It’s said that if one wants to feel the rhythm and atmosphere of Spain, they should take the Ruta del Sol (the Route of the Sun) and visit Andalucía. There is no doubt that this Southern region of the country is the most authentic one from where tapas and flamenco originate as well as the Moorish influence is really quite tangible. Of course, it will take me much time to get into details. So I will focus on one marvellous city and its greatest attractions and history, culture and cuisine ……
S E V I L L E
If you open a map of Seville you will find out too many tourist attractions and believe me all of them are worth visiting and surely you will need a whole month to do it. If you wonder where you should start from, I would humbly advise you to start your tour with a stroll or a boat trip along the Guadalquiver River that separates the city into two parts. The river is the only grand navigable river on the Iberian Peninsula and it floats into the Atlantic Ocean. No matter you are on a tourist boat or walk along the riverside promenades, you will enjoy beautiful views of awe-inspiring Spanish type buildings. At a time you might get the feeling that Spanish conquistadors “took” Seville and “transferred” it to South America.
Being on the river bank, don’t miss to visit Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla or briefly this is the Royal Bullring of Seville. This arena of corridas (bullfights) is the oldest one in the world. It was built in 1749 and it was opened and used for the first time in 1765. The building that houses the arena is in white-yellow-red and too eye-catching so that you have no chance to bypass it. The arena itself is grand. There are five gates and each of them is used strictly either in the beginning or in the end of a bullfight, or by toreadors and matadors and bulls themselves. The seats are from stone and their price depends on the Sun. I mean the seats exposed to Sun are less expensive while those that are in shadow during bullfighting are really not cheap. As to the seats on the balconies, they are determined for noble guests or the Royal family, special guests or noble persons from Seville.
When you go out of the Plaza de Toros your eyes will focus an emerging tower built at the beginning of the 13th century. It’s known as Torre del Oro (the Golden Tower) not because it’s decorated with gold but because of the golden shine and beams it projects in the river water and all this is a result of the materials it was built from – mortar, lime and hay. It has had various purposes through the centuries – from a watchtower and prison to a naval museum and site for breathtaking views to Seville and the Guadalquiver nowadays.
Now let’s move to the other end of the river. Pass by La Plaza de América de Sevilla with its enchanting atmosphere and go straight to a small complex along the river. After a nice five-minute walk you will reach Acuario de Sevilla. It is a new one and is placed in a small building for an aquarium. It will take you about an hour to say Hi to all fish species there. The diversity is not that great but fishes will look at you curiously behind the aquarium glass. You will walk through tunnels with glass ceilings and walls. There are also some tiny open aquariums where you will see very interesting fish species. And yes … If you wanna save memories of that aquarium you may take photos. But don’t stress fish and don’t get them scared with your flash.
Maybe it is high time you got the utmost of Sevilla by diving into its historic centre. For me the heart of the city stretches from Plaza de Espaῇa to the grand Cathedral of Seville and nearby Alcázar neighbouring with the Jewish quarter.
Plaza de Espaῇa is a must-visit. If you don’t visit it, it is equal to not seeing the Pope in Vatican when you are there. It’s an awe-inspiring half-circle square with gorgeous buildings built at the beginning of last century. The purpose of its building was the Ibero-Amercican Expo of 1929 when these glamorous edifices emerged at the edge of the Parque de Maria Luisa (Maria Luisa Park). Both the park and the continually running buildings are a combination of the Spanish-Revival and Moorish styles. The modern Art Deco and the distinctive Moorish tiled alcoves go hand in hand and offer an irresistible feeling to artistic persons, ordinary people and the numerous tourists visiting the plaza. The tiled alcoves of the Provinces are a pleasant place where you can sit down and gaze at the splendid numerous bridges (representing the 4 ancient Spanish kingdoms) over the pond with small boats floating over the water.
The Seville Cathedral is the third largest cathedral in the world coming after San Pietro in Rome and il Duomo di Milano and the largest Gothic holy place in the Christian Catholic world. It is the burial site of the great discoverer – Christopher Columbus. DNA tests have proved that the remains of the Italian explorer lay in his tomb in the Cathedral of Seville. The tomb itself is placed in the heart of the cathedral and is held aloft by four male figures that represent the four Spanish kingdoms: Castille, Aragon, Navara and Leon.
The Girlda is an inseparable part of the Holy place. The bell tower is an ex minaret with 36 ramps. You will ask why there are ramps instead of steps. The answer is simple. When it was a minaret the muezzin wouldn’t have felt very comfortable if he had had to climb up and then go down so many steps five times a day to call believers to prayer. That’s why those ramps were invented and built. Thus he would never get tired of this physical exercise because he went up and down the ramps riding a little donkey. Nowadays the bell tower is magnificent and it resembles the famous minaret of Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. The birds’ eye views are breathtaking and the crowds of admirers are great as well. As for El Giraldillo (the statue on the top of the Giralda tower) has symbolized the triumph of Christian Catholic faith since 1568 when it was added as an inseparable part of the tower.
After going out of the Cathedral you might get the desire to “taste” the Spanish kings’ (past and present) life as well. So, don’t hesitate to head for the summer residence of the Spanish Royal family. If you have the nerves to stand in a second long queue (the first one is for the Girlda Tower) for an hour, believe me, you will not regret it all. Enormous gardens with exotic trees and plants … Amazing Moorish tiles … Well maintained buildings …. Quietness and Peace … All this (and much more, of course) is Alcázar of Seville.
Are you already hungry? 😉 If your are starving, choose one of the restaurants in the tiny and narrow streets near the Cathedral. I can assure you will eat the best Valencian paella with rice, green, vegetables plus chicken (sometimes it’s served with rabbit as well). What else? Of course it also contains land snails, beans, saffron, rosemary and lemon. On the other hand, if you are a fan of seafood, you might take a seafood paella. Or … or if you want to eat all at once, order a mixed paella with a mix of land animals, vegetables and beans plus seafood. And surely, order a glass of red wine or Sangria.
A nice lunch, a? If you are ready, off we gooooo. 🙂 The next destination will be Barrio de Santa Cruz or it’s the Jewish Quarter of Seville. It’s a quite place with numerous art shops around selling hand-made souvenirs and scarves, postcards, glasses and magnets, wines, honey and herbs. The streets are Venetian type – so tiny and winding. You might get lost but no worries … it is the real charm of the quarter – to have a lovely stroll without thinking about the time. And even if you want to, you cannot think about it as it really stops for you, especially when you dive into the flamenco world (visiting the Museum of the Guitar) or when you drink a cup of aromatic coffee somewhere there.
Wandering here and there in the Jewish quarter you will reach soon the old quarter of Seville and La Encarnación Square and its wooden mushrooms. Yeap … you read well. They are called Metropol Parasol and they were really made of wood. They claim to be the largest wooden structure in the world with their height of 26 metres and dimensions of 150×70 metres. It’s a modernistic structure of four levels. The underground level is Level 0 and it houses the Antiquarium of the Roman and Moorish ruins. The street level is Level 1 where the Central Market is. The rest two levels (2 and 3) offer the best views of the city. The panoramic terraces are spacious and intelligently designed and the crowds of people are avoided this way (in comparison to the Girlda Tower roof where you should “fight” with other admirers in order to get your strategic place for birds’ eye views).
It is almost evening but surely, you wouldn’t want to get stuck in the hotel, would you? I believe you would like to grab more of the Andalucían atmosphere and be totally enchanted by its beauty and culture. If I am right, I would recommend that you choose a flamenco show staged at one of the Casas de flamenco. Andalucía is the right place to enjoy original flamenco because it stems from the hot temperament of the gypsies of the region. Some of them have still lived in the caves of Southern Spain and that’s why authentic flamenco shows are supposed to be those that are performed in caves. Although you would hardly find out a cave flamenco show, you would really fall under the spell of flamenco dancers (both female and male), their choreographies, the guitar rhythms and traditional songs, women’s long floral flamenco dresses and special flamenco shoes. ¡Olé! Flamenco 😉