Left Grazalema on Thursday May 31st for Sevilla. Woke up to bright blue skies in Grazalema and forecast is for 20 degrees today. Although it was cool during our three days here, it didn’t stop us from doing anything and we really enjoyed it here. Thanks to Steve F. for his recommendation.
As we were leaving Grazalema on the winding mountain roads, came across lots of cyclists. Amazing at their skill in riding these roads.
Took us about 2 1/2 hours to get to Sevilla, with a stop along the way. We have rented an apartment in Sevilla for four nights, which is about a 15-20 minute walk to the Cathedral and Alcazar. We are near the Alameda de Hercules monument.
Sevilla has a population of 704,000(2018) and stands at 12 meters (39 feet). Sevilla has the largest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of any city in Andalusia, and is said to account for one whole quarter of Andalusia’s total GDP, and is the most populated city in Southern Spain. Agriculture is the dominant industry in the smaller villages surrounding Sevilla. Seville has the most important inland port of Andalusia, being thus an import/export hub for the whole region. The city depends on service and industry sectors: in particular trade, financial services, technology and tourism. The latter is one of the pillars of the local economy, since the city and its rich cultural heritage are appealing more and more visitors. The city has technological and aerospace research centres. The economy was hit with the downturn in 2008, but has steadily gotten better in the last few years.
The average temperature in Sevilla is 26C and the summers average over 35C. Yikes, not sure I would like the summers here. There is a Calatrava bridge here the Puente del Alamillo, which we saw from a distance on our drive into the city. We love his bridges, always very different in design. Our Peace Bridge in Calgary is one of his designs and we have seen others throughout our travels (Dublin, Buenos Aries). An update here, we drove across the Calatrava bridge as we left the city on Monday, June 4th.
We had set our GPS for the parking garage of the apartment; as you had to enter the garage from a side street. Well….talk about frustration! For 15 minutes we drive around the narrow streets trying to find the parking garage. We get near, then we see signs that indicate no entry, you know the kind I mean….a red circle with a white line through it….do not enter. We go around again and try from another direction; no luck. Robin comes up with the idea to find a parking space or parking garage and leave the car there till we figure out what to do. We contact the management company that handles this apartment and a young lady was waiting for us at the apartment. After speaking to her, we left the car in the parking garage that we had found outside the old town, and took a taxi with our luggage to the apartment. The young lady shows us around the apartment and shows us where we get into the garage. She could not understand why we had a problem. I pointed out that the sign on the street entering the alley indicated “no entry”. She pointed out a sign below that indicated “except authorized cars”. OK, guess we should have figured that out….did I mention that this sign was almost totally obliterated with graffiti and stickers! Oh well, all part of the experience. We take a taxi back to the parking garage, get our rental car and find the parking garage of our apartment. So easy…not!
Walk around our neighbourhood and get our bearings. Our guide book says that this neighbourhood was once a “no go neighbourhood, only reserved for “painted ladies and their pimps” and a wide range of “shady characters”! Today it has been transformed and has been taken over by the young and is crammed with trendy bars along the Alameda. It is also the main gay area of the city. At the end of the Alameda are two Roman columns and are said to be 2,000 years old. One column bears a statue of Hercules and the other Caesar.
We have a wonderful dinner out at a tapas bar that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. I know we said that we were somewhat tired of tapas, but this place was incredible. Edition Limitada Espacio Gastronomico; how about that for a name. I had made a reservation and they had a little sign made up welcoming us….all right, welcoming Robin! It was a twist on tapas; one could say “fusion tapas”. We had lamb stew served in a soft bread, a dish of potatoes, truffle oil and grana padano cheese, a block of boar meat with fig sauce and snap peas and grilled vegetables in a romanescu sauce. So good, think we are going to go back here.
When we stopped in a small roadside cafe on our way to Sevilla, the owner had the television on and was watching what appeared to be a political show live from the Spanish parliament. Later in the day in Sevilla when walking around noticed televisions on in several places watching the same thing. Well, now we know what was going on. The Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, lost a no confidence as his conservative People’s Party is mired in a financial scandal that last week saw 29 people linked to the party, including elected officials, receive heavy sentences while the party itself was fined for operating hidden accounts. His successor is said to be Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the center-left Socialists, the same man who helped bring down the government.
I always like to take pride on how organized I am when it comes to trip planning. Yes, I make mistakes. I totally forgot to book tickets for the Alcazar and the Real Palace. I realized this the morning we left Grazalema and when we arrived in Sevilla, I went on line to book tickets. They were totally sold out for the days that we are here! What to do. Robin goes on line and through Tripadvisor/Viator he finds a company that does guided tours. Booked tickets for Friday afternoon…..Whew!
On Friday morning, June 1st, we had arranged for an ebike tour of Sevilla. Opted for this for a change vs the free walking tours we have been doing in the other cities we have visited to date. Our guide Gabriel was incredible. There could have been up to six people on the tour, but we were the only two, so in essence our own private tour. We were gone for 2 1/2 hours. Cycling through the streets and bike paths of Sevilla felt very comfortable. Many stops along the way as Gabriel spoke about the history of Sevilla and the various monuments, historic buildings and gardens that we visited. Once again a great way to get to know your way around the city. Amazing the number of tourists here in Sevilla this weekend.
The city was founded by the Romans, still some remnants or Roman structures, and then the Moors arrived in 1085. A great mosque was built; but you know the story, it was destroyed in 1248 when the Christians arrived and a cathedral was built where the mosque once stood. Our guide tells us that mythology claims that Hercules founded the city of Sevilla. The plague did arrive in Sevilla in 1649 and we are told that 1/2 the population was lost. After the discovery of America in 1492 Sevilla became the main port for trade with the New World. When you look at a map it is hard to think of Sevilla as a port; it is classified as an inland port. In ancient times, boats could navigate down the Guadalquivir river to the ocean. In the 18th century the river became more silted and the majority of trade moved to the port of Cadiz.
Gabriel tells us that the when Sevilla hosted the Latin American Exposition of 1929 much construction took place in the city in the years prior to the exposition. The Plaza de Espana was the centrepiece. We ride by the Hotel Alfonso Xll and this hotel was built to provide upscale accommodations for the fair. He tells us that he believes that the minimal cost of the hotel is 1,000 Euro per night in the high season, it is a 4 star hotel….we are definitely not staying there. Just out of curiosity, I looked it up and we could get a room tonight for 230 Euro……probably in the basement!
The city also sponsored a world expo in 1992 and once again new construction took place, including a high speed train from Madrid.
We stop in front of the cathedral and Gabriel tells us that this is the biggest cathedral in Europe, with the exception of the Vatican of course, he says he is sure the Pope at the time had some say in the matter. There is a legend that says that the church authorities at the time said “Let’s construct a church so large that future generations will think we were mad”. The cathedral took 100 years to be built in the gothic style and was finished in 1502. We will come back on our own to visit the cathedral in the next few days. Then cycle to the other side to view the El Giraldillo, the minaret that is left from Moorish times. The Christians did install a bell tower……of course. Once again we see the ancient red writing on names on the cathedral outer walls; I mentioned this in my Granada blog.
Then on to the city hall, the Ayuntamiento built in the Neo-Classical style built in 1867 and sits at the Plaza Nueva. What is interesting about the city hall is that half the building is incredibly decorated and the other half is quite plain, apparently they ran out of money and the authorities over the years have not wanted to complete the work. Gabriel says that the majority of the population don’t even notice the fact of the different facades.
Ride to the Archivo General de Indias. This building at one time housed all of the historical trading archives of ancient times. Apparently they are now housed in a new building which has high security. These archives make up part of the Unesco World Heritage Sight of Sevilla along with the Catedral and the Alcazar. The guide book says there are more than 80 million pages of documents dating back to 1492 and up to the end of the 19th century; a statement of Spain’s power and influence during the Golden Age. The building is not much to look at, but certainly has historical meaning.
Stop to take in the Alcazar, which is very impressive. Gabriel tells us that the King and Queen of Spain stay here whenever they are in Sevilla and one can tell when they are there as the municipal flag is lowered and the royal flag goes up. They stay on the second story, which we are told is not included in a tour of the Alcazar. We will be visiting later today, thanks to Robin! All these sights are very close to one another so very easy to walk or cycle around to visit.
On to the Antigua Fabrica de Tabacos, an old tobacco factory, which was built in 1758. It was the setting for Bizet’s Carmen, and was where she toiled. Seville became the centre of the tobacco trade in the 17th century. Gabriel tells us that originally the factory employed men, but they found that women were gentler with handling the tobacco and they could pay them a lesser salary. Sounds like this has been going on for centuries, think the world has finally changed! The factory closed in 1950 an is now part of the University of Sevilla. We walked through the building which was huge.
We continue our ride and end up at Plaza de Espana. I always thought that this was just another plaza, but oh my gosh, so much more. A huge area with a large fountain and mini canals. Beautiful tile work throughout. We stop to take some pictures then Gabriel takes us through the gardens, the Parque Maria Luisa. He tells us that years ago the gardens were neglected by the city, but eventually they realized that they must invest in. Must say that the gardens were mainly free of tourists and just a small number of locals. Two beautiful buildings in the gardens built for the 1929 expo, one is now the Museo Arqueologico and the other the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares. Gabriel is also very interested in the history of Sevilla and Spain and plays percussion instruments on nights and weekends in addition to his guiding activities. He tells us that during the hot summer, his favourite place to come is the costume museum. He loves to see the exhibits which are constantly changing, then he says he goes down to the basement where there is a cafeteria and is very cool in the summer. So he takes a good book and spends a few hours there cooling off and having a coffee at a very reasonable price!.
Then continue cycling through the gardens and he takes us to his “special bench”. He tells us that he comes here with his girlfriend on warm evenings and they bring a bottle of wine and enjoy their time together. He tells us we should come as is a magical place around 10:00 pm. Are you kidding, I tell him; that is about the time we are getting ready to go to bed. Must admit that this eating at 8 and 9 o’clock at night is difficult, but a way of life here, so one has to adjust to the local ways.
Then cycle along the river bike path to the Torre del Oro, a 13th century watchtower. It supposedly had a roof covered in gold. Gabriel tells us that it is has this name as it is said that all the gold coming from the Americas came through this port.
We then cross the Isabella bridge and view Sevilla from the other side of the river. Along the river he points out a fig tree and tells us that it reminds him of his childhood. He used to pick figs in the countryside along the roads. He says he loves figs, but just can’t bring himself to buy them in a grocery store.
He points out the bull ring, which we will visit in the next couple of days. Robin asks if they still bullfight and if so, do they still use picadors (lancers). Gabriel says that bullfighting is still very much a sport in Spain. The only place that it has been banned is in Catalonia (a province that wants to separate from Spain) as they see bullfighting as a symbol of Spain and they don’t want anything to do with Spain!
Across the river there stands one sole high rise building and is very different looking, circular in shape with a sloped roof. Gabriel tells us that this is the most hated building in Sevilla, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is taller than the cathedral bell tower, which is thought to be a sacrilege. Christians feel that the most important building, the cathedral, should be the tallest as it is closest to God. Secondly, the building was built and is occupied by a Catalonian bank. This is the province that wants to separate from Spain, so why did the local municipality allow them to build this monstrosity!
We ask about the Gypsy women walking around in local cities with rosemary. They try to stop people, we always ignore them and wave them off. Gabriel says it is there way of earning a living. They will tell you that rosemary will bring you good luck and then they go on to read your palm and tell your fortune. He says that he has been approached on many occasions and he tells the Gypsy women that he has never heard of rosemary bringing any good luck to anyone. He thinks that they also get the rosemary from the public gardens, so funny, but ingenious on their part.
Across the river, the city also built a stadium in 1999 and seats 60,000. The stadium was one of those included in the Sevilla’s bid for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic bids. After the failure of the last bid, the stadium remained unused by either of Seville’s major football teams as both Real Betis and Sevilla each use their own stadia. It is now mainly used as a concert venue.
It is now the end of our cycle tour and Gabriel has been so great and good to get some exercise other than walking! Finally he gives up a detailed map of the city, shows us where we have been and points out more sights that we should visit. He talks about getting lost in a few neighbourhoods, which we plan on doing. We usually do this, and always fun to explore new places. Gabriel says that the residents of Sevilla have a tendency to stay in their own barrios, even as much as spending time in their own squares. This is where they come out in the evenings for their drinks and tapas and to visit in the early evening. We have definitely noticed this, Sevilla has little plazas everywhere you turn. I suppose just like us, going for coffee in Kensington area in Calgary.
We head back to the bike shop and stop for lunch prior to heading back to the apartment and a rest prior to visiting the Alcazar later today. Not sure I mentioned, but all the Jacaranda trees are in bloom, beautiful.
We noticed, as we have been walking through the streets of Sevilla, that they do of course have graffiti, as do all cities, but not with an artistic flair as we have seen in other places. The one thing they do which is different is paint the metal shutters on the store fronts with various scenes. Also, lovely ceramic inserts in the buildings; either Christian in nature or depicting a scene. I love seeing the small differences in the various cities we visit….graffiti, unique doors, flowers in windows, ceramic signs, etc. Each city with its own artistic flair!
At 5 pm we join our group of 10 to visit the Real Alcazar with our guide Vincente. Our visit lasts about two hours and once again very informative. I must add that our bike guide, Gabriel and Vincente both talk about the “Mudajar”. The word denotes a partly Gothic, partly Islamic style of architecture and art prevalent in Spain in the 12th to 15th centuries. both the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar are of this style. This late afternoon tour was great as the palace and gardens weren’t really busy.
This Alcazar was built primarily in the 1300’s and was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987, yes, another one added to the list. It was originally founded as a fort and has been expanded or reconstructed several times over the centuries. One of the areas that we visited was said to be the rooms of King Alfonso Xl mistress, Leonor de Guzman, who was reputedly the most beautiful woman in Spain. Our guide told us that the baths were specifically built for her as well. One aspect that we thought was really interesting is that a lot of the pillars holding up the various rooms do not match. Some are made of red marble, white marble and some from other types of stone. Our guide tells us that the builders of the time went off to an abandoned town nearby and collected columns from old Roman ruins. Talk about recycling! I somehow think that one might not notice this unless it was pointed out to you.
There all different rooms in the castle some used for entertaining and some used for trade. We also visited the throne room. One hall had very large Belgium tapestries which represented the kingdom of Spain.
The Moorish type ceramic work is interspersed with Christian symbols is again a sign of he Mudajar type of architecture, a blend of the two cultures. One must never forget to look up and see the beautifully wooden sculptured ceilings. Many fountains throughout which are guide tells us is equivalent to air conditioning. One major difference that I found between the Real Alcazar and the Alhambra is the amount of colour used here in the Real Alcazar. Blues and reds used in the plaster work, whereas a lot of the plaster work in Granada was in its natural state. Beautiful intricate ceramic work here depicting pictures of flora, fauna, emblems and characters.
The outer gardens here are absolutely magnificent with pruned hedges, fountains with fish, mazes and of course beautiful shaded treed areas, rose gardens, various benches and courtyards and statues throughout. I loved the bath area which was in a lower part of the palace. Loved to see the reflection in the water. Vincente points out an area in the garden where Game of Thrones (season 5, I think he said) was filmed here in the Alcazar. One of the American men on the tour was so excited about this, he said he was going to watch it again, just to see these gardens in the show. Thought this was so funny as he was so excited about this.
After the tour was completed, we stayed and toured the gardens for a little while longer, so nice and cool in the shade. The weather here in Sevilla has been about 25 each day, and we are enjoying it.
On our way back to our apartment we come across an Italian restaurant tucked away in an alley and opt for this change from tapas and meat. A jam packed day, but great to see so many new places and get to know the city and its history.
Saturday, June 2nd and we head off to the Catedral. The line up to get in only takes about a half hour, so not to bad at all. The total area of the Cathedral is at 11,520 square meters (124,000 square feet). The building is 135 meters (443 feet) long and 100 meters (328 feet) wide, and a ceiling height of 42 meters (138 feet). Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in the world (after St.Peter’s in Rome and St.Paul’s in London) as well as the largest Gothic church in the world. It was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987. Construction began in 1433 and ended in 1506.
The oldest door of the church is called the Puerta del Perdon (Door of Forgiveness) and dates from the early 16th century and is Moorish in design.
As you enter the courtyard to get to the ticket office, there is a replica of the statue and wind vane called the El Giraldillo, which sits on top of the Giralda, the original mosque minaret, now the bell tower. As one first enters you see the Church treasures, then you enter the church itself. It is indeed immense, vaulted ceilings, various chapels along the perimeter, outer chambers with paintings and church treasures, stained glass windows, and beautiful woodwork. Several alters, including one completely made of silver. The main altarpiece which is intricately carved, is said to be the largest in Christendom. As I was taking a picture, I noticed that lights kept coming on and off to highlight particular sections of the altar piece. I just read some statistics on the cathedral. Its interior is divided into: 5 naves, 43 chapels and altars, 81 stain glass windows, 28 attached pillars, 32 free standing pillars, 26 murals, 68 vaults. They say over 1.3 million people visit every year and that the cathedral has enjoyed two papal visits.
We also see Christopher Columbus’s sepulchre. He died in northern Spain and his remains were moved four separate times. Originally his remains were laid to rest in a monastery in Sevilla, then they were moved to the Dominican Republic, then to Cuba and back to Spain. There has been some question if the remains buried here in the cathedral were indeed Christopher Columbus or possibly his brother. They now say that recent DNA testing prove that these are indeed the remains of Christopher Columbus. THe sepulchre is quite grand. It shows four statues holding up the casket. These represent the four Spanish kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarra which existed during Columbuses time. A beautiful work of art.
The outer courtyard the Patio de los Naranjos (the Patio of the Orange Trees) is quite lovely and is the exit of the church tour. We were about to leave and I realized that we had not seen the Giralda. We were told that we really should go up it, and that the climb was easy as it is a ramp and not steps. At the top, we noticed we went up 34 ramps. I read the reason for the ramps is that they were used by horsemen that went up to the top of the tower to see if any enemies were approaching. Good views from the top. It is said that the Giralda the best know symbol of Sevilla.
We then make our way to the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the bull ring. This is the oldest bull ring in Spain, building began in 1758 and this is where bull fighting began along the same time as the bull ring in Ronda. One is guided through the museum, some great pictures and memorabilia. I really loved the old posters and the drawings. The guide speaks in Spanish and English and she told us when to listen to our audio guides for a further description. The bullfighting season goes from October to April and some later and yes, they still kill the bulls here in Spain. We view the horse corrals then a chapel where the bull fighters say their prayers before there debut into the ring. We then visited the ring itself.
On our way back to our apartment we come across an artisans market, always great to come across these shops where locals show and sell their wares. I am now the proud owner of a new necklace!
Another wonderful dinner out at a small bar in one of the many squares in our barrio. The Bodega Palo Alto was a great choice. Very unassuming from the outside, but great food, which really is all that counts. Robin had Preso con jamon (ham with prosciutto and potatoes) and I had Bacaloa in Salsa Verde con Jamon y Lagostinos (cod in a greeen sauce with ham and shrimp). Love finding these out of the way places with good food. A lot of locals here having their tapas and drinks. A lovely older couple outside enjoying their evening together, lovely to see. We can’t help but continue to relish in the European way of life!
Sunday, June 3rd and after doing some laundry (glad for the apartment washer), we head off to the Metropol Parasol. Not too far from where we are staying Prior to going up to the Parasol, we stop and have a coffee/tea and finally indulge in some churros. Well, sorry to say, not as good as the churros that we have had in Mexico. People here have their churros with hot chocolate the majority of the time, and dunk them in their drink.
Read a little about the Parasol and as anything different, there was controversy. It was designed by the German architect Jurgen Mayer and completed in April 2011. It has dimensions of 150 by 70 metres (490 by 230 ft) and an approximate height of 26 metres (85 ft) and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Its appearance, location, delays and cost overruns in construction resulted in much public controversy. It was supposed to cost 50 million Euro and was originally to be completed in 2007 and it is said that the cost ballooned to 100 million Euro.
The building is popularly known as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Incarnation’s mushrooms) it has six parasols in the form of mushrooms. There are four levels to this structure. The underground level houses the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains discovered on site are displayed in a museum. Level 1 (street level) is the Central Market (closed today as is Sunday). The roof of Level 1 is the surface of the open-air public plaza, shaded by the wooden parasols above and designed for public events. Levels 2 and 3 are the two stages of the panoramic terraces (including a restaurant), offering one of the best views of the city centre. It was great to see Sevilla from a higher perspective. Took several shots of various sectors of the city from this viewpoint.
As we are on our way to the an art gallery we want to see, we come across a religious procession, very moving. It is similar to what has been explained to us as to a brotherhood carrying the statue of Mary. The procession had many men, assume the brotherhood and some of them were close to the platform carrying the statue, giving those underneath instructions as to when to turn a corner or to stop. Men carrying the platform cannot be seen as they are under it and there is a covering all around the platform. We however, did see their feet! So nice to come across this. Sometimes the best memories are unexpected ones!
We then continue further into the inner city to find the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes. This building is a 17th century mansion which was once used as a hospice for aging priests. It is now an art gallery and also encompasses a church. We saw masterpieces by Diego Velaquez and Esteban Murillo. Wonderful typical Sevillano patios in a couple of areas. The church was quite remarkable with its painted walls.
Stop for lunch around the corner in the barrio of Santa Cruz. Must say that it drives Robin and I crazy when we hear english speaking people make no effort whatsoever to try to speak even a little Spanish….why can’t they even try to say “por favor” or “gracias”. This after all this is a Spanish speaking country….make an effort.
We follow the suggestions of our guide Gabriel and we get lost in the Santa Cruz barrio and wind our way in the various alleyways looking into the small shops. Also come across the Murillo Gardens and view the interesting statue of Isabella and a ship belonging to Columbus, we presume. These gardens are behind the Alcazar gardens and Robin and I wondered if these Murillo gardens were for the peons!
We find our way back to our barrio, La Macarena, and go to the Mercado de la Feria. I had read on their official website that they were open today, but alas, that information was wrong and they were closed. Oh well. We decide to stop in the Almada de Hercules area and enjoy a drink in the late afternoon. This area is a large open square full of bars, water features and areas for kids to play. So great on a Sunday afternoon, the square if full of families and groups of friends enjoying each others company. As we head back to our apartment, there is an area set up in the square where local kids are trying different acrobatic apparatus….trampolines, jumping mats, hula hoops, juggling, unicycles and many other items. Nice to see them having so much fun; but at times I thought the breaking of an arm or leg wasn’t too far off!
Lots of walking these past few days in Sevilla which had been great.
We are off tomorrow morning, Monday, June 4th to Merida, Spain for 2 nights. It is a couple of hours by car and our first sojourn out of the province of Andalusia. This is a stopover for our visit to Evora, Portugal.