Scribbler in Seville

On the road to El Rocio

Gypsy wagon by the cathedral, from a previous year's El Rocio. And in my favourite colour, too.

Ever since I first saw the storybook-cute gypsy caravans lined up outside the cathedral my first year here in Seville, I have been intrigued by El Rocio. Flowers, white lace, curtains tied back with ribbons – all these ingredients seem too schmaltzy for words, but somehow they work when combined with the massive beasts of burden which pull them.

Oxen with decorative leather headpieces and bells.

The largest pilgrimage in Spain (an estimated one million people take part), it is part religious (the much-adored Paloma Blanca, the Virgen del Rocio, is the focus of this romeria), part fiesta (singing traditional rociera songs, dancing Sevillanas and consuming vast quantities of beer and sherry).

Rocieras clapping to their songs.

So every year (barring pregnancy and very small babies) I try to catch them setting off, as their route leaving Seville passes through one of our neighbouring towns. They walk and ride (on horses, in trailers, in 4x4s) from all around the city (and other places in western Andalucia, as well as further afield) to a small town called El Rocio, with unpaved streets full of picturesque white houses whose wooden porches have rails to tie your horse to.

Where this hermandad stays in the town of El Rocio - it comes with stables for the horses.

Going back to the journey, I love seeing the rocieros (El Rocio pilgrims) decked out in their finery, from polka dots to leather – if the mood is a mix of faithful and festive, the style is flamenco-meets-Wild-West. The girls look gorgeous – it’s hard not to, in all those figure-hugging frills and flounces, with a flower in your hair – and the boys (jinetes) on their purebred mounts look unbelievably dashing, in their bolero jackets and embossed leather chaps. Both wear leather boots, essential for wading through mud and rivers, while the women wear little leather bags on straps round their waist or across their bodies.

Guadiamar river crossing.

Here are some of my chosen top looks from the Triana hermandad when they passed yesterday afternoon.

Young rociero looking natty in his pink jacket and hat with band reading "Triana".

This young rociera had a pink dress (impeccable taste) and gorgeous tumbling waves of red hair.

and her chap was rather dashing too.

Not every man can carry this off - how would you (or your other half) look in this outfit: supremely elegant or faintly ridiculous?

On the way, the groups camp out and cook their dinner (though no open fires are allowed this year, due to fire risk). The carriolas (wagons) have TV, air-con and fridges, while the open-sided trailers (carretas) and carts have coldboxes under the seats, or sometimes strapped to the side.

Unusual ways of keeping your beer chilled - coat coldbox in thermal insulating rock from Mars.

Some people know how to keep their food stored in style – none of those scruffy plastic storage boxes for this group of pilgrims.

A well-stocked cupboard, and with pretty curtains too - could it be more Little House on the Prairie?

But this was my favourite. A donkey – what’s that in the basket on his back? Fresh food for tonight’s pot.

The ultimate in take-away meals - just add bread sauce.

He was a bit sleepy – even birds need a siesta.

.

As a veggie, I really felt for this fowl; probably a good thing that it had no idea what fate awaited it. Its dueño was already legless, so the three of them – burro, pavo and borracho – must have had an interesting journey.

The donkey's owner, the man in the checked shirt, was so drunk he was barely able to stand. At 3pm.

15 thoughts on “On the road to El Rocio

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  2. Vida London

    What an interesting piece. Showing my ignorance here, but I’d never even heard of this. And it really does look like something out of the midwest, in the 19th century.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks, Jon. It’s a typical Spanish pilgrimage; my local one is similar. They are a truly amazing sight – check out the bottom photo in the blog post about Torrijos – apart from the odd telegraph pole, it really could be, as you say, the US two centuries ago.

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  5. Faye

    Hi! Fantastic post! I’ve been desperately trying to find out more details about the pilgrimage to El Rocio. If you have the time would really appreciate writing you an e-mail with a few questions about it. Best wishes, – Faye.

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  9. Nick

    Just saw this….I have attended the festival for a number of years and am proud to be one of the few Americans (or from what I have heard and know) to be an official member of a hermandad!

    Love this festival…never is dull, and is quite amazing to attend! Can’t wait to head over next week!

    Viva El Rocio!

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Wow, Nick, thanks so much for your comment! Can I ask where you live? Are you here in Seville? I’d love to talk to you further about taking part in El Rocio as an hermandad member. I would sell my own (long-deceased) grandmother to go on El Rocio!

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