next weekend...why not go to Seville

WITH their pointy hats and bed-sheet capes, processing through the streets by torchlight, they look like members of the Ku Klux Klan. But this is southern Europe not the southern USA, and the hooded figures are not redneck racists but members of Seville's 57 brotherhoods of the church (confradias) marching in the early hours of Good Friday, bringing to a climax a week of spectacular celebration. Southern Catholics know how to celebrate Holy Week with style, and nowhere more so than Seville, where the Semana Santa festivities date back to the14th century. Throughout this week, members of the brotherhoods (all of which have names like "the Confraternity of the Kiss of Judas") will be a daily sight on the city's streets, accompanied by masked penitents and gilded wooden floats (passos) carried shoulder-high by 20 to 30 men. On these sit effigies of Christ or the Virgin Mary surrounded by flowers and gold and silver candelabra. For anyone brought up amid the low-key devotions of Protestantism, Seville's Semana Santa is an awe-inspiring, even unsettling, affair. But solemnity is tempered by a party atmosphere. The bars open late into the night; thousands throng the streets for the parades. It is difficult to think of a better European city to visit for Easter.

history

Closer to Morocco than Barcelona, Seville is the unofficial capital of southern Spain. The Moorish occupation from 712-1252, has left the city an exotic charm - a bit like Palermo, though without the dirt or the mafiosi. It was, until the river silted up in the 1680s, Spain's most important trading port. When Columbus returned in triumph from the New World in 1493, it was into Seville that he sailed, bringing home a collection of native Americans and species new to Europe. Don Juan hailed from here, as did Carmen, the cigarette worker heroine of Bizet's opera: two characters who, between them, tell you much about this heady and romantic city.

what to do

Seeing and being seen is the order of the day for Sevillanos - which for a short-stay visitor means watching the city's population preen and primp itself. Seville's nightlife revolves not around discos but bars, like the famous sawdust-strewn Bodega de Juan Garcia Aviles on Calle Mateus, a drinking hole of Tardis-like dimensions where drinking anything but manzanilla (a sherry-like aperitif) is frowned upon and where - less appealing - the only toilet is for the hombres. The warren of streets around the cathedral in the barrio Santa Cruz teems with such establishments. A good rule of thumb is: if it has no name, it's more likely to be the genuine article. Seville invented tapas, and snacking on caracoles (snails), cola de toro (bull's tail) and puntillitas fritas (fried baby squid) remains the best way to eat.

a bit of rough

Should Seville's elegance and opulence become too much, repair for an afternoon to Triana, the city's "ugly sister". Think of Carmen once again: this rundown working-class suburb is the spiritual home of bull-fighters, flamenco dancers and gypsies, a darkly atmospheric place of tarnished monuments to matadors and single-room restaurants (freiduras) that serve treacly red La Mancha wine and tangy seafood. Calle Betis, the only street in this barrio with any claims to poshness, offers the city's finest view, across the River Guadalquivir to Seville's most famous landmarks, the Moorish Giralda bell tower, the imposing cathedral and the Maestranza bull ring. Also on the Triana side of the river is the Expo '92 exhibition ground. This vast trade and cultural fair (which Sevillanos still go on about in hushed tones, as though they'd hosted the Olympics) finally put Seville on the international map. All that remains now, however, are the pavilions, eery monuments to a city over-reaching itself. That said, the site retains a certain atmosphere and white-elephantine charm.

can't go next weekend?

Never mind. Seville's great secular festival, the Feria de Abril (23- 28 April), follows hard upon the heels of its religious counterpart. A tented village on the Triana side of the river is given over to drinking, dancing and eating churros, the fluffy hot doughnuts that help revellers keep their energy levels high throughout the night. At midnight, a flood of Sevillanos dressed to kill washes across the bridge to the fairground; at dawn, they trickle back, often befuddled, usually bedraggled but invariably content. For four hours in the afternoon, Andalucia's high society - never afraid to risk appearing vain - parades around the fairground on horseback or in carriages, dressed to the nines (in the fashion of the 19th century) and sipping sherry, before watching the year's most important bullfights.

how to get there

You can fly to Seville direct on Iberia (0171-830 0011), but the grandest way to arrive is to fly to Madrid (British Airways offer a fare for pounds 104, including taxes), and then take the AVE, a high-speed rail link which elegantly refutes any outmoded ideas of Spanish inefficiency. Many operators offer packages to Seville, such as Time Off (0171-235 8070). For information contact the Spanish National Tourist Office, 57 St James's St, London SW1A 1LD ( 0171-499 0901).

ADRIAN TURPIN

Next week in the Sunday Review: On Seville's Way Of The Cross

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

    £15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

    £12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence