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Published: October 9th 2015
I suppose everyone has seen some inanimate object magically transform. Perhaps a piece of wood with excessive grain, perhaps a bit of intricately shaped wrought iron fence or even a coffee stain on a white table cloth. With a passing glance, in just the right light and at just the right angle, the object changes from obscure lines into a recognizable object, perhaps even a face. After the face appears, you can never go back to seeing the object normally. From that time on, you no longer just see the object, but the face staring back at you.
I suppose it can either be enjoyable and funny or quite irritating depending on what the object is. If it is your new expensive cabinetry that you spent thousands of dollars installing it might not be pleasant. To have an outline of Homer Simpson’s face staring back at you while enjoying your coffee, every morning for the rest of your life, probably is not be what you had in mind when you redecorated your kitchen.
This was demonstrated to me once using the red, white and blue FedEx logo found on all of their trucks and stores.
Between the E and the X is a white arrow. If you haven’t seen it go ahead and look it up. Once you see it you can’t un-see it. Every time you look at it from now on, you will always see the arrow.
It doesn’t seem like it could happen to an entire city, but it can. The actual area of Seville that is most visited by tourists is quite small. Even though we have been here for nearly one month and have seen quite a bit of the city, most of our time has still been spent in a very small portion of the Centro Historico section of the city. This area is filled with grandiose buildings, beautifully styled with Moorish arches and Spanish tiles, intricate wrought iron balconies and tiny shaded alcoves. Towering spirals capped by intricately tiled domes or castle-like turrets can be found on many buildings. When placed along wide, cobblestoned boulevards these magical designs create an ambience that is unique to only Seville. I pictured explorers returning from the New World with shiploads of spices, gold or tobacco and trading them for all the riches of the kings of Europe and
making Seville the beautiful city that we see today.
But perhaps that really isn’t quite what happened.
I have to admit that, despite living in Europe for a good portion of the last year, I do not know my architecture. I really can’t distinguish between Baroque, Renaissance or Gothic designs. I see the beautiful spires of a cathedral or castle and cannot tell which school of design they follow. I know they are gorgeous and highly photographable but that is about it. I am easily fooled.
We took a recent tour of the city and I have to say my eyes were opened. A good portion of the area I spend my time in has not always looked like it does now. Seville had a World Fair in 1929 and spent 20 years remodeling itself into what you see today. Columbus and Magellan might not recognize the Seville that we see.
Many of Seville’s most beautiful buildings, the Hotel Alfonse XIII, the Plaza de Espana and the good portion of the Avenida de la Constitucion were constructed for the 1929 Fair. Even large portions of the Old Jewish
A modern plaza with a great view over Seville
section of town called Santa Cruz were re-imagined. They were largely the work of a group of architects who invented a style never before seen. A mixture of Moorish, Castilian, Andalusian and even Art Deco, the style is unique and creates a sort of Spanish Paradise. Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. While stunning, it has made much of Seville look more Disneyesque than classic to me. The city is still wonderful and full of character but I have to admit it has changed for me. I cannot un-see. I don’t hate it. It has just changed for me now. Of course there is still the Alcazar, Cathedral, and Giralda for people who wish to see parts of town that would be recognizable to the ancient explorers.
One classic architectural masterpiece that I absolutely had to see before we leave is located a couple of hours away from Seville in the town of Ronda. Ronda is one of the Pueblos Blancos (White Towns) of Andalusia, so called because they are nearly entirely painted in the bright white tradition of the Moors. Most are located on hilly areas that could be defended by the Moors before
An interesting neighborhood across the river in Sevilla
they were chased out of Spain. They are historically farming towns, but because of their beauty are becoming somewhat touristy.
We didn’t want to take a package tour so we decided to organize a bus trip out of Seville. Buses are inexpensive here and quite comfortable. We bought our tickets a day before and were told to show up 1 ½ hours before departure. It seemed quite early but wasn’t a problem. We packed a lunch and took the tram to the bus station.
We seemed to be the only people taking the bus, until about 5 minutes prior to departure when at least 50 people showed up. They seemed like a tour group and looked like they had been up most of the night. We got on the bus and most shut there curtains and went about catching up on sleep. It was a little frustrating as we were really looking forward to seeing as much of the countryside as possible.
The countryside was rolling hills that were covered by wheat fields and olive orchards. Livestock were seen in corrals, mostly cows. The wheat had been recently harvested and some
El Alamillo Bridge at Night
Crosses the Guadalquivir River. Barqueta Bridge is in the background.
of the fields were being burned and some were being prepared for new crops. Many of the small white farm houses (more like haciendas in Mexico) appeared to be abandoned and were in various states of disrepair. The olive trees were short with massive gnarled trunks and were obviously very mature and had been pruned for many years. Beautiful ancient oak trees were spread at intervals through the rolling hills.
After about an hour the rolling hills gave way to rougher terrain with many cloud covered mountains behind. The Pueblos Blancos began to appear. Usually the towns were built up on the side of mountains, many with small fortresses at the very peaks that could be defended against attackers from the north. The most picturesque was Zahara de la Sierra which had a beautiful blue lake that reflected the entire mountain in it.
We finally arrived at Ronda. Perched atop high cliffs that provided an impenetrable defense, Ronda was one of the last towns taken by the Spanish. Ronda is actually divided into two sections, the older Moorish side of town and the newer Spanish side of town. The two sides of town are
separated by the El Tajo Canyon. Connecting the two sides of town is what we really came to see. The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was built in the 1700’s by the Spanish. A massive brick bridge rising nearly 400 feet above the river below the bridge would be an engineering feet in any time but a spectacular accomplishment when it was built.
Ronda is also famous for being one of the first places to establish bullfighting and many of the most storied matadors are from the area. Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway were both fans of the sport and made pilgrimages here. Welles’ ashes are actually buried at the bottom of a well on a local ranch.
We hiked down the steep canyon to find the classic view of the bridge from deep within the canyon. We reflected on the history of the bridge. The white houses of the town and tourists on the bridge were far above. It was amazing and well worth the effort and made for the perfect end to our visit to a beautiful part of the world.
We are leaving Seville soon and will truly miss
it. Whether the architecture is “real” or not doesn’t matter much as that is not what makes this city special. The town has a special passion for life that is on display every day. Much of life is lived outside in the plazas and alleys after the sun has gone down. Families and friends get together over drinks and food and truly seem to have an understanding of how life is supposed to be lived. We will miss it when we are gone.
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