Seville Fair

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Seville Fair (Feria de Sevilla, April Fair, Feria de Abril)

Type of Holiday: Folkloric, Historic
Date of Observation: Late April
Where Celebrated: Seville, Spain
Symbols and Customs: Bullfighting, Casetas, Flamenco Dress, Flamenco Music and Dancing, Food and Wine, Horse Parades


The Seville Fair is a week-long, city-wide celebration. It features local FOOD AND WINE , music, and dancing, as well as displays of horsemanship and bravery in BULLFIGHTING .

The Seville Fair began as a springtime agricultural and livestock market in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1847 the town of Seville granted permission to two well-to-do residents, José María Ybarra and Narciso Bonaplata, to organize a livestock fair in April of that year. The affair was a success and was enjoyed by local people as much for the livestock trading as it was for the singing, dancing, and bull fighting that also took place on that occasion.

In the early years of the fair, simple CASETAS -covered canvas stalls or tents- were set up for the livestock dealers. The local elite quickly adopted the idea of setting up their own casetas so that they could enjoy the fair without having to mingle with the middle and lower classes all day long. By 1850, the city council sanctioned the installation of coffee stalls, candy and pastry sellers, and bars. As time went by, the livestock dealing became less important, and the festivities became more important. Livestock dealing disappeared in the mid-twentieth century, but the number of private casetas continued to grow, in spite of the expense involved in renting and furnishing these stalls for a private party. Carnival attractions, too, such as rides and games, have been added to the fair.

The Seville Fair has completely shed its origins as a livestock market, yet it retains some of its old reputation as a playground for Seville's wealthier classes. The enduring customs of the Seville Fair lend themselves to displays of wealth and status. Indeed, the yearly fair gives Seville's elite a chance to show off their horses, their beautiful clothing, and their luxurious casetas. In the 1960s such famous foreign visitors as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, the American actor Orson Welles, and American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy brought the fair international attention and prestige, which it still enjoys today.

The Seville Fair always falls in late April and lasts one week. It opens on a Tuesday at 12:00 a.m. with the illumination of the ceremonial gate constructed at the entrance of the fairgrounds. People stream through the arch, and the festivities begin. The Fair ends the following Sunday night with a display of fireworks. Monday is a city-wide day off from work, which gives people time to recover and return to their normal lives. The city government sets and announces the dates for the April Fair in December of the previous year.



Bullfighting is an ancient sport that has become a spectacular cultural symbol for Spain. Bullfighters known as matadors train from childhood to perform the intricate, stylized rituals of the fight. Years of practice are required to prepare to become a matador, and many of the top matadors in Spain are members of traditional bullfighting families. Spanish bullfights typically take place during festivals, fairs, and holiday celebrations.

During the Seville Fair, bullfights are scheduled every day. People with tickets for the fight drift away from the fairgrounds in the late afternoon, leisurely making Seville Fair

their way to Seville's bullfighting ring. The event usually begins around 5:00 p.m. These contests pit some of Spain's best matadors against some of Spain's fiercest bulls and are considered to be the best bullfights of the season. Each day's contests involve individual matches between six bulls and three matadors, with one matador and one bull in the ring at the same time. Each match plays out according to traditional maneuvers and rules of engagement and usually lasts about fifteen minutes.


The Seville Fair takes place at a fairgrounds some distance away from the city center. People with means set up little houses, or casetas, for the duration of the fair. These casetas, which resemble the covered stalls set up by vendors at an American fair, provide shelter from the sun, a place to sit down, and the backdrop for a party. Over 1,000 casetas have been erected in recent years, from small, private parties to large, public pavilions. Since it costs a fair amount of money to rent the space, most casetas belong to well-to-do families, businesses, trade unions, government agencies, membership organizations, politicians, bars, restaurants, and social clubs. Casetas are typically decorated with banners, streamers, flags, and flowers to reflect a unique theme. Each caseta hosts a private party-in fact, most of the fair's nighttime activity takes place in the casetas. Guards at the door make sure that only those whose names appear on the guest list enter. Inside, guests enjoy food, drink, music, dancing, laughter, and conversation until late at night. Music and dancing are the primary entertainment.

The rows of casetas create streets and lanes that are given names in order to help people navigate the fair. Most are named after famous bullfighters, underlining the importance of bull fighting to the Seville Fair.

Flamenco Dress

Many Sevillians enjoy dressing up in folk costume for the fair. For the men, this means a traje de corto, or "short suit." The traje de corto consists of a short, bolerostyle jacket, white shirt, tight-fitting trousers, and boots. A broad brimmed black hat completes the outfit. For the women, this means a flamenco dress, called dressing de faralaes (dressing "in ruffles"). The name comes from the rows and rows of ruffles that cover the skirt from the knees down to the floor. These dresses hug the figure from the bust to the thigh and flare out below. They are often made from bright, polka-dotted fabric.

Flamenco dresses are not only the traditional costume of the Seville Fair, but also the traditional garb of Flamenco dancers. This style of dress was first worn by late nineteenth-century gypsy women in Andalusia, Spain's southern region. For this reason, wearing this kind of dress is referred to as dressing de gitana, "gypsy style," or de flamenca, "flamenco style." The flamenco dress was later adopted by the middle and upper classes as a style of folk dress. Outside of Spain the flamenco dress is viewed as typically Spanish, although inside Spain it is understood to be typically Andalusian.

While the men's short suit is well-suited to equestrian activities, the women's flamenco dress is not. Women who are planning to ride a horse to the fair sometimes opt for the female equivalent of the men's suit, which consists of a short, tight-fitting jacket of dark material, a white blouse, and a long skirt, also of dark-colored material. This type of dress is referred to as de amazona, or "Amazon style."

Flamenco Music and Dancing

Flamenco songs, or Sevillanas, combine traditional Andalusian folk songs and a regional form of flamenco dancing. As symbols of the region's culture and history, many area residents learn the songs and dances in school as young children. The dances are performed in pairs of either a man and a woman or two women and include a set of steps executed in different sequences. Musical accompaniment typically includes guitar, hand claps, flute, drums, tambourines, and cas- tanets, a traditional Spanish handheld percussion instrument that produces a clacking sound.

The Seville Fair is a celebration of all things Sevillian, and Flamenco music and dancing thus play an important role in the festivities. Although the roots of Flamenco music lie throughout southern Spain, Flamenco enjoys a particularly strong association with the city of Seville. At the Seville Fair, people play Sevillanas on their boom boxes inside their casetas and dance when the mood strikes them. At night, after the bullfighting is finished, fair goers return to the fair grounds where more Flamenco music and dancing takes place.

Food and Wine

Fairgoers indulge in feasts of food and wine during the entire week, enjoying small amounts continually throughout the day and night rather than sitting down for full meals. The traditional Spanish appetizers known as tapas are the food of choice. Tapas range from simple, cold trays of cheese and meat to more elaborately prepared hot seafood and egg dishes and small pastries with rich fillings known as empanadas.

Andalusia specializes in the production of sherry, a fortified wine ranging from pale yellow to mahogany brown in color, and from very dry to very sweet in taste. Sherry is the most popular alcoholic drink served at the Seville Fair. People who prefer a less alcoholic drink sometimes mix sherry with fizzy lemonade. Seville Fair

Horse Parades

The livestock market that was once central to the Seville Fair is long gone, yet a small echo remains in the horse parades that wealthy Sevillians still put on. These daily parades allow members of Seville's upper class to show off their wealth and finery. The parade begins at midday. Those who can't afford to ride come to watch the well-to-do Sevillians, wearing Flamenco dress, parade on horseback or in their horse-drawn carriages. Costumed riders travel in groups, sometimes stopping at different entertainment tents where tapas and wine are brought out to them. Others ride in colorful carriages. Sometimes both a man and a woman will ride a horse, with the man sitting in front and the women behind him, riding in a sidesaddle position with her arms around his waist. In this way she can take part in the parade and still wear her fabulous Flamenco dress. The parade also includes musicians and singers who perform traditional ballads while walking alongside those on horseback. The parade ends in the mid-to-late afternoon, as the horses and carriages make their way to the bullring.


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Andalucía magazine

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Tourist Office of Spain
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Seville Fair

Over the past century, the Seville Fair, also known as the April Fair, has developed into one of Spain's major spectacles. Originally a market for livestock, the fair with its multi-colored tents, wreaths, and paper lanterns now transforms the city of Seville. The singing, dancing, and drinking go on for a week, and a sense of joyousness pervades the city. The week's activities include a parade of riders and a number of bullfights held in the Plaza de la Maestranza (equestrian parade ground)—now considered the "cathedral" of bullfighting.
Consorcio de Turismo
Edificio Laredo Pza
San Francisco, 19 4
Seville, 41004 Spain
34-954-592-915; fax: 34-954-595-295
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FestWestEur-1958, p. 194
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 163
HolSymbols-2009, p. 808
IntlThFolk-1979, p. 342
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.