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"Seville," wrote Byron, "is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women." And for its heat, he might perhaps have added, since SEVILLA 's summers are intense and start early, in May. But the spirit, for all its nineteenth-century chauvinism, is about right. Sevilla has three important monuments and an illustrious history, but what it's essentially famous for is its own living self - the greatest city of the Spanish south, of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro, and the archetype of Andalucian promise. This reputation for gaiety and brilliance, for theatricality and intensity of life, does seem deserved. It's expressed on a phenomenally grand scale at the city's two great festivals - Semana Santa (in the week before Easter) and the Feria de Abril (which starts two weeks after Easter Sunday and lasts a week). Either is worth considerable effort to get to. Sevilla is also Spain's second most important centre for bullfighting , after Madrid.

Despite its elegance and charm, and its wealth, based on food processing, shipbuilding, construction and a thriving tourist industry, Sevilla lies at the centre of a depressed agricultural area and has an unemployment rate of nearly forty percent - one of the highest in Spain. The total refurbishment of the infrastructure boosted by the 1992 Expo - including impressive new roads, seven bridges, a high-speed rail link and a revamped airport - was intended to regenerate the city's (and the region's) economic fortunes but has hardly turned out to be the catalyst for growth and prosperity promised at the time. Indeed, some of the colossal debts are still unpaid a decade later.

Meantime, petty crime is a big problem, and the motive for stealing is usually cash to feed drug addiction. Bag-snatching is common (often Italian-style, from passing motos ), as is breaking into cars. There's even a special breed called semaforazos who break the windows of cars stopped at traffic lights and grab what they can. Be careful, but don't be put off. Despite a worrying rise in the number of muggings in recent years, when compared with cities of similar size in northern Europe, violent crime is still relatively rare.

Sevilla's most famous present-day native son is the former prime minister, Felipe González , who led the Socialist administration that governed Spain for fourteen years until his defeat in 1996. Another, more bizarre Sevillano is one Gregorio XVII , who calls himself the true pope; in defiance of his excommunication by the Vatican, "Pope Greg" is leader of a large ultra-reactionary order which has made the dead Franco a saint and has built an extensive new "Vatican" in the countryside to the south of the city.


Also See:
• Eating And Drinking
• Nightlife
• Moorish Sevilla
• Arrival, Orientation And Information
• Semana Santa And The Feria De Abril
• Best Of
• Listings
• Explore Sevilla

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