Tag Archives: Seville

Occult Spain

I was woken by a text from a Spanish friend: “If you want to see something ‘tipico’ of Sevilla, go to Plaza del Salvador in one hour, and take your camera”.  It was only 8.20, and after a late night, I was tempted to ignore it and stay in bed.  I’m very glad I wrestled that urge to the ground and got my lazy ass to the centre… On the way, I saw hints that something was going on – women in traditional bright-coloured long, flouncy-bottomed dresses and men in breeches with dashing black hats hurrying through the streets.

Gypsy caravans in front of the Alcázar

By the time I reached Plaza del Salvador, there were men with industrial hoses cleaning up whatever had been… (I didn’t move that fast – a girl needs breakfast!).  However, I followed the crowd round the next corner to be treated to an amazing sight.  A procession of gypsy type caravans – or wild west wagons – made with pretty, frilly fabrics which could have come from Laura Ashley or Cath Kidston.  These very colourful wagons were pulled by oxen (hence the following hoses..).  Ahead of the wagons, men and women in the traditional dress rode horses – the men with hand on hip, proud and erect, the women riding side-saddle (they have little option in those dresses…).


This is the annual pilgrimage of El Rocio – half party, half religious festival linked to Pentecost – when hundreds of thousands of ‘pilgrims’ spend up to 4 days travelling to a small town in Huelva Province, carrying several hundredweight of church silver with them, to pay homage to a statue of the Virgin Mary.  I saw the beginning of the pilgrimage from Seville’s churches, but they go from towns all over Andalucia and far beyond.

In Seville, many women observing the procession had taken the opportunity to bring out their own flamenco type dresses – you can’t blame them, they cost a fortune and otherwise only come out once a year at Feria (the annual Fair).  This created some strange sights – with women dressed like Carmen Miranda pushing prams and queuing at the Tabac kiosks.  Many looked beautiful, but others didn’t let middle-age spread and sag put them off squeezing into the figure-hugging candy wrappers…

After El Rocio had gone on its way, I went to see a photo exhibition about ‘Occult Spain’ (España Oculta), which they translate as ‘hidden Spain’ – but the implication for English speakers of something darker, is somewhat appropriate…

Would you risk it? Photograph by Cristina García Rodero

The photos, taken in the 1970s and 80s by Cristina García Rodero, depict centuries old traditions, superstitions and ceremonies, which are faithfully followed year after year to the current day.  In a world where so much else is changing and traditions being lost, this is impressive.  The photographs range from the picturesque (El Rocio being one example), to the grotesque: including one in which people are ‘playing’ at being crucified and another in which a child’s coffin – with a child in it – sits at the side of a road (I think the child was pretending to be dead, but no idea why…).  In one part of the country, they gather all of the babies born that year onto a mattress on the ground, and a guy who looks like Rasputin jumps over them! It’s frustrating that the photos aren’t accompanied by an explanation of these extraordinary events.

This is all so far from the Costas, the real heart and soul of Spain – so interesting, quirky, heartfelt and passionate.  Maybe the old traditions have survived so well here due to the insularity of the natives – young friends in Seville tell me that many Sevillans have never been outside of the Province, let alone the country.  Their view (despite not having travelled) is: “We live in the most beautiful city in the world, why would we want to go anywhere else?”.  Well, I’ve travelled to nearly 40 countries and lived in several – and I agree with their judgement.

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Carmona – historic town

Chicas, you will be proud of me – with ‘The Spaniard’ away in Madrid on some pretext or other, I determined to have a very cultural weekend in his absence.  It started on Friday afternoon when my lovely friend Miguel kindly took me to visit Carmona.

All the streets in Carmona are beautiful

Carmona is a small and ancient town about 30km outside of Seville and I highly recommend a visit there.  It’s one of those places that is so full of history, beautiful buildings and local colour that you want to photograph absolutely everything you see (which I pretty much did!).  Like Seville, you can see evidence of all of the stages of Carmona’s history, with its power battles and changes of rulers and culture, in the impressive buildings that remain.  The main city gate, dating from the 9thcentury, has remnants of wave after wave of settlers: Eastern Mediterranean, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors and finally Christians.

Ancient city gate 'Puerta de Sevilla'

The Alcazar (fortress palace) which majestically dominates the highest point in Carmona, was originally built by Muslim rulers in the 11th century, but later taken over and redeveloped by Christian King Pedro ‘The Cruel’ (he sounds an interesting type…).   This magnificent building is now a very swishy Parador (state owned hotel), where it is almost impossible to get a booking as it’s permanently full.

The palace fortress (Alcazar) now a hotel

However, they do let ordinary folk like you and me come in to have a drink on the terrace balcony, with fabulous views over the vega – which Miguel and I took full advantage of.  Miguel had just had his family lunch (it was 6pm for Pedro’s sake!), but I was ready for a tapa too.  He chuckled indulgently when I said I would have a beer, implying that it was a bit early – our Spanish friends really are on a different time schedule to us Brits!

Enjoying the view from the Alcazar balcony

The historical power changes are just as visible in the religious buildings.  At the church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion, for example, a 15thcentury Gothic building full of the gold and silver treasures and ornamentation of a Catholic church, the orange tree patio of a mosque remains, where Muslims would perform their ablutions before praying.

Muslim courtyard and Christian bell tower

Within this courtyard is the last remaining evidence of the Visigoth temple which existed before the mosque, in what I am reliably told, is one of their calendars.  I know you’ll be imagining some colourful pictures of Visigothic children at play, with days of the month neatly set out underneath, but no, this was a white pillar with some messy carving on it.

Visigoth Calendar

OK, on Saturday I just lounged around in a lazy manner, but on Sunday the cultural theme continued when I went to the Book Fair (Feria del Libro) with my new friend and published poet, Lola Crespo (not to be confused with the British Lola implicated in my first blog post – in fact I’m going to change her pseudonym to Krissie, to avoid confusion…).  Spanish Lola (her real name, she is a respectable person who needs no protection!) was doing a book signing at one of the stands.

Lola signing her book 'Gramatica Malva'

Afterwards, she took me to a remarkable performance by a poet called Fernando Mansilla. Even though I couldn’t understand all of it, the rhythm and music of the words and his very deep gravelly voice, were amazing.  He did some of the poems to the accompaniment of music.

The guy on the double bass (see below) was just back-up, but I thought he was fit and you deserved a treat after the history lesson…

Hasta pronto chicas! x

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