Two hundred kilometres north of the Costa del Sol is the capital city of Andalucia, Seville. It is situated on the River Guadalquivir at the highest point of navigation for seagoing ships and the broad, slow flowing river still dominates the city. Since it’s founding, in the 9th Century BC, the city has been a centre of trade, originally occupied by the native people of the area, the Tartessians.
At the end of the 3rd Century BC the city was sacked by the Carthaginians and was rebuilt by the Romans. Almost simultaneously, in 206 BC, the city of Italica was founded a few kilometres north of Seville. The first mention of the name Hispalis is found in 49 BC, just 4 years before Julius Caesar granted it the status of colonia. The city prospered until 426 AD when it was taken by the Vandal king Gonderic. In 429 the Vandals departed for Tunisia for new conquests and plunder only to be replaced by the Suevi. Their temporary occupation came to an end in about 527 AD when the Visigoths arrived.
In 712 AD the city was conquered by the Moors who changed its name to Isbylia. The city then had a turbulent history for the following 500 years until in 1248 Ferdinand III reconquered the city. In 1481 Seville as it was then named, became the first seat of the Holy Office, better known as the Inquisition. In 1492 Spain was unified under a single crown and America was discovered. Seville became the Spanish gateway to America and was soon a thriving mecca of European trade. Seville’s importance was diluted slightly in 1717 when the administrative offices for trade with the Indies was moved to Cadiz, principally because of the difficulties of navigating the river. However Seville’s connections with the New World remained strong. In 1725 the Royal Tobacco Factory, of ‘Carmen’ fame was built. This is now the University. As late as 1929 Seville still identified strongly with the American trade, hosting the Ibero-American Exposition in that year.
With such a long and diverse history it is not surprising that Seville is an intriguing city but one that requires some time to get to know. Perhaps the first impressions a visitor receives of Seville is its monumental, often awe inspiring architecture. Everything seems too big, out of proportion, creating a feeling of disorientation or intimidation. Only when you delve beyond the surface do you realise that Seville was created to fulfil a succession of dreams which has given it a dream like atmosphere and, as with dreams, everything is not as it seems.
Before starting the tour of Seville, it is worth considering that most of the sites are in the old part of the city, the area once surrounded by the city walls. Driving is not recommended and parking is impossible. Take a city centre hotel, or one just outside and leave your car there. Walking is free and taxis are cheap. Even better, if you get the chance, use the Metro. The Seville MetroCentro Tram was opened in 2007 and trundles above ground right through the centre of the city. There is a very reasonable standard price for any distance travelled.
Of the Roman, Vandal and Suevi periods there is little that remains today, all having been built over. The Real Alcazar, Royal Palace, is perhaps the oldest surviving building, started in 931 AD there are traces of the original Moorish architecture but then you notice much later additions from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Nearby is the Torre del Oro, Golden Tower, named after the reflection of the sun on the gold tiles on the roof dome. The 12 sided tower was built at the beginning of the 13th Century and formed part of the cities defences. It is situated on the banks of the river alongside which there is a fine river walk.
From there it is a short distance to Plaza Espana. This two hundred metre diameter semi circle was built in 1929 for the Exposition in what is described as a ‘theatrical’ style. Today it is a series of offices in a monumental ‘Peter Pan’ like building that encloses a huge fountain and a moat. The public are allowed into the cloisters at the lower level. Notice the exquisite tiles with the coats of arms and emblems of the various regions of Spain set into the walls.
Parque De Marie Luisa
Just opposite Plaza Espana is a huge park, Parque De Marie Luisa. In 1893 Princess Maria Luisa donated half the gardens of the Palace of San Telmo to the city. In 1929, again for the Exposition, they were modified to what you see today. Kilometres of paths wend through formal and less formal gardens. There are one hundred year old orange trees, masses of flowering shrubs and flowers, fountains, ponds and lakes. It seems that most of the pigeons of Seville call the park home, along with a surprising selection of other birds for a location in the centre of a city. Keep your eyes open for the Roman style statues on 15 metre high columns giving a real ‘Imperial’ feel to the area. They, together with the horse drawn carriages, (no cars allowed), transport you back to a less frantic era.
Within the park there are other places of interest, the Museum of Arts and Popular Customs, the Royal Pavilion and the Archaeological Museum. The latter has a magnificent display of gold jewellery and ornaments collectively called the Tartessian Treasure hoard and one of the best graphical ‘timelines’ with example artifacts covering the Prehistoric to Roman periods in Andalucia. The museums are free for EC residents.
For those more inclined to shopping then this city is a paradise. Walking a gentle spiral outwards from the cathedral takes you through narrow streets, most pedestrian only, shaded at roof level by great swathes of muslin, in which you find all the ‘big name’ stores as well as smaller specialist and artisan shops. Scattered amongst them are innumerable tapas bars, coffee shops and restaurants. In the evenings the place comes alive as the tables appear in the streets and peripatetic musicians and entertainers wander between them.
The Sevillians all seem to dress for dinner on any night of the week so join in the fun and do likewise. Try visiting the rooftop tapas bars and gourmet section at El Cortes Ingles. You can have an aperitif and a tapas whilst sat on the rooftop terrace admiring the view over the city.