This series has been realised for the Italian newspaper Eco Internazionale
Below is the article translated into English
The Feria De Abril, one of Spain’s biggest and most famous festivals that takes place every year in Seville, has just ended. This festival is a celebration of spring, music, food and wine and Andalusian culture that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year.
The history of the Feria de Abril dates back to 1846, when two councillors of the City of Seville decided to organise an agricultural fair to promote the local economy. The original fair was held in the area of Prado de San Sebastian, near the historical centre of Seville, and was a great success from the start. The history of the Feria began in 1846, when José Maria Ybarra, a Basque businessman, and Narciso Bonaplata, a Catalan banker, organised a cattle fair in Seville. The fair was a great success and became an annual event that reaches the present day. The Feria de Abril has evolved over time, becoming a very important festival for the city and all of Andalusia. Initially, the fair was a commercial event, focusing on the sale of livestock and agricultural products.
In the 19th century, Spain was moving from the feudal system to a market economy based on industry and trade, and Seville’s livestock fair reflected this transformation by connecting the region’s farmers and traders with national and international markets.
Industrialisation was transforming cities, creating new social classes and new lifestyles. The Feria de Abril was a time of celebration and reunion for the different communities and an opportunity to express the cultural and social identity of Andalusia.
In the following years, the fair became bigger and more popular. People began to flock from all over Spain to participate and the Feria began to include events such as bullfights, flamenco shows, concerts and night parties.
One of the most important moments of the Feria de Abril is the inaugural parade, which takes place on Monday evening, in which a large parade of carriages, horses and people in traditional Andalusian costumes passes through the streets of Seville. The parade culminates with the official lighting of the Feria, which is always a spectacular event. During the following days, the Feria is an explosion of colours, sounds and flavours. Visitors can enjoy traditional Andalusian cuisine, dance to the rhythm of flamenco, take part in bullfights and other cultural events, and have fun in the fairground rides and games.
The traditional dress of Andalusian women
Known as the ‘traje de flamenca’, it is one of the most recognisable symbols of Spanish culture and, in particular, of the region of Andalusia. This elegant and lively dress was worn by Andalusian women and has a very special history and meaning.
The origin of the traje de flamenca dates back to the 18th century when the women of Andalusia began to wear body-hugging dresses with wide skirts and flounces. This type of dress was inspired by the French fashion of the time but was adapted to the demands of the climate and daily activities of Andalusian life. The origin of this dress is humble as it was the dress worn by working women and those who participated in the old cattle fairs during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This flounced dress was very comfortable and cool, which made it perfect for work.
Women were in the habit of adding ruffles, embroidery and colours to the dress, which did not go unnoticed by the high society ladies of the time. So many of them started making costumes with these elements, especially in 1847, when the dress began to become popular. In that year, on the occasion of the Feria de Abril many women, especially of gypsy ethnicity, accompanied their husbands and wore these particular dresses to show off at the event.
What began as a cattle fair turned, in time, into a festive and leisurely gathering, and those ruffled, polka-dotted and embroidered dresses became an object of attraction for high society ladies. Over time, the traditional Andalusian dress has undergone many modifications and adaptations but has always retained its distinctive form. The dress is still an important element of daily life and celebrations in the region, worn by women during festivals and celebrations, such as the Feria de Abril in Seville and the Feria de Agosto in Malaga. The dress is made of light and colourful fabrics, such as cotton, silk and linen, and is decorated with floral motifs, polka dots and stripes.
The connection between gipsy culture and Seville has ancient roots
The Gipsy community arrived in Spain in the 15th century, and its settlement in the region of Andalusia dates back to the 16th century. The Rom and Sinti, as members of the Gipsy community are also called, settled in different parts of Andalusia, including Seville, where they took part in the life of the city. The gipsy culture thus had a significant impact on the city’s culture, particularly its music, dance and crafts. Gipsy music and dance are very present in Seville and are an integral part of the local culture. The city has a strong tradition of flamenco, a musical and dance genre that has its roots in gipsy culture and has become a symbol of Andalusian culture, but despite the strong presence of gipsy culture, the community has often suffered discrimination and prejudice. During the Franco fascist regime, for example, gipsy culture was repressed and the gipsy community were subjected to discrimination and persecution. Today, the city of Seville is trying to promote greater understanding and respect for gipsy culture through initiatives such as promoting cultural tourism and organising events and festivals that celebrate gipsy culture and its influence on the city. The Feria de Abril is an example of this, as it provides an opportunity to celebrate Andalusian culture, including gipsy culture, and to promote greater understanding and respect for all communities present in the festival.
The origin of the casetas
Casetas are tents or small wooden structures that are set up during Seville’s Feria de Abril and other Andalusian fiestas. These casetas serve as a meeting point for families, friends and social groups, where people eat, drink and dance during the festivities. The origin of the casetas dates back to the late 19th century when the first aristocratic families of Seville began to set up their tents during the Feria de Abril. The casetas are only reserved for the wealthiest families, as one must be a member to gain access. To be a member costs between 600 and 12,000 euros. Although they are private places, there are also public casetas available to non-members and tourists set up by the municipality and the various barrios (neighbourhoods). The casetas generally include a bar, a kitchen and a dance floor. With more than 1,000 casetas being set up each year, only fifteen are open to the public. The casetas are decorated with flowers, curtains, chandeliers and other decorations. The name of the caseta may be a reference to the family that owns it, a geographical location, a historical event or a famous person (usually a torero). The casetas have become an essential element of the Feria de Abril, and represent one of the pillars of Andalusian culture and the social tradition of the Seville community.
Animal mistreatment and police abuse
The Feria has been held for 177 years. The national and international public gathers for a week in a large enclosure called Real de la Feria, to learn about the traditions of this fiesta: the manzanilla kit, flamenco dresses, the sevillana dance, fried fish, rebujito, bullfighting, carriage rides and horse and mare rides. Although the most well-known animal violence is that experienced by the bulls in the bullfight, horses are used to transport participants through the streets of the city and are forced to work long hours without rest or water under a blazing sun. This year three equines died in three different circumstances. In addition, some horse owners try to ‘improve’ the appearance of the animals by using torture instruments such as ‘rabbit ears’. This is a cruel practice that is used to improve the appearance of horses’ ears during the Feria de Abril in Seville and other festivals in Spain. This practice consists of immobilising the horse’s ears in a vertical position by folding them in on themselves and then locking them in this position with an elastic device or tape.
This technique is used to give the horse a ‘noble’ appearance during the parade; this practice is painful for the animals, as horses’ ears are a delicate and sensitive part essential for their perception of their surroundings. Furthermore, the use of ‘rabbit ears’ can cause permanent damage including injury to nerves and cartilage. For this reason, many animal rights organisations condemn this practice as an example of animal mistreatment and call for its ban. In Spain, the use of ‘rabbit ears’ on horses has been banned during some equestrian events but is still allowed during the Feria de Abril in Seville and in some other festivals.
The suffocating presence of the police
Due to the large turnout, the Policia Nacional is deployed and employed to “maintain law and order”. It is not unusual to read about excess and abuse from the police on this occasion. Every year, in fact, a number of people end the night in the hospital.