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A Homage To Sevilla
Stuart Macdonald

When tourists head for southern Spain, with its glorious sunshine and throbbing heat, they are generally undertaking a desperate escape from the more arctic climes of northern Europe. They flock eagerly to the coast from one of the numerous airports in Andalucia; hurling themselves onto packed beaches and plopping like so many lemmings, into the sea. Such a shame for them that in their haste, they have missed all the best parts.

One of the undisputed treasures of old Moorish Andalucia, is Sevilla - famous for its Oranges, Opera and the Olé of the Plaza De Toros (Bull Fighting ring). It seems a million miles from the horrors of the tacky nightclubs of the Costa del Sol, yet it is in reality only a short hop to the coast from this grand old town of Figaro and Flamenco.

It was with these thoughts foremost in our minds that my girlfriend and I set off from a wet and windy Glasgow, bound for sunny Seville. We had contrived to spend most of our time apart over the preceding few months and so hoped that the passionate romance of Sevilla would provide the perfect tonic for our Easter break.

April is a great month to be in Seville, as there are the twin delights of Semana Santa at the beginning, closely followed by Feria de Abril, which sees out the month in grand style. Semana Santa represents a pulsating celebration of Easter and is as much of a sacred tradition to the proud Andalucians, as the rather more barbaric pastime of Bullfighting. It seems as though the entire city grinds to a halt at this time, with people instead lining the streets and spilling out from every cafÈ for a whole week. Would that our government had such enlightened social views.

Our arrival at Seville's main bus station, Prado de San Sebastian, unfortunately coincided with not only the hottest part of a scorching day, but also with one of the larger series of processions. It had seemed a splendid idea at the time of booking our accommodation, to be situated right in the heart of the buzzing Barrio Santa Cruz, however, this left the rather formidable hurdle of actually arriving there unscathed - backpacks and all.

Several bruised and unconscious bystanders later, my girlfriend and I had made it and were relaxing into the relative luxury of our double room in the Hostal Europa. Our meagre budget was being stretched to the limit for the three nights we had booked here, but for the ease of the location alone it was worth the £20 each per night. It should be noted however, that healthy doses of wine and tapas are undoubtedly the best defence against the relentless processions that snake their way noisily below your balcony, into the wee small hours.

The preparation involved for Semana Santa is mind-boggling, with the brotherhoods of the various churches (cofradias) working tirelessly for weeks beforehand, to decorate their traditional floats (pasos) and their elaborate images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, in the most flamboyant fashion. Then there are, in the case of Seville with its twisty-twiny old alleyways of the Barrio Santa Cruz, the miraculous grandstands which are erected and somehow wedged up against the unsteady looking houses as if lending them support.

The festivities run for the week leading up to Easter and culminate in a candle-lit dawn procession through the streets on Good Friday. Various traditional bands accompany the marching and it is considered a great honour to help bear one of the many ornate pasos on its tortuous route around the city. This was demonstrated when a scuffle for position broke out in front of our vantage point, amongst the white robed and hooded bearers, which nearly resulted in the toppling of the Virgin Mary into the River Guadalquivir. This rather abrupt fall from grace was thankfully averted, following the intervention of a higher power in the form of the local constabulary.

It is possible to plan your day around the numerous timetables which are published in the local press, however, we found it best to simply trust to luck and follow where the music seemed most lively. Often, this is outside one of the many churches whose pasos are either departing from or returning to their resting place, until next year. We frequently found ourselves swept along Calle Sierpes to Plaza Virgen de los Reynes, outside the magnificent gothic Cathedral, where almost all the troupes passed at some point or another. The grandstands which line most of the squares undoubtedly afford the best and most comfortable views, but it is pointless trying to find a seat as they are all reserved weeks in advance by local families, who cram themselves into them for the duration of Holy Week.

In amongst the thronging masses, there is a multitude of stalls selling rather expensive but fortifying tapas and warm red wine; though be warned that dehydration is a real possibility in the crowds, so drink plenty of water. The Spanish are wise to this and are able to party on until late in the night, long after their rather more foolish and sun-burnt Scottish visitors.

The North African Moors occupied much of Spain for several centuries, until they were finally beaten in 1492 by the jealous Christian armies. I say jealous, as the Moors had spent the intervening years steadily cultivating an advanced civilisation, boasting arguably the greatest and richest monuments to be found in all the Medieval world. Seville offers some of the best examples of this period, with the sprawling Alcazar Palace and the incredible Giralda minaret.

A more practical excuse for visiting these or any other of Seville's many attractions, is that they offer a welcome respite from the oven-like heat which prevails in this part of the world from early April until late September. The Siesta is the option favoured by the locals to beat the heat, whilst other less laid back individuals may find it prudent to seek shelter in one of the many cafes and bars dotted around the old town.
The Moors certainly knew what they were about, coveting this patch of land for as long as they could - it is a magical spot. We should all be thankful that the present-day inhabitants retain this sense of jealous pride, diverting all invading forces to the more banal and Anglofied attractions of the Costa del Sol. It would indeed be a tragedy of operatic proportions, were this jewel in the Andalucian crown to fall into the hands of those with so little time to enjoy its delights.

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Further background information is available from the Rough Guides website

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