Sightseeing in Seville
28 June – 1 July 2007: Sightseeing in Seville
“Seville is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women”
We were both very much looking forward to visiting Seville. It was on our list of “must see” places and we were pleased to have finally made it. Our initial impressions on heading into town were of a pretty, vibrant city, full of lush green parks and pretty buildings. Everywhere we looked there were coffee shops full of pretty young things (Byron’s women) and tree lined (with oranges!) pedestrianized boulevards. Scenes from Carmen, Figaro and the Barber of Seville came to mind on each corner, though thankfully we stopped short of bursting into song.
First view of Seville
We started our tour of Seville at the city’s cathedral. The cathedral took over a century to build (1402-1506) using the foundations of a pre-existing mosque and is the largest church in the world (based on cubic measurement). Wandering around the outside we admired the intricate gothic stonework and the magnificent entrance door. Once inside and equipped with an (excellent) audio guide we took a moment to savour the cool interior while our eyes adjusted to the gloom. We looked up, and up and up, admiring the sheer vastness of the central nave. It is so tall that the traditional stained glass windows on each wall looked like tiny children’s stickers, while statues and organ cases towered around us. Luckily there were some windows lower down for mere mortals to admire.
The audio guide took us on a very comprehensive tour of the cathedral, taking in each of the chapels in turn. Looking at endless statuettes of saints in the numerous chapels got a little tedious after a while, but there were many highlights. Top of the list was the tomb of Christopher Columbus, held aloft by four figures representing Spanish kingdoms, and flanked by a huge fresco of St Christopher. The monument was originally in the cathedral in Havana, but was shipped to Seville after Cuban independence.
Christopher Columbus’ Tomb
The second highlight was the vast Gothic altar-piece in the Main Chapel, composed of 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ. It took one man a lifetime to create, and is the largest and richest alter-piece in the world (do you sense a pattern forming here?), covered in gold leaf from top to bottom. The sacristy and chapter house were also interesting for their very different architecture and decoration style.
Finally we arrived at the end of the audio guide tour and one of the main reasons for our visit to the cathedral. The Giralda is all that remains of the original mosque and served as a minaret. When the cathedral was built the tower was preserved and belfry added. It is a beautiful Moorish building with intricate brick and latticework that presented a sharp contrast with the pointed edges of the Gothic cathedral. We climbed the tower for a good view of the city below and a close up of the cathedral’s gargoyles!
Next door to the cathedral is the Archives of the Indies. The building contains all the documents relating to voyages made to the Americas by the Spanish, but unfortunately most of it is hidden from view for the casual tourist (no doubt in case you are an unscrupulous treasure hunter seeking secret maps!). On display was Columbus’ log, some original chart sketches and other nautical curiosities. It is a real shame that we couldn’t leaf through the endless box files on the walls containing records of years of maritime exploration.
Around the corner is another Moorish monument, the Torre del Oro, which was built by the Moors in 1220 as part of the city fortifications. The tower was then used as a repository for the gold brought to Seville from the Americas but now houses what the guidebook described as a Naval Museum. We started listening to the introduction on the audio guide, and after 20 minutes of rambling got bored so we started wondering around the exhibits, while still listening to the introduction. The museum had a completely random, unlabeled collection of nautical artefacts from binnacles and models of ships to photographs and badly painted oil paintings of nautical scenes (a bit like a wardroom!). The audio guide rambled on about an encounter between a man and woman outside the tower, and how he fell in love with her while she told him the history of the tower (Brief Encounter it was not). Still, it was fun and the tower was very pretty from the outside.
Continuing on our tour of Moorish Seville we allowed a whole afternoon to visit the Alcazar. This was a palace built for the rulers of Seville since Roman times that has been altered greatly over the years (It was expanded by one ruler to house his harem of 800 women!). It is a fine example of Mudejar architecture and is, quite simply, stunning (even I liked this one…J). Everywhere we looked in the Arab part of the palace there was intricately carved plasterwork and colourful geometric tiles. The craftsmanship and skill used to decorate the building was evident and it still in a fairly good condition. We rushed through the 16th century part of the palace into the luscious gardens and enjoyed a stroll under the shady trees, though James was disappointed by the lack of an ice cream shop…
The final Mudejar building we visited was the Casa de Pilatos, a mansion built by the Marques de Tarifa. The house showed an interesting mixture of Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance styles, all mixing together at different heights. It is a little out of the way in the old part of town, but worth seeking out. The lower rooms around the courtyard were tiled floor to ceiling in colourful geometric patterns, while the upper rooms were more “European” with heavy drapery and oil paintings. The strangest painting was one of a woman who grew a beard – it showed her breast feeding a baby, and was not very flattering. You’d have thought she’d shave!
We also admired some 20th century architecture in Seville. The city planned to house a “Fair of the Americas” in 1929 and many buildings were erected in preparation (the Wall Street crash meant the fair was cancelled). The Plaza de Espaňa was meant to exhibit industry and craft and has tiled paintings representing each of provinces. None of the explanations were in English, but it was fun to see the way each province was represented. It also seemed to be a popular place for wedding photos as we saw several brides trying to stay looking radiant in the heat while photographers bustled around them.
We had a wonderful time exploring Seville. It is a beautiful city with plenty to see. It was certainly worth the long trek up and down the river, and comes highly recommended as a weekend destination!