Chris Beard ’10 – Apart from the lively festivities and fascinating tourist spots, the most enjoyable part of my stay in Sevilla has been seeing how the history and geography of the region have affected the people and culture here so much. Though of course we in America are shaped by these things, it didn’t really hit me until I became immersed in the Andalusian atmosphere of the city, and started to learn about it from the Sevillanos themselves.
As my art history professor explained it, many of the people here still identify the city with its golden age, though it declined about half way through the 17th century (more than a 100 years before our country’s founding!). The city became really wealthy during those times and was considered a world capital—this brought them to start a ‘holier than thou’ competition with Toledo, building what is still to this day the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and really going over the top with their Holy Week. Even the city’s symbol is a source of pride, which refers to an event long ago when Sevilla was the only city to remain loyal to King Alfonso X after a coup.
But even though the city’s former stature was destroyed in a plague more than 350 years ago, you can still see the pride that the people have of the golden years. My host brother for example, though not very religious, walked around barefoot in a procession for 14 hours straight this year at Holy Week, carrying about 80 pounds worth of a Jesus statue on his shoulders. While many people in Spain are Catholic, and many cities also carry out celebrations during Holy Week, my family has explained that Sevilla is famous for its Holy Week because of how the city fills the streets in procession for the whole week and shut down schools and business in honor of the traditions that go back the years of Sevilla’s world prestige.
The city’s pride comes out again a few weeks after Holy Week, during the Feria de abril. This is like a week long fair where the whole city dresses up in traditional clothing and heads to the fair grounds, dancing the ‘Sevillanas’ while eating and drinking all day until about 7 in the morning—every single day. During this week, the city puts on its best in an event that brings widespread attention to the pride of the Sevillanos.
But the history only explains half of what makes the people here so unique. The weather and location also contribute an awful lot to the way they interact. Sevilla is in the south of Spain, and is the first part of Europe to get the warm air of the Pacific. Today was a cloudless 93 degrees, and I haven’t felt it get below 50 since I arrived in January; this great weather seems to be the other explanation for why people here are so uniquely outgoing, according to friends who compare the atmosphere to that of other places in Spain and Europe.
But I had a hint that I was about to be immersed in this warm sea of charisma even before I got off the bus to Sevilla and experienced the weather. On the way here, I struck up a conversation with a really friendly college graduate from the city that ended up giving me directions on where to go, and left me with her contact information in case I ever needed any help or advice getting around the city.
A few days later, on my way to meet a friend at a place I’d never been to, I got directions from a woman who was heading in the same directions. After explaining where to go, she immediately said, "Hey, you’re not from around here! Where’d you come from?" I’ve been ambushed plenty of other times by the friendliness of the people here, and have been invited to gatherings and birthday parties, simply for being the friend of a friend of a friend. I think my host mom summed it up best when she was telling me not to worry about getting off on the wrong stop on the bus for my first day of classes. "Someone will tell you where to get off," she said. "In Sevilla, everyone takes care of everyone."
I’ve enjoyed the small details of living abroad in Sevilla too. Jamón curado and sopa de lenteja are definitely two of my favorite foods I’ve ever tried. I’m going to miss watching Barcelona crush whichever unfortunate team it has to play every weekend, and the annoyingly dubbed American movies, and doing pescadito until the actual party starts sometime after 1 am. But the great part of this experience has been seeing how the beautiful year-round weather and the rich history have defined the people of Sevilla to this day. The city may not be what it was a few hundred years ago. But the memory of its history still resides in the people, who continue to remember it with their daily customs and traditions.