¡Hola! and welcome to Spain!
I was just in Spain on business so decided to extend my stay a few days and really explore the fascinating city of Seville (Sevilla in Spanish). I had been before but always in a rush, so I relished the ability to slow down, take my time, and just wander.
Seville has an ancient past but rose to prominence in the 16th century as center for the exploration of the Americas. It controlled trade with the New World and was the richest city in Spain at the time, so there are a lot of beautiful buildings in the Baroque style. I loved this little bull-ring shaped courtyard. Too bad it rained so much while I was there!
There's also plenty of fun street art:
And some lovely architectural details:
And some cool old tile signs. The first is a not-so-politically-correct depiction of plantation workers happily harvesting coffee (hmm...), and the second is a shop that specializes in cloaks and hoods "for all your brotherhood needs." 😄
Spain has traditionally been a very Catholic country and they take their processions and ceremonies very seriously (more than we do here in Italy). Indeed, I was there just before Easter month so saw a group of men practicing for a holy procession.
The guys are all blindfolded (!) and they shuffle together in unison along the streets bearing a religious icon on their shoulders. Here, the guy on the right was yelling directions ("more to the left!"). And to help them keep time there was dramatic music blaring from speakers on the platform.
Here's a pic of how it will look on the big day: they'll be covered with a drapery and have very little air-flow underneath. That's devotion!
And speaking of Christianity, the Cathedral of Seville is one of the largest and grandest in the world. The bell tower (previously a minaret) is all that remains of a previously standing mosque complex from the 12th century, built by the ruling Islamic Caliphate.
The central aisle is so high (42 m [138 ft]) it's almost dizzying to look up!
You could get lost in the ceiling alone!
Legend has it that the city's rulers said: "Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos" ("Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad") 😎
It also houses the very elaborate tomb of Christopher Columbus, which is an interesting story on its own. Columbus died in Valladolid (Spain) in 1506 and was initially buried there, but his body was moved to Seville in 1542, then to the Dominican Republic for a few centuries, then to Cuba as Spain started losing her colonies, then eventually he moved back to Seville and this tomb was erected in 1899. More on that here.
You can also climb to the top of the bell-tower, called the Giralda. In its day it was one of the tallest towers in the world (almost 100 m high), and instead of steps it has ramps so the Sultan could ascend on horseback to admire the view:
It allows great views over the elaborate architecture of the church, as well as fun views out over the city. You can look down into the courtyard full of orange trees and over into the palace complex known as the Alcazar:
Built in the 10th century as government buildings for the Caliphate, the Alcazar was gradually transformed into a luxury palace and was further expanded with the Spanish reconquest in the 13th century. It continued to be used as a palace through the Renaissance and up until the Bourbon kings of the 19th century. There were quite a number of tourists there that day, which kinda threw me for a loop as I'm not used to crowds anymore! 😮
The Islamic architectural touches are amazing:
Every inch is covered in ornate design:
These are just the ceilings (if you're viewing on a computer you can click on each one to see it in bigger format):
There's also a vast and lush garden:
It has everything a prince needs to be comfortable, from exotic flora to a fountain that plays organ through the flow of its water.
And an underground hammam (thermal bath) area that looks like it's ready for a re-birthing ceremony 😉
The last room we went into held massive tapestries depicting everything from rural life to complex naval battles, all in perfect Renaissance perspective:
The detail is spectacular!
One is a map of the Mediterranean Sea (upside-down from how we depict it now):
That's Corsica island top-middle, and on the mainland below you see Pisa (left), Genova (bottom), and Nice (right) -- I highlighted them in yellow but they're hard to see.
And the whole place is decorated with colorful ceramic tiles:
Back to modern Seville: a modern addition to the skyline is the surreal "Setas" -- named for its organic mushroom shape.
They light it up at night:
You can also walk around on top of it!
We had one sunny morning, which allowed the flamenco dancers to come out and shine 🙂
This old watering hole, El Rinconcillo, has been a fixture in the city since 1670!
Another new addition to the city is the Plaza de España, built in 1929 on the occasion of the Ibero-American Expo. Its vast spaces echo the more ancient buildings of the city:
It was also lovely at night, and we had the place almost all to ourselves!
The gold leaf is astounding, as are the dramatic and imaginative statues that fill every niche, from the "Solitude of Christ" (slumped and bleeding) to a highly stylized Virgen del Rocio from the 20th century.
Of course I also had some great food. I'm much more into savory than sweet (especially in the morning), so I love Spanish breakfasts, which are often a piece of toast with olive oil and tomato sauce as "jam". Here below, a breakfast bun of fresh goat cheese, sun-dried tomato pesto, and arugula on a whole wheat bun. Thanks, Casa Paco!
One vegetarian staple (minus the jamon) is the thick, cold tomato soup called salmorejo (left); a fresh sangria is your fruit course 😉, and a salad of cogollos brings you lettuce hearts dressed with lots of raw garlic. No vampires around tonight!
A lot of the historic hotels have central courtyards, which was the style for noble homes back in the day: it provided privacy and sunlight for the building's residents. This one is the four-star Vincci la Rábida:
Despite the rain, my memories of Seville are of colors and sunshine, and gold leaf, and music and tapas bars and cheesy souvenirs and the thought that I need to travel more in Spain!
I hope you enjoyed your tour of Seville and are curious to see more. I'm so happy to be traveling again and am looking forward to a year with cities abuzz with people again. As much as I enjoyed the surreal solitude of lockdown, I long to see businesses thrive, restaurants overflow, hotels with "No Vacancy" signs, and yes, tour guides guiding.
I've been super-busy recently and haven't had much time to devote to this blog (let alone the podcast! that takes a ton of time!) so I may disappear again as the season approaches. I recently spent a week down in the Naples area (Amalfi coast and Ischia island) but haven't had time to post about that, and I've seen a lot of cool things here in Florence that I'll post about eventually. It's so good to be busy again!!! I've got a number of tours on deck for this year, and though it won't be as many as in a normal year it should be fun and exciting and a welcome return to WORK. Contact me if you're looking for a day-guide or want me to put together a tour for you!
Muchas gracias to everyone who has supported me through these strange times. Your friendship, support and contributions to my tip jar are all very much appreciated! 🙏
(you can toss any spare pesos into my sangria pitcher here)
That's it for now... Hasta la vista, baby! 😎