Seville is Andalucía encapsulated. Proud men in black sombreros, passionate flamenco dancers, hooded penitents following a candlelit statue of the Virgin, a matador unfurling his scarlet cape…they're all here – Spanish archetypes come to life.
What better way to experience Seville at its dramatic best than to partake in one of its famous festivals? Here are some of the best on offer.
The passion and theatre of life in Seville reaches its pinnacle with the spectacular Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations.
Every day between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, large, richly bedecked images and life-size tableaux of scenes from the Easter story are carried from Seville's churches through the streets to its cathedral. They're accompanied by long processions, which may take more than an hour to pass, and are watched by vast crowds.
Programmes showing each procession's schedule and route are widely available. El País newspaper publishes a daily route leaflet and ABC newspaper prints maps showing the churches, recommended viewing spots and other details. Semana-Santa.org is a Spanish-language website devoted to Seville's Holy Week in all its colourful grandeur.
Feria de Abril
The April Fair, held in the second half of the month (sometimes edging into May), is the jolly counterpart to the sombre Semana Santa. The biggest and most colourful of all Andalucía's ferias is less invasive (and also less inclusive) than the Easter celebration, and takes place on a special site, El Real de la Feria, in the Los Remedios area west of the Guadalquivir. The ceremonial lighting-up of the fairgrounds on the opening Monday night is the starting gun for six nights of sevillanos' favourite activities: eating, drinking, dressing up and dancing till dawn.
Bienal de Flamenco
Spain’s biggest flamenco festival, the Bienal de Flamenco, is staged for a month in September of even-numbered years, and brings together the best of classical and experimental music and dance.
An important early-morning procession of the Custodia de Juan de Arfe, along with accompanying images and effigies from the cathedral. This devoutly religious event is celebrated with typical sevillano panache – the streets and houses of the city are bedecked with flowers for the occasion, and young boys dressed in ceremonial red and gold perform a traditional dance. Will be held on 3 June 2010, 23 June 2011, and 7 June 2012.
If you’re not in Seville for Semana Santa, you can see what it’s about from some of the churches housing the famous images. The Basílica de La Macarena and the Basílica de Jesús del Gran Poder are both north of the centre. The Iglesia de la Magdalena is a few streets south of the Museo de Bellas Artes.
Want a bit of that Seville sizzle for yourself? Get Lonely Planet's latest Spain guide and go check it out for real!
This article was refreshed in June 2012