SAINTS AND SINNERS
Sevilla, like a seductive witch, weaves potent magic and casts a spell over those who wisely choose to surrender to it.
According to the legend, the city was founded over 3,000 years ago by Hercules – the same Hercules who is said to have created the Mediterranean Sea by splitting a mountain in half and letting the waters of the Atlantic to rush in through the Straits of Gibraltar. A colourful succession of different cultures occupied Sevilla since then: Tartessos, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Vikings, Moors and, finally, the Castilians. Each has left an imprint, but none more so than the Moors who ruled the city from 711 AD to 1248, transforming Sevilla into a glittering showpiece of flourishing Arab culture. Their exotic heritage is clearly in evidence to this day: the maze-like plan of Barrio Santa Cruz, narrow alleys where white-washed houses nearly touch across, lush patios decorated with ceramic tiles and trickling fountains that could be perfectly at home in Fez or Marrakesh. However, Sevilla’s true golden era came after the Christian re-conquest and the subsequent expulsion of the Moors and the Jews in the 16th century. It became a point of departure for the great voyages of discovery and the city was granted monopoly of all trade with the New World; the influx of the American wealth, particularly gold, converted Sevilla into a thriving metropolis, arguably the world’s richest at the time. But the gold wasn’t to last forever. Sevilla embarked on a slow process of decay in the 17th century, as if it were put to sleep. Refusing to accept defeat, its citizens plunged cheerfully into a whirlpool of fiestas and ceremonial rituals, celebrating beauty and passion with a splendour that has become synonymous with this city of superlatives and exaggerated gesture… and, as far as gestures go, La Semana Santa and La Feria have no equal.
La Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is celebrated all over the Mediterranean, but nowhere quite as fervently than in Sevilla. There are 57 large processions of hooded penitents criss-crossing the town, each carrying elaborately decorated floats of Christ and the Virgin; every little detail is meticulously orchestrated. It looks very much like a religious ritual, yet it’s a little more interesting than that – most spectators are visibly touched by the experience, but it’s not necessarily religion that stirs their emotions. It’s the incredible beauty and the perfection of it all… an aesthetic impact so deep that it simply leaves you breathless, agape with awe. And then, only 14 days after the solemn rite of the Holy Week, just when you thought that the place had a tragic disposition, Sevilla hurls itself into La Feria, a week of splendid debauchery, a wild orgy of non-stop singing, dancing, drinking and bonding… La Feria is a heady concoction of everything that makes Andalusia so attractive: zest for life, irrepressible energy, lots of laughter and, quite simply, one hell of a good time!