has evolved to the point that it is now considered one of Europe's theme park elite. Isla Mágica is, like any theme park, divided into thematic zones each with its own motif and rides. The general theme is the discovery of America and the zones are:

  • Sevilla, Puerto de Indias (16th century Seville themed area)
  • El Balcón de Andalucía (Scale model of Andalusia's main monuments and geographical features)
  • Quetzal (Mayan Themed Area)
  • Puerta de América (Spanish colonial themed area)
  • Amazonia (Speaks for itself, doesn't it?)
  • La Guarida de los Piratas (The Pirates' Lair, argh)
  • La Fuente de la Juventud (The Fountain of Youth!)
  • El Dorado (After 500 years eluding the Spanish, it's finally been discovered)
Triana Seville

While there are many neighbourhoods in Seville with character, Triana is in a league of its own and is not to be missed if you are in Seville. While now one of Seville's most emblematic zonas, for a long time the people of Triana, mostly Roma, maintained a distinct and separate identity from the Sevillians. Located on an island in the River Guadalquivir which runs through Seville, it is situated to the left of Seville's downtown to which it is connected by a bridge called Puente de Isabel IIj, though it is popularly known as Puente de Triana. It borders the barrio de los Remedios to the west. According to ancient legend, the Goddess Ishtar (Spanish: Astarté) sought refuge here when she was courted by Hercules, who was said to have founded Seville. Upon her arrival she founded Triana. The island has been inhabited since at least Roman times and probably a long time before, and Roman ruins are still present there as they are in the rest of Seville. It is no wonder, then, that the people of Triana have remained so fiercely independent and resistent to absorption by Seville.

In 1171, Caliph Abu Yacub Yusuf ordered the construction of the puente de barcas, a rudimentary bridge which joined the island to Seville and, most importantly, to the port. Under the rule of los Reyes Católicos (King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella), Triana came to host the main tribune of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. The main inquisitional tribune remained in Triana until 1626. The Puente de Isabel II, the new bridge connecting Triana with the Seville city center built to replace de puente de barcas, was not constructed until as late as 1854, which further underlines the historical social isolation of this area.

Within Triana, of particular note are the Convento de las Mínimas, a monastery built around 1755 for the monastic order of los Mínimos de San Francisco de Paula, the gorgeous Altozano Plaza and la Cava, a long avenue that runs through the centre of Triana. Triana is the birthplace of famous and controversial Andalusian folk singer Isabel Pantoja and contemporary Spanish actress Paz Vega.

Archivo General de Indias

As you might imagine, as capital of Spain's largest autonomous region and major city, Seville is packed with museums of every conceivable kind. The Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares (Museum of Art and Popular Customs), located in Plaza de América (aka. parque de las palomas), chronicles the evolution of artistic expression and habits in Spain from the 15th to the 19th century. It has a total of seven exhibitions covering anything from styles of dress, crockery, tools and even homes. The building housing the museum is constructed in the Mudéjar style. The Archivo General de Indias was founded in 1785 by King Charles III to centralise all official records related to Spanish colonies in the New World. The Archive conserves some 43,000 records, 80 million pages and 8,000 maps and drawings which normally were from local colonial authorities. The Museo del Baile Flamenco (Flamenco Dance Museum) is located between the Plaza de la Alfalfa and the Cathedral. It was founded by the Sevillian bailaora (flamenco dancer) Cristina Hoyos Panadero. The museum has four floors including the basement, where flamenco classes and workshops are given. On the ground floor you'll see a typical Andaludian patio where sometimes shows are put on with flamenco dancers. On the second floor you can learn about the evolution of flamenco and its palos (schools). On the third floor you can find out about the fusión and the development of flamenco pop.

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