Seville, Cordoba and Granada form something of triangle with Cordoba in the north, Seville in the west and Granada in the south. We were heading west towards Portugal so we needed to backtrack a little along the same highways we’d travelled from Cordoba to Seville. Seville was another old Roman city that had risen to prominence under the Muslims. Seville retains its old cosmopolitan atmosphere and feels ‘more Spanish‘ than either Granada or Cordoba. We stayed in a simply but cute hotel cum restaurant in the middle of the old town, one street back from the cathedral. It was all whitewashed walls and blue tiles.
Seville had been one of the leading cities of Al-Andalus. It’s mosque rivalled the capital Cordoba’s in size and beauty and its minaret, the Giralda, was the tallest building in the world in the 11th century. The Giralda, one of the few remaining Muslim monuments left, is the symbol of the city and appears on its coats of arms. It was converted into a bell tower immediately after the conquest. In the cathedral itself there is an icon with two angels guarding the Giralda. As in other cities, the mosque was quickly torn down and replaced by a gothic cathedral. The demolition however was not quite complete. The Sevillians decided to retain the outer garden courtyard of the mosque with its fountains, orange trees and horseshoe gates, although they did erect a statue of a triumphant Christ driving out cowering, terrified Muslims over the gate, just to drive home the point. The garden provides a pleasant respite from the grim, earnestness of the cathedral interior.
Christopher Columbus' tomb resides in the cathedral under an elaborate monument. There is some doubt however that it's actually his body but that of one of his sons. He undertook four voyages of exploration. On the last trip he was arrested by his crew for cruelty and mismanagement and sent home to Spain in disgrace. Despite his modern fame, Columbus resolutely refused to believe he'd discovered a new continent, insisting to the end that he had reached some islands east of Japan.
We climbed the Giralda for a view over the city. The climb wasn’t as arduous as it might have been however as the tower features an internal sloping ramp up to the top rather than stairs (very convenient!).
From the cathedral we wandered around to the Alcazar, but did not go in. The royal palace features some Islamic pavillions that rival the Alhambra for extravagance, but we were kind of over acres of tiles.
We walked to the riverside to check out the Golden Tower, part of the old city fortifications and the bull ring. Some giggling Japanese ladies were having their photo taken next to a life-size bronze statue of a matador who’s ’manliness’ seemed definitely larger than life-size!
We wandered aimlessly through the winding streets of the old town. Many of the old houses do not have actual front doors so you can peer into their courtyards and view their elaborate tiled halls, fountains and gardens, which are very pretty. The brochure from the tourist office presents this as a quaint and scenic feature of the city “originating in the 19th century” when people began replacing their doors with gates. Once again this statement is pretty far from the truth and in fact has a much darker origin. The Inquisition’s paranoia about Muslim and Jewish backsliding resulted in bans on all potentially ‘Muslim’ behaviour, such as reading Arabic and bathing. But it wasn’t enough for them to burn the public libraries and destroy the public baths (cleanliness may be next to Godliness but it could also get you burnt at the stake in these times). Inquisition might not be able see into peoples hearts, but they could demand to see into peoples lives. Front doors were banned so that Inquisitors could burst in upon people unannounced. It wasn’t until the 19th century people were allowed to put gates across their entrances.
Seville is renowned for its bar culture so in the late afternoon we went on a bit of a bar crawl. Part of the enjoyment of drinking in Spanish bars (apart from drinking in Spanish bars) is free tapas. Of course you have to pay for proper tapas, but every bar also provides plates of olives, bread and beans. After a few bars we hardly needed to eat, although we eventually a plate of chorizo, Serrano ham and local cheese at a very local bar where nobody spoke any English. At the end of the night we ended up in the courtyard of a cathedral which doubles as a bar. Although it was a weeknight the courtyard was packed with people drinking, eating and socialising. It was almost as if we’d returned to Dusseldorf and its long bar (except that the wine was nicer and the people were better dressed!).
The next morning we debated going to the Alcazar and visiting the palace but decided instead to avoid the queues and visit the Plaza Espana. Plaza Espana was built in 1929 as part of the Ibero-American Exhibition. The World Exhibition phenomenon started with the London Exhibition of 1851 which showcased English inventions and technology. It was such a hit that every other country held its own. The plaza is an enormous semi-circular arcade. It was far too large to capture in a single photograph. Around the outer arcade individual mosaic fountains highlighted important scenes from Spanish history. Of course they present the ultra-nationalist view of history and 700 years of Muslim Spain are reduced to the surrender of several key cities, such as Seville, Cordoba, Almeria, Granada and Avila, to victorious Reconquistas. The building is grand of course but is now something of a white elephant. Some government departments have their offices there, such as the Dept of Road Transport, so people applying for a drivers licenses jostle with tourists in the broad, empty corridors. The building is probably most famous for providing the setting for the British High Command scenes at Cairo in the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia.”