Seville a tough mistress to leave
SEVILLE is sexy and vibrant, hot and alluring. A city steeped in blood and gold, with a past both glorious and ghostly.
For centuries, Muslims and Christians slaughtered each other until the Moors were driven out by Spanish kings, their palaces and mosques appropriated or destroyed.
Bloodshed recurred in cycles. The Inquisition brought death by fire to countless Jews and heretics. War was waged with the Portuguese, the French under Napoleon and most horribly, themselves, when Spaniard fought Spaniard in the civil war of the 1930s – overseas arms were bought with historic gold reserves. Franco’s army won a decisive early victory in Seville, a death warrant for thousands of republican sympathisers.
And the blood of bulls and sometimes toreadors is still spilt at the huge 18th-century bullring. After Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, Seville became the hub of voyages of trade and exploitation. Although 80km from sea, it is on Spain’s main river, the Guadalquivir, now spanned by elegant bridges. The river’s 12sided Tower of Gold once anchored a chain to the other side to control the passage of ships bearing Inca and Aztec gold.
Just in from the river is Plaza de Espana, as splendid as when built for the 1929 World Exposition. Featured in Lawrence of
Arabia and Star Wars, it has dozens of alcoves tiled to represent the country’s regions – popular photo backdrops for tourists.
Horse-drawn carriages clatter on cobblestones by the adjacent Maria Luisa Park’s sumptuous gardens.
Seville’s stunning cathedral covers more than a hectare. With gilt chapels and altars in all directions, statues and paintings (Goya, Murillo), nooks and upper galleries, the Gothic edifice’s pride is a majestic altarpiece depicting dozens of 3D bible scenes – it took Flemish craftsman Pierre Dancart 44 years to carve.
Tourists in Europe get used to the ornate tombs and sarcophagi of kings and bishops, but Columbus is in a league of his own – an airborne coffin, held aloft by statues of four crowned warrior kings.
Within a courtyard is an or- chard – Seville oranges of course – that has produced juicy crops for centuries. There was once a mosque here, earthquake-damaged and torn down in the 15th century. Fortunately its minaret was preserved – now a gigantic belltower, the Giralda can be climbed via a circling internal ramp to fabulous city views.
Nearby is the magnificent Real Alcazar or royal palace, which started as a Muslim fort more than 1000 years ago and underwent several centuries of renos. Its original sultan occupants were sent packing when Castilian king Fernando III conquered Seville in the 13th century.
Variety is central to Seville’s appeal, with grand and beautifully designed open spaces adjoining cramped medieval quarters. But just within many homes, visible behind wrought-iron gates, are beautiful tiled porches displaying cool-inducing pot plants. Bougainvillea and seasonal flowers are trained up outside walls.
Not far away is a gigantic white bulbous structure, the Metropol Parasol – a sunshade erected somewhat controversially a few years ago over an old market square and said to be the biggest wooden building in the world. Its popular name is Las Setas – mushrooms.
Lovers of flamenco can enjoy the spectacle of gorgeously attired dancers at tablaos large and small, hammering the floorboards to energetic guitar-driven music and soul-stirring song that makes Seville very hard to leave.
CITY OF CONTRASTS: Flamenco dancers give it their best (main); one of the best views of the city is from the top of the Space Metropol Parasol (bottom left); when it comes to grand houses of worship, Seville does not disappoint (bottom right).