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The April Seville Fair (Feria de Abril de Sevilla)

Seville's April Fair ranks as one of Spain's top tourist attractions and it's an absolute must for anyone wanting to savour all things Spanish in one fell swoop. The fair of Seville brings together a heady mixture of the country's best bullfighters, expert equestrian riders, the most flamboyant flamenco dancers and the 'ordinary' people of Seville who know how to throw one of the world's greatest parties.

An event which started as a humble cattle market is now an annual extravaganza attracting around one million visitors from all over Spain and far flung corners of the globe. It's a riot of colour, noise, music, dancing and round-the-clock partying.

First time visitors to Spain who cross the French border by road are often disappointed to find that the magical land of myth, legend and Moorish influence is nowhere to be seen. There are no dusky maidens in polka dot flamenco dresses dancing in the streets, no proud horsemen strutting their stuff on magnificent Arab stallions and no strolling minstrels filling the air with soulful songs of centuries past. But come to Seville's Feria de Abril and you'll find all this and much, much more.

How the Fair of Seville started

One of Spain's most famous fiestas began in 1847 when Queen Isabella II granted permission for an agricultural fair to be held in the city. Breeders and farmers erected temporary shelters which they used as a base while they were showing off their livestock and the local Sevillanos seized their chance to sing and dance in the streets at the same time (as the Spanish tend to do given the slightest excuse).

These days the fairground is like an entire town consisting of more than 1,000 colourful marquees (called casetas) adorned with thousands of paper lanterns. More multi-coloured lanterns line the streets and light up the spectacular gateway to the fair which officially opens each year at midnight, usually two weeks after Easter week.

The casetas are the focal point of the fair and it's important for foreigners to understand that the vast majority of them are private and entry is by invitation only. They're set up by local families, clubs, societies and businesses and each one treats its invited guests to a week-long party with a plentiful supply of food, drink and 24-hour merrymaking. It's common for the locals to 'caseta hop' from one tent to another and the hospitality of the Sevillanos is such that, even as a foreigner, you're highly likely to be invited in for a glass of sherry, a few tapas or whatever entertainment happens to be on offer at the time.

There's plenty to see and do even if you don't receive a coveted invitation into a private caseta. There are several public casetas, run by various local municipal bodies, and throughout the week there's a packed programme of events including bull fights, processions, fireworks and equestrian displays.

Just walking the streets of this fantastical fairground is an experience in itself. The place is awash with haughtily beautiful Andalucian women sporting extravagant traditional costumes and elaborate hair jewellery. Their small daughters are garbed in equally impressive fashion and the men look magnificent in their traditional short-cropped jackets and wide-brimmed 'Cordobes' hats.

The daily parades of hundreds of flower-decked horse drawn carriages are a highlight of the fair for many visitors. But most youngsters are more interested in making a beeline for Calle del Infierno (Street of Hell) which offers everything form innocuous merry-go-rounds to stomach churning rides.

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