SEVILLE IN LIGHTS

Hol­ly­wood is a fan of this post­card city

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION SPAIN - JOHN HENNINGHAM

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 Por­tuguese, 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 the sea, it is on Spain’s main river, the Guadalquivir, now spanned by el­e­gant bridges. The river’s 12-sided Tower of Gold once an­chored a chain to the op­po­site bank to con­trol the pas­sage of ships bear­ing Inca and Aztec gold.

Just in from the river is the Plaza de Es­pana, as splen­did as when built for the 1929 World Ex­po­si­tion, with grand pav­il­ions, lakes and foun­tains. Fea­tured in Lawrence of Arabia and

Star Wars, it has dozens of al­coves tiled to rep­re­sent the coun­try’s re­gions – pop­u­lar photo back­drops for in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal tourists.

Horse-drawn, yel­low-wheeled car­riages clat­ter on cob­ble­stones by the ad­ja­cent Maria Luisa Park’s sump­tu­ous gar­dens – their bored driv­ers ex­chang­ing winks when not check­ing mo­bile phones.

Seville’s stun­ning cathe­dral cov­ers more than a hectare. It claims on a tech­ni­cal­ity to be the largest cathe­dral in the world (the big­ger St Peter’s in Rome is clas­si­fied as a basil­ica). With gilt chapels and al­tars in all di­rec­tions, stat­ues and paint­ings (Goya, Murillo), se­cret nooks and up­per gal­leries, the Gothic ed­i­fice’s pride is a ma­jes­tic al­tar­piece de­pict­ing dozens of three­d­i­men­sional 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 or­chard – 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 long, cir­cling in­ter­nal ramp to fabulous city views. It’s quite a trek – the muezzins, who as­cended the 100m tower five times a day for the call to prayer, rode don­keys.

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.

Its com­bi­na­tion of Moor­ish and Chris­tian ar­chi­tec­ture has yielded a daz­zling va­ri­ety of struc­tures, arches, dec­o­ra­tions, paint­ings, foun­tains and gar­dens. Ara­bic verses of scrip­ture and prayers re­main en­twined into the or­nate cal­lig­ra­phy cov­er­ing walls and ceil­ings. The Al­cazar’s gar­dens and build­ings have also been pop­u­lar TV and movie back­drops – most re­cently in Game of Thrones.

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.

A wan­der un­furls won­ders at ev­ery turn. A gar­den mall, the Alameda, dis­plays pil­lars from an an­cient Ro­man tem­ple topped by stat­ues of Julius Cae­sar and Her­cules – the leg­endary founder of Seville. The Alameda is a thriv­ing night scene.

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.

Roam­ing the bar­rio you’ll see signs to Pon­tius Pi­late’s House – rather as­ton­ish­ing, as Jerusalem is 4000km away – but it turns out to be a small palace from the 1500s de­signed by a trav­el­ling mar­quis who sought to recre­ate as­pects of the Holy Land. Movies filmed here in­clude 1492 and

Knight and Day. The lusti­est wo­man of opera, Car­men, danced the fla­menco to en­chant her lovers in Seville, home too of se­rial se­ducer Don Gio­vanni and Rossini’s schem­ing Bar­ber. Then get­ting into my head that I couldn’t leave town with­out a hair­cut from a bar­ber of Seville, I phone-nav­i­gated a twisty walk in grot­tier and less touristy lanes of the bar­rio. I fi­nally found a Seville bar­ber, a friendly fel­low called Luis qui­etly amused by my quest. Freshly shorn, I sought my ho­tel through an­other labyrinth of nar­row streets, be­com­ing hope­lessly lost as dark­ness fell and my phone went flat. It be­came se­ri­ously spooky as all but the odd shady char­ac­ter van­ished from the streets while I re­traced my steps in nar­row­ing lanes un­til mirac­u­lously stum­bling across my ho­tel. There are bet­ter ways to spend Seville nights.

It’s a foodie’s par­adise, with hun­dreds of tapas restau­rants and bars in squares and lit­tle lanes. Even lit­tle pael­las can be in­cluded in the de­lec­ta­ble of­fer­ings, to­gether with Ibe­rian ham, grilled baby squid and po­tato and spinach dishes, washed down with sangria or cerveza.

Lovers of fla­menco (and who isn’t?) 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.

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK

Splen­did Plaza de Es­pana was built for the 1929 World Ex­po­si­tion; lo­cals dubbed shade struc­ture Metropol Para­sol ‘mush­rooms’. PLAZA DE ES­PANA

METROPOL PARA­SOL

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