During Spring, Seville is enlivened by the April Fair and Holy Week festivals that flock Flamenco performers, penance processions and trinket stalls to its streets. My visit in January was forebearing; orange trees that festoon the city were yet to bloom and romance the city with a citric aroma. Loud street shouting was instead hooves on cobbled stones and murmurs between tapas-sharers outside cafes. Disown seasonal judgment and I could indulge equally in the cultural explosion within this part of the Iberian Peninsula from the early Moorish conquest, Catholic reclamation and feat of the Spanish Empire.
I surely visited the Real Alcazar. Originally a Moorish castle built under the Ummayad caliphate in the 10th century, the fortress was turned into a palace by King Peter of Castille following the Christian reconquest. It saw further construction under the Spanish monarchy and today upper floors of the palace remain of residence during their visits to Seville.
The Alcazar, divided into palatial rooms and gardens, is emblematic of mudéjar architecture marrying gothic, renaissance and Islamic art. The layers of influence carried through the Middle Ages is the Alcazar’s epic reminder of Spanish history. Rooms house an array of colours and walls are lined with geometric tiles. Some displayed beloved hand fans from around the world and others held art exhibitions. The Patio de Las Doncellas courtyard, tucked away with pillars framing a pool with perfect symmetry left the greatest impression. Water, whether it be symmetrical pools (static) or fountains (dynamic movement) is a regular feature in Islamic architecture symbolising purification and the life of all things. This was closely followed by Alfonso’s gothic palace and the inscriptions on the Palacio de Don Pedro. I also enjoyed navigating the Renaissance style gardens; palm trees watched over maze-cut shrubbery and vases with ‘Alcazar’ written over them sat atop of the arms of benches. All this faced the Wall of Grotesques, a unique piece with a jagged front which drew the attention of many visitors.
Fascinated by its ceramics, I later crossed the bridge to Triana, an old neighbourhood known for Flamenco roots and Sevillian ceramics. Here I sampled a cluster of shops selling delicate pieces. Rows of brightly coloured tiles, vases and plates lay in uniform with geometric motifs. It has been said that the clay used to be taken from the nearby Guadalquivir riverbank, before replacement by modern pottery techniques. Although a gradually declining industry, Triana remains proud and holds onto its specialty from the days when the neighbourhood housed many factories. Triana is rather quiet in the morning and one is awakened not by the surrounding noise, but by the stunning displays. Be prepared to purchase something if you hang around for a long time. For someone whose greatest childhood interest was in drawing, sadly, the ceramics painting workshops only took large group bookings. Although I did not get the chance to visit, The Centro Ceramica Triana ceramics museum was also highly recommended.
The Plaza de España initially drew my attention to the city. The square in María Luisa was constructed for hosting the 1929 American-Iberian World Exposition to improve relations between Spain, Portugal and their former colonies. What started off as consulate spotting of Mexico, Portugal and Guatemala around the plaza drew to a conclusion once I stumbled across a map showing them to be just a few of the 23 attendee countries which built their pavilions around the outskirts. The pavilions now serve as consulates, and the Plaza itself, as government offices. From a distance, the square bears a Venetian appearance. Small bridges bend over the the river in front of an arched, grandiose structure. However, our favourite tiles recur and sprawl comfortably all around. This time, reminding me of porcelain. Not only does each country have a pavilion, the Plaza de España also dedicates a lustrous shrine with their names painted over a unique design. I noticed there were books left by each of them, most likely contributed by the public, for I picked one up entitled ‘Communications strategy’ and another being biblical text.
Whilst I wouldn’t have watched the real thing, it’s difficult to refuse the opportunity to tour and learn about one of the most famous bullrings in Spain. Until this experience, I had always associated the sport with physical aggression and linkage to cultural pride. What has evolved into Bullfighting was originally horsemanship training for knights in preparation for battle. Matadors are regarded with great respect and courage, but I found it interesting that the bulls were seen similarly, as opposed to being an enemy. Only the most ferocious and brave are selected from their breed. The tour group was taken to an altar where matadors pray before entering the ring. The majority of them are Catholic. When the doors opened, we were greeted by a 12,000 capacity golden arena; arbiter of the matador’s fate.
A final note on the orange trees:
On my last day, I passed the gardens and heard a rattling sound followed by repeated thumping. A bemusing group of men used sticks to shake oranges off their trees. The stubborn fruit, due to the difficulty in reaching them and their consistently bitter taste grew EVERYWHERE, and finally people were getting them. I couldn’t help but walk over and ask. It’s difficult conversing with a language barrier but we got there eventually. ‘Mercado?’ I asked (in a desperate attempt, this word I picked up meaning market was used). No- he gestured that they couldn’t be eaten and grimaced at their bitterness. I asked that he typed what he then tried to say in Spanish and hit Go. ‘Mermelada’, of course, for I later saw this in shops.
It’s a shame I’m not the biggest fan of marmalade.
My other note-worthy visits
Archives of the Indies: A research institute and museum preserving original documents from the voyage, empire, through to the New World.
Metropol Parasol: A contemporary wooden structure erected with panoramic views of the city on the second and third floors. It’s minimalism, abstraction and disassociation from religious influence contrasts with the majority of the architecture in Seville.
Flamenco Museum: A museum walking you through Flemanco history, Seville’s cultural treasure rooted in the late 18th century. The style of dance has Phonetician, early Greek, Asian and African influences. Of 60 styles, only a third are danceable.