Reality checks in Seville
You’re never far from history in Andalusia, but innovative new walking tours take you even closer
LOOMING above my head are Las Setas de la Encarnacion. Designed by futurist German architect Jurgen Mayer-Hermann, these giant mushrooms stand 26m tall. So far, so Salvador Dali.
Yet things are about to get even more surreal. Five minutes later, in Plaza San Francisco, the year is suddenly 1597 and I am being accosted by a young man pleading on behalf of Miguel de Cervantes. Apparently, Spain’s celebrated writer (1547-1616) is being carted off to jail, accused of embezzling money in his position as a tax collector.
This is no ordinary walking tour. It’s an audiovisual adventure drawing on the latest video technology. Those mushrooms are a four-storey building known as Metropol Parasol, which opened to the public in 2011. It contains an archeological museum, bars, eateries and a balcony with a breathtaking view of the city centre. It’s also where a company called Past View has its headquarters. And it is here that Past View staff co-ordinator Paco Monago greeted me and handed me an iPhone, state-of-the-art video glasses and earphones.
The iPhone is a key component of the Past View experience. Along the walking route are various Past View plaques. When you come across one, you are instructed to turn on your iPhone and press the compass key. The GPS works out which landmark you’re at. Then you listen to an introduction, watch a re-creation of bygone times and experience ‘‘augmented reality’’.
This involves lining up the iPhone with a particular building to reveal how it once looked. (Monago is conveniently placed nearby to assist when what should be a routine task gets too fiddly for my unskilled fingers.)
After returning from 1597, I am introduced to Teresa Suarez, Past View’s amiable communications manager. She is keen to know if the glasses are comfortable, which they are. In fact, my only irritation relates to the translation. Having lived in Spain for the past nine years, I can vouch for the authentic pronunciation of any Spanish words. But when the voiceover artist uses English ones, his accent is noticeably more Irish than Iberian.
Suarez says the tours have proved popular with local schoolchildren. If I were a child, Past View would represent the best history lesson in the world. Suarez also reveals that her company soon will introduce the tours in places such as Barcelona, Gibraltar and Luxor.
The next re-creation on my tour takes place by the Alcazar (royal palace) side of the cathedral, where I am taken to 1198, when the past indeed was another country.
I am now in al-Andalus, the medieval state ruled by the Moroccan Berber-Muslim Almohad dynasty. I am in the company of architect Ali de Gomara, who has just completed the Giralda, the bell tower that now takes pride of place in Seville Cathedral. It’s the time of the inauguration and de Gomara is keen to share his project with the world. Everything about this video is different from the first — the epoch, the architecture, the clothes. Well, not quite everything. There is still that Irish brogue.
What makes Seville ideal for a walking tour of this kind is that its centre is pedestrianised. There’s very little traffic noise. And you can always pump up the volume to drown out any distractions. With so many interesting buildings to choose from, Past View plans to add more re-creations and take in other historical periods.
My final blast into the past takes place on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. It’s a return to Spain’s golden age and, appropriately enough, the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) provides the backdrop to the drama. My virtual companion this time is an apprentice of the great baroque artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The year is 1658, just after Murillo has returned from Madrid, where he fell under the influence of Velazquez, and I learn about Puerto de Sevilla, Spain’s only river port. When the video finishes, I reluctantly return my time-travelling equipment to Monago and head back to the future.
above A Past View tour of Seville reveals layers of the city’s history below An ‘augmented reality’ experience