Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Five Year Flashback:Part Two

Celebrating my fifth year of blogging here's one from May 2010 which was published as a travel feature in The Liverpool Echo on May 5th 2010.

I hear them first. Clip clops of horse hooves echoing through the narrow streets of Seville.

And then out of the darkness I see a silvery glow as a white horse ridden by a straight-backed young man emerges.

The man is suited and booted in traditional Traje Corto (short jacket, tight trousers) and draped around his waist is the long elegant arm of a beautiful young senorita riding side saddle in her red Flamenco dress.

And as they emerge from the shadowy lanes I see another horse and then another. Six couples in all.

They walk slowly and rhythmically to the tall table outside the Bodega de Santa Cruz where I am enjoying a final midnight glass of red wine. And then they are gone.

This is not a dream nor a ghostly flashback to Spain of old.

It is La Feria de Sevilla of the 21st Century.

The annual celebration of history, culture, food and Flamenco which takes place two weeks after Easter in Seville.

My husband and I are enjoying a second honeymoon in this most passionate of Spanish cities to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary.

La Feria or Fair dates back to 1847 and began as a livestock fair. Since then it has become one of the most symbolic festivities in Seville, a meeting place for Sevillians who sing, dance and enjoy all the fun of the fair for five days and nights.

The Sevillians even get a public holiday on the Wednesday.

It begins with a horse-drawn parade from the fairground to la Plaza de Toros – the bullring - where there are daily bullfights throughout the festival.

And there is a fairground which would rival even Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach in size.

The permanent Feria site is located on the banks of the River which runs through Seville and from where Christopher Columbus (whose bones are buried beneath the 16th century cathedral) began one of his epic voyages to the Indies.

The Feria  site is filled with hundreds of lavishly decorated “Casetas” (little tents) where the gatherings begin around 9pm each night and continue until 6 or 7am every morning.

During the week the local women from seven months to seventy years wear elaborate Flamenco dresses which you can see on sale in the local shops – starting at around 600 Euros apiece.

The men too are not to be outdone and it is not unusual to see men of all ages from teenagers to pensioners striding out in their smart suits throughout the day.

The only downside about visiting Seville during The Feria is that there is so much to do it leaves little time to see the impressive sights which detail the history of the city; once the  fourth richest in the world thanks to its location as the European gateway to the New World.

Seville is one of the hottest and historic of all the Spanish cities.

It was once the centre of Islamic Spain where North African Moors would migrate and a popular home for the Jewish community.

But in 1477 the mood changed when the Spanish Inquisition began in Seville after a Domenican Friar persuaded the Queen Isabella that some recent converts to her Catholic faith were not all they seemed.

Today the rich history of the Islamic, Catholic and Jewish cultures is still very much in evidence in both the fabric of the city – the Catherdral, the pretty Santa Cruz quarter which was once home to the Jews, the palaces and the general architecture not to mention the spiritual heartbeat of the city – Flamenco.

There is a whole museum dedicated to the history of Flamenco in Seville which is well worth a couple of hours and where you can take part in a dance class and watch a show.

I had it on great authority that the best Flamenco Show to watch in town was at Los Gallos in Santa Cruz, a traditional Flamenco house or Tablao which has been a sell-out venue in the city since 1966.

For 30 Euros a head you can experience the passion of Flamenco through a team of ten singers, dancers and guitarists.

Flamenco is  believed to have begun around 1447 and has its roots in Hindu, Arabic, Jewish, Greek and Castillian cultures - each clap and foot stamp an act of defiance by the oppressed groups from where this tradition began.

In its earliest form the only instruments used were those of the human body – the voice and the claps to establish a rhythm and the dance - a physical response to the passion.

The guitar was later incorporated and if you  want to see Flamenco in its most stripped down form then Los Gallos is the place to go.

The rest of our weekend is spent wandering through the historic streets and resting in the squares, most of which boast mosaic-tiled seats and elaborate fountains and strolling through the honeysuckle-scented parks where horses and carriages carrying beautiful Sevillian senoritas trot through the walkways.

We enjoy long lunches al fresco in the old town of Santa Cruz washing traditional Iberian stews and tapas down with the local sherry.

It is only April but already the temperature is above 30C which make Spring the perfect time of year to enjoy the city as the mercury rises to above 45C during the summer months.

We spend the final night of The Feria strolling through the fair and enjoying “Bunuelos” (Spanish doughnuts with hot chocolate) before the midnight firework display marks the end of The Feria for another year.

And as we stroll slowly back through the Sevillian streets hand in hand our thoughts become one and the same: “How many days until next year’s Feria?”

We flew to Seville from Liverpool Airport with Ryanair. A bus outside the airport runs every 15 minutes and it costs just over two Euros for the six mile journey into the heart of Seville.
We stayed at Hotel Dona Blanco www.donablanca.com, a  20 minute stroll to the Catherdral which marks the centre of the city. Our three night stay for two cost 345 Euros during The Feria but prices start at 50 Euros a night the rest of the year.
If you want to know more about Flamenco visit the museum website on www.museoflamenco.com or to see one of the Los Gallos shows online visit www.tablaolosgallos.com
The Feria takes place between the 3rd and 8th of May 2011.


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