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

PROMOTED VIDEO
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
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: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there