A tour of the seductive capital of Andalusia. By Mark Little.
Itís difficult to speak of Seville without resorting to hyperbole, especially for the Sevillanos themselves. "El que no ha visto Sevilla, no ha visto maravilla", they state. "He who hasnít seen Seville hasnít seen a marvel."
As the Expo 92 world fair demonstrated, Seville likes doing things on a larger-than-life scale. Take the Seville cathedral, for instance. When the Sevillanos decided to erect a cathedral on the site of the cityís Moorish mosque in 1401, they proclaimed, "Let us build a church so grand that the world will take us for madmen." The result is the third largest church in Christendom (after St. Peterís in Rome and St. Paulís in London), and the worldís largest Gothic building.
Yet the most emblematic part of the building is the Giralda, the bit that was left over from the Mosque. It was the original minaret, which was pressed into service as the bell tower. For the best view of Seville, climb up the Giralda on the 35 sloping ramps to see the city spread out below you. From here, you can see the streets of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the elegant Alfonso XIII hotel and next to it the equally elegant Maria Luisa park, which was the setting for the Ibero-American exposition in 1929.
Nearer to the cathedral is the Real Alcazar, a palace built by Moorish craftsmen for Spainís King Pedro de Cruel, with later additions by King Ferdinand and Isabel and by their grandson, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The Spanish royal family still stay there when theyíre in town.
Beyond the Alcazar youíll find another expression of Sevillano grandiosity, which now houses part of the Seville University. It is better known as the Royal Tobacco Factory, home to the legendary Carmen of Merimeeís story and Bizetís opera. Built between 1728 and 1766, it was the second largest building in Spain after the Escorial in Madrid, and thousands of women worked here, rolling cigars.
Saint Teresa of Avila reckoned that any mortal able to resist the temptations of Seville would have a guaranteed spot in heaven. Indeed Seville - home of the original Don Juan - has the ability to seduce the millions of visitors it welcomes every year. Although Seville has its fair share of monuments, its principal attraction is the marvelous atmosphere that prevails in the city, especially in places like its popular Barrio de Santa Cruz, a maze of streets crammed with shops, bars, restaurants and charming corners.
Then thereís the outgoing character of the Sevillanos themselves. No other city puts so much effort into enjoying life. For example, there are the lavish Holy Week processions in spring, a celebration that manages to combine religious solemnity with Andalusian festive flair. No sooner is that finished than it is time for the April feria, that famous round-the-clock party that lasts a week.
It could be that Seville learned to enjoy the finer things in life in the days of the Moors when it was the capital of a kingdom ruled by King Al Mutamid, known for his love of poetry and music. But the city would really boom with the discovery of America.
Seville enjoyed a monopoly on trade with the Americas, and the fabulous treasures from the New World poured into her harbor. "Madrid may be the capital of Spain, but Seville is the capital of the world," it was said.
Guarding the port was the Torre de Oro, the Tower of Gold, built by the Moors. Nearby stands the Archive of the Indies, where the maps and documents relating to Spanish conquest of America are kept. Columbus himself was buried for a time in the monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas on the Island of La Cartuja, just west of the city, and later in the Seville cathedral. His tomb can still be seen there.
The coffin is held aloft by statues representing the four kingdoms of Spain, but there is some debate as to whether the occupant is in fact the great explorer. Many experts say his remains, after being relocated several times, were finally buried on the island of Santo Domingo.
The bounty of silver and gold helped fuel Spainís Golden Century of the arts. The great artists and writers of the day roamed the streets of Seville, including Cervantes, who also enjoyed a stay at the city lockup on charges of embezzlement; it is said he started writing Don Quixote here. Seville was also the birthplace to one of the greatest artists of all time, Diego de Velazquez.
Unfortunately, there is only one painting by Velazquez hanging in Sevilleís Museo de Bellas Artes. Otherwise the museum, housed in a former convent, contains an outstanding collection of Spanish art from gothic to romantic, with a good number of Murillos and Zurbarans.
Copyright © Mark Little. Mark Little, was the editor of the Freelance Spain website.
See also: "The city page: Seville" by Joe Cawley
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