After many months of rain and cold weather in Logroño it was so nice to finally get some nice weather…and Sevilla was my first stop on my conquest of the south. Sevilla, known for its Flamenco, Gitano infused music, unique tapas, and unmistakable accent, make for a very distinct culture all their own. They are ‘Sevillanos’.
I was lucky enough to stay in a hostel that was located right in the center, minutes from the cathedral, the biggest cathedral in the world I might add, which made it very easy to get all around the city center. The first morning in Sevilla I was off on a walking tour of the city. This city has quite the history and I was in for a real treat with a great guide!
At one point Spain was ruled by the Moors, the medieval Muslim inhabitants of Morocco, so Sevilla still holds a mixture of the two cultures. The Moors ruled in Spain for almost 800 years, from 711 to 1492, when the Spanish finally regained control of the country. At that same time, in 1492 (that year should look familiar to all of you Americans…. ‘In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue’), Sevilla became the main trading post for all ships coming and going from the newly discovered Americas. For this, from the years 1492 to 1717, Sevilla was the ‘place to be’.
So on my walking tour we first discussed the reign of the Moors. I already mentioned that they were in Spain for about 800 years ruling Spain and Portugal (the Iberian peninsula) under the Muslim faith. Our guide started to explain the mixture of cultures that we were going to see throughout the city using the main tower of what is now the cathedral as an example. The tower is called ‘La Giralda’, it was a former minaret built by the Muslims in 1189 and the cathedral to the right of the tower was also once a mosque. But, during the ‘Reconquista’ the Spanish kings, who were Catholics, took back their country (Sevilla was taken back in 1248) and began to change and convert buildings and churches using ‘Christian’ art and building design. Only then was the mosque converted into the beginnings of what is now the cathedral and the bell tower added to the top of the tower to look more Christianesque.
This discussion of Muslim vs. Christian art then brought up the mudéjar style art, which at the time of the Reconquista was very popular in Sevilla. Mudéjar style is a mixture of both Christian and Islamic art in the same art pieces. Our guide described to us that it was difficult to find Christian architects in the time when the kings were trying to reconstruct the city because most Christians were farmers. So they had to resort to using Muslim architects and later attached Christian adornments overtop to ensure that people knew it was supposed to be ‘Christian’. So you have a mixture of both types of art together. But, our guide assured us that the Arabic inscriptions written on the buildings and art pieces during this time do not actually mean anything and are more just symbols that are supposed to represent the Muslim style.
The best representation of mudéjar can be found in the Real Alcázar, a royal palace that was originally a Moorish fort. The Moors were the first to build a palace in Sevilla and only later, in the takeover, Christian monarchs started adding their own ‘additions’ to the palace. Even today it is still the official Sevillan residence of the royal family.
Inside, it is absolutely beautiful with all of the many rooms and courtyards and the best part are the back gardens. Right in the middle of Sevilla, a bustling city, you can go into these gardens and find complete peace. With wild peacocks roaming around, water fountains, and plenty of rose bushes and all kinds of other flowers, you can go, sit, take a snack, and just bask in the serene and ‘cool’ environment that the Alcázar gives.
Still on the walking tour, we later began to discuss the great reign of Spain, or the ‘Golden Years’, when they were receiving gold, jewels, chocolate, spices, and so many other great things from the Americas. Although, with this discussion of triumph, we also had to talk about the destruction and havoc that Spain was causing in the pursuit of these newfound resources. This topic was brought up to later discuss our next stop and how it related to the great exposition of 1929 (The World’s Fair). This was supposably the time when Spain (Sevilla) was finally going to get the world back on their side. They built great buildings, plazas, and parks to prepare for this great exposition.
My favorite was the ‘Plaza de España’, which has a beautiful representation of each different province of Spain. Of course I had to run and find Logroño’s alcove and take lots of photos! Amazing how attached you get to a place when it feels like home! So anyways, the Spanish invited each and every Central and South American colony that they had once ruled as a way to say ‘sorry’ for what they had done to their countries almost 500 years before, hoping that they could be on somewhat good terms.
They built each country their own beautiful building, each one unique. These buildings are still standing and as beautiful as they are, the problem after any big exposition is the question of what do with all of these building afterwards?! Most of them are now museums or government buildings and Cuba’s building was even turned into a very famous Sevillan theatre known as ‘El teatro Lope de Vega’.
This was a part of the city I had to visit again another day on bicycle to really get a good feel of it. I rode all around the parque de María Louisa, looking at all of the fancy buildings that framed this part of the city, especially admiring once again the Plaza de España in all of its glory!!
The tour was quite interesting, really demonstrating all the changes that Sevilla has gone through in the past centuries and how they have managed to preserve bits of each to make up the unique culture that they still celebrate today.
I also took an afternoon tour while I was there, offered by the same group, and it was also very informative! We mostly focused on the Jewish Quarter, La Judería, which is now a quite exclusive part of the city to live in. Because of their innovative mechanics so long ago they have created a quarter of the city that never reaches 35˚C (95˚F) in a city that often reaches between 45˚-50˚C (118˚-120˚F) in the summer. They built this neighborhood in such a way that the streets are very narrow and block the sun out so that it never actually reaches the ground! Smart, huh?! We should try this in Phoenix! They also have these amazing patios that are all over the city, in ever apartment complex actually, to keep cool. The plants and foliage in the patio as well as the way that it is in the center of all of the apartments gives a breezeway into each one. You can actually feel the the temperature lower as you walk by each patio. Another great invention to beat the heat!!
This building of all of these sideways and narrow streets also came in handy during the Spanish Inquisition, because when the Christian soldiers came in to kill them, they often got lost on the narrow streets and ended up focusing on trying to find their way out of this sector of the city rather than catching anyone!
While discussing this we also learned why ‘jamón’ (ham) is so important and practically adorns every tapa and dish that is served. During the Inquisition (the expulsion of Muslims and Jewish people out of Spain), it was very easy to test people’s religious beliefs by offering them jamón. If they didn’t accept the tasty morsels it very likely meant that they were of a faith other than Christianity and killed because of it.
On a happier note…let’s talk about the food! So, as distinct as their way of speaking (eating the ‘s’ at the end of words, just to give one example) so are their tapas and special dishes of the south! With recommendations from Fermín, Jorge, and even my good friend Carolyn from Chicago that had lived in Sevilla for many years, I had quite a lot of things to try…but I did my best! :)
It was so great because I met many people at the hostel and always had great restaurant and food recommendations for everyone! So helpful! Not to mention how great it was to have the reassurance that you were experiencing the best the south had to offer! Some of my favorites were Salmorejo, a cold vegetable soup with jamón sprinkled over top (so refreshing on such hot days!) and of course the ‘pescaíto frito’ which is so famous down here because of the fresh fishing that goes on each day! Oh yeah, and because of the heat it is also obligatory to try a new flavor of gelato each day!! :)
As beautiful as this city is and as much as I enjoyed learning about all the history that it holds, I was ready to head off to the beach and find some nice cool breezes! Cádiz, here I come!