Feria de Abril is the creme de la creme of Spanish festivals, and Seville knows it. Whilst Easter may signal the start of party season in Andalusia, it’s not until the April Fair two weeks later when Sevillanos really let loose. For a visitor to the city, it is very easy to get lost in the shenanigans of the huge fair and miss out on some of its best bits. To avoid this happening to you, what follows is a concise run down of what the fair is, why it’s so culturally significant, and what you should do when you visit. A Feria survival guide if you will.
What is it?
Let’s start with the basics. Feria de Abril is really nothing more than an anual festival of food, fun, and frivolity. Every year, exactly two weeks after Semana Santa, the April Fair comes to town. The good people of Seville put on their best dresses and congregate in the park to party the week away. This year (2018), the Fair will run from Sunday 15th to Saturday 21st April.
It was originally started in 1847 as a livestock fair for Sevillanos (people from Seville) to come together to buy and sell animals (primarily cattle). However, after just one year in this original format, it took on a more ceremonious guise with the introduction of the first three casetas. A caseta is a private tent or pavilion which in this case is used as a temporary base for attendees of the festival. Party goers will do everything but sleep in their casetas. The first three belonged to the duchess of Montpensier, the town hall, and Seville casino, but ever since they were introduced casetas have become an integral part of the Feria. Today there are more than a thousand erected along twelve purpose built streets, creating a party spectacle beyond belief. Of these thousand, there are less than twenty public casetas, but in each one you will find drinks and tapas jovially served to all.
For the first one hundred years of it’s life the Fair was held in Prado de San Sebastian, which at the time was on the outskirts of the city. With the expanding of the city and Fair, however, Prado couldn’t fit the Feria so it was moved to Parque de los Principes in the modern Los Remedies neighbourhood. The fair moved in the same year as the park was built – 1973. You will know when you’ve reached the site because every year the organisers build an extravagant entrance gate designed to welcome attendees and jump start the party spirit.
What to wear?
This is an event for Sevillanos to put on their best traditional dress, and they take great pride in doing so! For men the traditional attire is the Traje Corto: a fitted suit with tight trousers and the jacket designed to be slightly too short. It looks very similar to the outfit of a bullfighter. For women the Traje de Gitana (Gypsy dress) is the traditional costume. This is a long sleeved figure hugging dress which is often tasselled at the bottom. It is also known as the flamenco dress due to the fact it is usually worn when dancing flamenco. If you would like help picking out a costume, we’d be happy to take you shopping and give you a tour of the best tailors in the city. Simply reach out to us for a custom made tour.
Feria de Abril is the social event of the year in Seville and anyone who’s anyone will be there in traditional costumes. Although the casetas are private, the fair grounds and events can be attended by anyone, meaning tourists from all around the world are welcome to come and watch the festivities.
The week of feria is all about celebration. The people of Seville come together to party in all the traditional ways. Families and friends will get together in their casetas to eat, drink, and be merry. Tables will be filled with tapas and sherry, as laughter fills the large tents. They parade on horseback through the streets of the Feria on their way to the bullfight. Bullfighting is hugely popular in Andalusia and there is a bullfight every day in Seville during the April Fair. What’s more, the streets of the Feria are all named after famous bull fighters. When night falls, the revellers congregate to dance beneath beautiful illuminations.
The traditional folk music in Seville is called Sevillana. It is similar to flamenco but has set songs and dance moves, whereas flamenco is entirely improvised. Feria de Abril is the best time to see Sevillana dances in action, most locals only dance these dances once a year and will go to rehearsals every year before the fair to refresh their memory on how to do them.
- Monday is the night of the fish. It is named as such simply because it is the tradition to eat fried fish on the Monday. At midnight on the Monday the lights are turned on, officially starting the festivities.
- Tuesday, the first official day of the fair, is the best time to watch the locals parading around on horseback and in carriages all in the traditional dress.
- The festival draws to an end with a fireworks display over the River Guadalquivir on the Saturday night.
Now that you know all about the Feria, you are ready to dive in and experience this cultural phenomenon for yourself! However, before we send you on your way, here are some of our top tips on how to make the most of your experience in Parque de los Principes.
- Talk to Sevillanos. The locals can be quite closed and it’s even said that “the feria is just for Sevillanos”. Indeed of the 1000 casetas in the park only a small handful will be open to the public. Contrary to all this, however, they are a friendly bunch who are happy to have conversations. The best advice for sampling the fair, then, is to talk to the locals. At the very least you will be greeted with a smile and a friendly face, and you never know what they might invite you to!
- Try to learn a few steps to Sevillanas before you go. Dancing to these folk songs is a big part of the fair and knowing the steps is a great way to impress the locals. It’s a great idea to partner up with a local as well so that they can lead you if you start to get lost. We are here to help and offer a one and a half hour Sevillana workshop to help you prepare! Just contact us and we’ll arrange the rest!
- Dress accordingly. Although it isn’t expected that visitors will dress in the same way as locals, it is appreciated if you do. Locals will be pleased that you made the effort, and who doesn’t want a good excuse to were beautiful clothes!?
- Avoid weekends. The weekend is the busiest time for the Feria as all the folk from surrounding towns and villages come in to celebrate making the site impossibly crowded. True Sevillanos go during the week so this is the best time to go for a truly authentic experience.
So there you have it! Your comprehensive survival guide to the April Fair. Should you feel you want a more hands on guide when you come to see the festivities, we would be happy to give you a bespoke private tour of the event.
Davey Womack is a tour guide and avid traveller. To read about his adventures around the world, visit his personal blog.