The Feria of Córdoba is arguably THE most important event in the calendar of this city and as it is literally and figuratively such a colourful occasion laden with history and tradition, I will warn you now this is a long but hopefully interesting post with plenty of pictures and information!
What is the Feria?
Feria simply means fair and it does indeed have many fairground attraction rides but it is also a fair in the traditional sense (like the old English ‘fayre’) of a coming together of the local community in order to celebrate their culture and the arrival of (usually) good spring weather.
Winters in Córdoba can be surprisingly cold and the summers are famously scorching hot; in fact it is the hottest city in all of Europe. This means that spring is particularly welcomed and celebrated by the people as it brings only a few weeks of ideal temperature before the firing kiln takes over.
“No matter how foreign you may appear, once you have these glad-rags on you feel transformed, like a tarot-reading gypsy girl from a rural village in the 1800s…”
The food sold at these stalls is usually of the convenience variety, which has its uses, I’m not going to lie; when you want to eat something quickly and cheaply to be able to get straight back to dancing it serves its purpose. However, food at the feria generally has a bad reputation as poor quality and over-priced unless you dine properly sitting down in one of the more gastronomically themed casetas. I admit though, I have often been tempted by those slices of fresh coconut that they sell on these markets, constantly sprayed by a water sprinkler which on the oppressively hot days, must be the most refreshing thing you could consume.
The feria is watched over by its gigantic portada which is essentially a gateway/arch which is illuminated on the opening night, accompanied by fireworks at midnight.
How did it start? What are the origins of this festival?
The feria was introduced by the King Don Sancho IV in 1284 to be held annually, aligned with the Catholic church and the period of Lent. Around 200 years ago, in 1803, the feria moved from the Puerta de Sevilla to the Paseo de la Victoria, a long palm tree-lined avenue which is now home to ‘Mercado Victoria’ (I will definitely be writing a blog post on this venue soon!). It was held here every year for two centuries until it moved over to its current site, the Recinto El Arenal in 1994.
In its earlier incarnation, the feria was a much more simple trading event of horses, bulls and other livestock. Entertainment would have taken the form of flamenco and sevillanas dancing which of course originated in gypsy communities in the countryside of Andalucía. Have a look at my article on where to find the best flamenco in Córdoba HERE.
So what’s with the costumes?
Moda Flamenca. This means flamenco fashion but in no way is it restricted solely to flamenco dancers. Each year, local fashion designers who specialise in these intricate, ornate and tightly structured dresses showcase the year’s trends on catwalks, keeping what is an old fashioned concept very much in the modern world.
You only have to walk a few minutes around most Andalucían towns and cities and you’ll have seen the numerous shops decked out with these elaborate gowns draped over mannequins, often with the accompanying complementos (accessories).
For a girl like myself who has always adored dressing up, browsing the rails in these shops or even drooling over the window displays is the stuff of material dreams. It’s not just the dresses; it’s the hair flowers, large chandelier-esque earrings, wedge espadrilles, beaded necklaces and bracelets, tasselled shawls and hand-painted folding fans. No matter how foreign you may appear, once you have these glad-rags on you feel transformed, like a tarot-reading gypsy girl from a rural village in the 1800s.
I own one of these get-ups myself and as I’ve now worn it to three consecutive ferias, I sometimes feel like Marge Simpson in that episode where she becomes a member of a Country Club and has to keep restructuring her one Chanel dress she found in a thrift store to keep appearing anew each time. This isn’t actually the case though with a traje de gitana (gypsy dress) as many Andalucían women splash out a considerable amount of money on one and ensure it is immediately dry cleaned after wear and stored away safely until the next year, repeated year after year. Shoes WILL get ruined due to the yellowy-orange sand on the floor so it’s wise to keep one pair strictly for feria wear only.
Last year, I was on the receiving end of some snarkey comments from a fellow foreigner- a German man- who felt it necessary to badger me on why I was wearing Andalucían costume as an Englishwoman. This, might I add, was after I had rejected his advances several times so he resorted to that age old tactic of insulting me… I decided to turn the experience into something progressive so I wrote an article for Pink Pangea which you can have a read of here:
There is also another style of traditional costume for women at the feria and that is the traje de córdobesa (Córdoba girl’s outfit) which appears rather equestrian due to its connection to those who are affiliated to horse riding. A colleague of mine lent me hers last year which I loved however I was ROASTING in it and decided to leave the hat at home which I LOVED because I didn’t want to risk losing it:
Men tend to go to the feria in smart casual wear; very few attend in traditional costume with the exception of those who ride their horses there. This suit is known as a traje de corto (cut suit) and the only photo I have is not too clear but here it is:
What are the ‘casetas’ you’ve mentioned?
Caseta does not really have a functioning translation. The translator will suggest ‘stall’ but they are much more than this. Imagine half way between a giant and very stable marquee and a mini house.
I counted on the official feria app that there were 101 casetas this year.
It can be a bit overwhelming in your first visit as the site is vast and is divided into temporary streets- the street posts are vital in orienting yourself. Getting lost at the feria is a highly recognised dilemma and there are even memes dedicated to it!
Unlike the Feria de Abril in Seville, all of the casetas at Córdoba’s feria are free to enter and there is no sense of exclusivity. People mill in and out of them by the minute; I certainly do as I’m the type of person who has to change radio station in the car if I don’t like the current song that’s playing!
The typical drink at the feria, although they sell pretty much all drinks, is the rebujito. This sounds foul I’ll admit- dry white sherry topped up with 7Up and ice. It is served in a large plastic jug for around 5 euros and comes with various thimble sized cups with the intention to share with friends. I’m not a massive fan, I can’t say I’d crave it away from the feria but it is refreshing in the heat and I like the communal aspect of the drink as everyone shares and passes it around.
This word doesn’t have a translation that works; literally it would be ‘the big bottle’. What it refers to is something my sister, friends and I called ‘street drinking’ when we were teens. This activity is participated in mainly by teenagers and university students who do not want to pay the feria prices. I think some young adults also like to partake just for reminiscence or the atmosphere… there are approximately 8000 people gathered at the feria botellón on a typical weekend day.
The problem with it is the mass litter the following day which is sorted out via gruelling work by the employees of SADECO (the council’s sanitary department).
What’s the party like?
Imagine all the stereotypes of a Spanish fiesta and you’re already halfway there.
The dominating genre of music nowadays is the dubious reggaeton, which I’ve noticed is making its way into the UK and beyond due to the success of songs such as ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi et al. These songs are catchy enough but so many are unimaginative clones of one another and all have the same bouncy but bland beat. I admit to dancing to these songs as they’re ideal for the feria but the lyrics of these songs really are so offensively sexist it is difficult to believe that they’re allowed without protest nowadays.
There are also classic Spanish songs from the 90s, 80s and beforehand along with a sprinkle of English-language songs either from the rock genre or cheesy genre (think AC/DC to the YMCA…) and sometimes the music can either strike right with me or leave me dying to plug my iPhone into the speakers. That’s selfish I know, when I was a really young child I used to dream of being a DJ just so I could manage the playlists at parties!
All of a sudden, the mood will change with the thundering opening beats of a sevillana song when everyone changes posture and prepares themselves for the primer paso of the sevillanas routine. There are four in total, of which I only really know the first and maybe a bit of the second. There is room for improvisation due to the dancefloors being so packed and nobody really noticing so as long as you go with the vibe and a bit of knowledge of the steps you’ll be fine. I would like to master it one year though so I can do it with full gusto!
Los Brazaletes Morados
Like everything in life, times move on and the people of Córdoba have reviewed circumstances and decided to take some measures to prevent and punish instances of sexual harrassment at the feria, in verbal or physical form.
This is a sad and unfortunate yet true part of many large communal festivals, that some men think it is acceptable to pester women, leer at them, reach out and grope them or at times even worse.. this is of course NOT specific to the feria of Córdoba but as this type of behaviour can potentially happen in any large gathering, actions have been taken to deter this and give women a channel for alerting those who can help, should it happen.
In 2017, an organisation called ‘Café Feminista Córdoba’ rolled out an initiative called the ‘Brazaletes Morados’ conducted by members and volunteers, aided by some participating casetas such as ‘ASPA’, ‘El Rincón Cubano’ and ‘Círculo Juan XIII’.
The idea is, they can be identified by wearing a purple sash around their arms as they move around the feria so a woman experiencing some form of verbal harrassment or physical abuse can reach out and report it to them and receive immediate support. It was a success last year so was rolled out again this year with more volunteers.
This, to me, is an excellent idea and I think all festivals would benefit greatly from an initiative such as this, to allow women to feel much freer and safer as hopefully the knowledge that there are people watching will deter potential abusers from their deeds.
So, there we have it. A round-up of all I know and have experienced of the Feria of Córdoba and I hope I have managed to convey a little bit of its magic and why it holds such an allure for the people of this city.
Should you ever be passing through Andalucía at the end of May, be sure to put this high up on your list as it is free to enter, public and possibly one of the closest and most authentic ways you can experience the culture here first hand and by locals. My boyfriend reckons he has attended the feria every year of his life as he can’t recall missing a single one; it is an almost sacred tradition to the people here and is not just about drinking and partying but about celebrating the unique things to both Córdobes and Andaluz culture.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Would you enjoy visiting an event such as this one?
Is there anything else you would like to know about it?