Travels in Spain before Covid: Seville Day 5

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October 31st 2020
Published: October 31st 2020
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SEVILLE 10/24/19

After breakfast we gathered to plan our day. Seville is the capital of Andalucia and of the province of Seviila. Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, the city is fabled to have been settled by Hercules. Founded by the Tartessians, Seville was later settled by the Romans. In fact two of Rome's great emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, were born here. Seville was occupied by the Moors from AD 711 until 1248, and many of its most beautiful monuments and architecture come from that period. The fourth-largest city in Spain, Seville is also renowned as the birthplace of flamenco and Don Juan. Mmmm sounds like fun!

First stop: Plaza de España. In the early morning sun our assembled group passed through the Puerta de Aragon, an impressive tiled entrance to the Plaza de España, a stunning, expansive plaza built in the 1920s when Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair. This semicircular architectural style is a beautiful revival of the Mudejar style of Spain as well as Renaissance styles with a few nods to Art Deco. The elliptical shape, flanked by two impressive towers, represents Spain as a mother embracing its ancient colonies. The entrance, bridges and walls are elaborately detailed in colorful mosaic tiles, some that depict regions of Spain and its union with America. While we were there I photographed a bride and her groom as they were embracing the magic of this place. We left the stunning plaza with a glimpse of the Gardens of Maria Luisa Park peeking at its hidden fountains and tiled benches under a canopy of oranges and palms.

From there our rather large group squeezed into the narrow and picturesque Barrio Santa Cruz to explore its history in the tangle of winding streets and little plazas with their occasional orange trees in the Old Quarter. As we walked along Calle de Agua it was so tight it seemed that we were hugging the Alcazar’s garden walls. It was on this street that we passed a bronze plaque dated from 1925, and dedicated to Washington Irving. The plaque was on the wall of ‘House number 2’ where he once lived. In the spring of 1828, Washington Irving had arrived as a tourist at the port of Seville on the first steam ship in Spain that traced the Guadalquivir from Cádiz. He authored many books about Spain’s history but one of the most celebrated of his works about Spain was Cuentos de la Alhambra (Tales of the Alhambra) written in 1832. In this story Irving retells the legends of the famous Red Castle. There is a sculpture dedicated to Irving in the gardens of the Alhambra. For the historic adventurers there is a “Washington Irving route” from Seville to Granada that brings to life that romantic, and tourist “discovery” of Andalusia.

Coming out of the narrow streets into the Plaza del Triunfo we had our first glimpse of the massive Cathedral of Seville, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once home to a mosque, like many churches in Spain, the cathedral is enormous with 80 chapels inside. The massive cathedral is also the largest Gothic church and second in size to St. Peter’s in Rome making it the world’s largest cathedral by volume. Although from my vantage point on the outside, it didn’t appear as large as that, but once inside, even with the vast crowds inside hiding many views, I felt dwarfed by the enormous vaulted ceilings, the 138 foot long nave (it is the longest in Spain) and the numerous chapels.

We entered through the old Moorish gate, now known as the Gate of the Lizard, under the stuffed crocodile which hangs from the ceiling in the corner of the Courtyard of the Oranges. Why is there a stuffed crocodile hanging in the entrance you might ask? Apparently there is a story about a beautiful daughter named Berenguela who was wooed by the Emir of Egypt. He sent her many gifts, among them this exotic crocodile, where it hangs today. The Emir never got the girl.

Inside the cathedral our eyes and senses were assaulted by numerous reliquaries, artifacts and architectural elements, most especially the Gothic religious work of Pierre Dancart with its detailed carved scenes from the life of Christ which were astounding. Pierre Dancart’s altarpiece, a lifetime work by this single craftsman, is one of the best in the world. The gold is so blinding and the detail so great that from a distance it is difficult to really examine the great work. Another notable work is the Virgin of Macarena, a weeping Virgin statue, located in the high altar of the Basilica. It is the patronage of the bullfighters and Spanish Gypsies of Macarena.

Another stop worth visiting is the much contested final resting place of Christopher Columbus. The tomb Christopher Columbus is located inside the vast interior of the cathedral, but are the remains really his? My fellow traveler Kathleen claims she is related by DNA to this explorer so we both listened carefully to our guide who said it is believed that only his thumb is actually inside the large tomb. His remains have reputedly traveled almost more than he has including, most especially, the Santo Domingo Cathedral in the Dominican Republic.

The cathedral was quite overwhelming so we took a rest in The Court of the Orange Trees, north of the cathedral, another reminder of the Islamic past. After gathering our strength we returned to the church and began the long climb to the top of the Moorish Giralda Bell Tower (remember not to leave the area before climbing the tower or you will have to pay to get in again). There are no stairs inside the tower. Instead there are 34 ramps that wind up 37 flights to the top. This design was to accommodate the Muezzin (call to prayer) to be able to ride a horse up to the top of the tower instead of walking. It is not as daunting as it sounds and the view from the top is worth every step.

I had wanted to see the Alcazar, the official residence of Spanish royalty, but we found, after standing for a short while in the very long line, that there were no tickets left on that day. A warning, if you want to see the famous palace, also a movie site for the Game of Thrones, you will have to buy your tickets way ahead. I was disappointed that this was not included in our tour, but, there was yet more to see.

Dave was tired and chose to go back to the hotel and so Kathleen and I left the cathedral and took off on our own looking for lunch. We left the group and began to shop our way towards the Mercado Lonja del Barranco, a gourmet market that proved well worth the walk. The market was not nearly as crowded as the market in Madrid so we were able to cruise the options, save a table and have an amazing lunch (I am still dreaming about it!). We could choose from a selection of Iberian ham dishes (from black Iberian pigs that eat only acorns) thinly sliced off the bone right in front of us, many versions of potatoes including patatas bravas, (the batata alioli was exceptionally good) and many seafood options including octopus, but in that category I decided to try my first Erizo or Sea Urchin (for 5 Euro). This was something of a longtime curiosity for me. I discovered it was creamy and briny and tasted of the sea but I probably won’t be ordering it again soon. However, the highlight of my meal that I would go back to on a daily basis if I could, was purchased inside the market at Frutas y Verduras where I had the best flakey filo like bread with caramelized onions, amazing goat cheese like none you can get in the US, topped with grilled asparagus and a balsamic drizzle. If that doesn’t get you there the artichoke, tomato and guacamole on bread will. Kathleen had a seafood paella that she raved about followed by Pirole taso Queso or cheese lolly pops which were both delicious and fun to eat.

After we were fully sated we left the Mercado to lighten our lunch load on a walk along the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Looking across the river we could see Moorish buildings, baroque architecture and shops on the opposite side that were located in a portion of the Triana District, known as the Andalusian capital’s Gypsy quarter. This area is often thought of as the most vibrant area of the city, as it is famous for its flamenco and painted local craft stalls that line the streets. The elegant Triana Bridge beckoned but we had plans to explore a bullring.

Our stroll took us under the tree lined canopy where we watched cyclists on the promenade and boaters ply their way along the river. Along the sidewalk, facing the Bullring, we saw a statue of a famous bull fighter Pepe Luis Vazquez. He looked so young. Pepe’s statue was a perfect introduction to our next tour: the famous Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza, Seville’s famous Bullring. Constructed in 1761-1881 it ranks as one of 7 bullrings in Spain with a “First Category” status. Kathleen and I entered the stark white and gold facade through the Prince’s Gate with its ornate black iron gates, a striking contrast to be sure, with great expectations of what was inside. We were able to purchase our 8 Euro tickets right away but had to wait in line for the next tour to begin since we had just missed the tour ahead of us.

I was reluctant to tour this museum because I am not in favor of bull fighting but I am interested in history and wanted to try to understand why the Spanish are so enamored with the sport. Bullfighting, traced back to the Moors in 711, has diminished in Spain and is now illegal in Catalonia so that was a bit of an appeasement for me.

We toured several rooms that displayed trophies and colorful costumes of famous matadors. Matadors could choose the color of their costume, and interestingly, bulls are color blind. The red color for the cape was chosen because it is most visible from the stands. The bulls are fed corn and oats for 5 years and roam free range before they enter the arena at age 5. After the “fight” the bull is used for food instead of just being discarded. The President of the Association has the power to “pardon” a bull after a fight, to live his life as a breeding bull on a stud farm but this has only happened three times.

We entered the massive bull ring arena through the impressive Baroque facade that dates from 1762-1881 and is considered to be one of the finest in Spain. The bull ring was immortalized in Bizet’s Carmen. The arena accommodates 14,000 people. Despite its size the acoustics are excellent allowing you to hear everything wherever you sit. Kathleen and I wandered around inside the ring to get a feel of what it would be like to be a matador (or a bull!). The current season for bullfights is Easter Sunday to October 12. I have to wonder why it starts on Easter Sunday, but that’s for another discussion.

The afternoon was waning and we had yet to find the famous “Mushroom” so we left with Kathleen’s GPS in hand and proceeded to get lost amidst the narrow and confusing turns. We stopped several people along the way and each time, thinking we were ahead, we would get turned around again. Just about the time we were going to give it up we ended on a main thoroughfare and I looked to the right and there it was, the Mushroom!

As much as we had anticipated exploring and climbing around this unique building, a charming little coffee shop grabbed my attention. I grabbed Kathleen and said I would love a coffee and pastry and she agreed. The Square Coffee Cake and Food was very northern European in character but no one was sitting inside so we asked a kind woman from Germany if she would share her outside table. We enjoyed our new companion, had a nice view of the Mushroom and, with our cafe con leche, devoured the most delicious chocolate hazelnut creamy tortes ever!

With newly acquired caffeinated energy we walked across to explore the Mushroom. If you’re looking for views over Seville, the Space Metropol Parasol, or “the Mushroom” at La Encarnación square is surely the place to go. It opened a few years ago and it’s one of Seville’s newest and coolest things to see. We planned to take a stroll around the upper levels to get a totally unique perspective over the city as well as a view of some of Seville’s best architecture. For 3 Euro per person you get to ride an elevator to the top saving time and your legs. The “Mushroom” is a bit controversial due to its unique abstract architecture in the middle of this historic area. I would venture to guess that this was commissioned to be built to save this area from commercial buildings. In fact at the level beneath the street we paid 2 Euro to tour the underground Roman ruins which surely benefitted from the protection of the Mushroom above. Regardless of why it is here, I am glad we went. I loved the honeycomb architecture and the circuitous walk on top where I could photograph many aspects of yet another area of Seville.

By now it was getting dark and, although charming with lights in the narrow lanes, the tall dark buildings began to cast shadows that further confused our sense of direction. We decided we would find a place to eat and then take a cab back to the hotel. There was a charming restaurant with outdoor seating tucked out of the way along Calle Francos. With a delightfully helpful waiter and very good food, El Pinon Sevilla served us well. With fresh bread, great olive oil and traditional green olives on the table I savored my delicious Rijoa wine while enjoying the street atmosphere in this romantic setting. I had wished Dave could have joined us but he would never have covered as much ground as Kathleen and I me but we didn’t need to be on a date to have some fun here. Kathleen had a delicious salmon with vegetables and aoli. I can’t remember what I had (I blame the wine) but it wasn’t near as good as her salmon.

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