Seville is the quintessential Andalusian city and, for me, the most alluring. Perhaps because of the time of year we were there (read on to find out more), it also was the most formal city I have ever visited in terms of well dressed men and women. The tradition of siesta is honored here; at 2:00 PM everything, including the major department store, closes for two hours.
Although Seville is a bustling commercial city, the old town, Centro Historico, is compact and easily explored on foot. Its centerpiece is the truly impressive Gothic cathedral, one of the largest in the world. As my husband, being dragged to see yet another church marveled, “we’ve seen cathedrals – this one is really ‘something’”. Built on the site of a Moorish mosque, the minaret survived as the bell tower known as La Giralda. Take time to see the ornately gilded altar, the largest in the world, the chapels, choir, rich treasury; glance up at the dizzying vaulted ceiling and don’t miss the monumental tomb purported to contain the remains of Columbus. You can climb La Giralda for a panoramic view of the city. Unlike most bell towers, this one has ramps rather than stairs; they were built to accommodate horseback riders.
Nearby is the Reales Alcázares, royal palace. While seemingly not as large as those in Granada or Cordoba, we favored this one. Although the Moors built on this site in the 700s, much of the present complex was built under Pedro the Cruel in the 14th century and is in the Mudéjar or Moorish style. It was where Isabel and Ferdinand greeted Columbus upon his return from the New World and is still used by King Juan Carlos and his family when they visit Seville. It is a charming combination of palace chambers, tapestries, patios, gardens, pavilions, fountains. Take time to stroll through the gardens and stop for refreshment and relaxation at the small cafe overlooking them.
Adjacent to the Alcázar is the barrio, or neighborhood, of Santa Cruz, also called Judería. The Jewish quarter in the 16th and 17th centuries, it later became home to the nobility and mansions were constructed, the most opulent being Casa de Pilatos, a conglomeration of architectural styles that can be visited. Santa Cruz is yet another labyrinth of narrow alleys, wrought iron grilles, flower bedecked houses and patios, orange and palm treed squares.
The neighborhood of El Arenal has a tree lined promenade that passes the 12 sided Torre del Oro. The gold tiles are long gone from this “gold tower”; it now houses a maritime museum. The Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes, a fine repository of Spanish art and the Plaza del Toros de las Maestranza, a major bullring with accompanying museum, are also located here.
Parque Maria Luisa was the site of the 1929 World Exposition held in Seville. At Plaza Espana within the park is one of its legacies, a crescent shaped complex of fountains and tilework. Although the building now houses government offices, it is worth visiting for its exterior tile murals representing the 50 provinces of Spain.
On the way to Parque Maria Luisa, you pass the tobacco factorywhere Bizet’s fictional Carmen toiled. In operation until the mid 1950s, it is now a part of the university; its bas reliefs of tobacco, Columbus, and native Americans remain.
If you haven’t had lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in the heart of the Centro Historico, try one of the many pedestrian streets off of Plaza Nueva, home of Seville’s city hall. It is a popular area for local business people to dine; nearby Calle Sierpes is a main shopping street.
A special time to visit Seville is in springtime, during La Feria. The date varies as it is held two weeks after Easter. Originating in the 1800s as a livestock fair, it is now a week long celebration of traditional dress, eating, drinking, and dancing, with a constant “parade” of caballeros (horsemen) and carriages. Over 1000 brightly colored casetas, entertainment booths, are constructed on the brilliantly lit fairgrounds. All but a very small number of the casetas are private, built by families, organizations, or businesses. Women dress in bright flamenco dresses while men favor traditional short jackets, boots, and round brimmed hats called cordobes. Within each caseta is wine, an abundance of food, and endless music and dance.
Knowing that we would be in the area during La Feria, we booked our hotel well in advance and stayed just steps from the Cathedral. Because there is a huge influx of people for this event, we parked our car in Cordoba and took the 40 minute train ride to Seville. In the evening, we strolled through the fairgrounds, vicariously enjoying all the fun going on in each caseta; alas, the only way inside is with an invitation.
We left the grounds and went for a drink in a cafe across the street. There were no tables free, but 3 older women offered us seats at their table. I struck up a conversation of sorts with these lovely Sevillanas; they spoke no English and I only had my high school Spanish. One of the women was a delightful character who told us “thanks be to God” she had never been married and then crossed herself. Before we knew what was happening, she invited us to visit her brother’s caseta. She led us by the hand through the maze of people, horses, and carriages, strode past the guard at the entrance of the caseta, and sat us down at her family’s table where we feasted on jamon Iberico (ham from the black Iberian pig), bread, and Rebujitos , the traditional sherry drink of La Feria while making conversation with the locals and enjoying the music and dancing. It was one of those serendipitous moments of travel for which we can never plan or recreate but will remain with us forever as a cherished memory.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.