Seville (Mar 29-31)

My main associations with Seville were those of oranges and of course the Barber! So I was curious to find out what the place was actually like.

Our train journey on the Ave high speed train from Madrid was good, but the final bit to our hotel was rather confused and it took much longer to get to hotel than it should have. It turned out that Google maps has the wrong location for Seville San Bernardo train station (what is actually a market was very confusingly marked as the station), which really wasn’t helpful (I’ve now reported it to them, though I have no idea how long it will take for them to correct).

So we ended up taking tram from San Bernardo to near Seville Cathedral and from there it was a short walk to our hotel. Though I will add that it’s a serious suitcase killer (if you use the wheeled variety) as the streets are cobbled and rather uneven. As we walked passed it I admired Seville Cathedral, which dominates the streets around it even at night. It’s huge; absolutely monumental. It seemed like one of the biggest cathedrals I’ve seen, and is apparently the largest gothic cathedral in Europe.

Our hotel, El Rey Moro (The Moorish King) was quite unique – it used to be an old moorish house, and now is a small hotel with a set of individually decorated rooms arranged around an inner courtyard. We were in room 25, which had an antique looking bed, tiled floors, and moorish style furniture. It was late, so we headed straight out for some cheap tapas, and went to bed as soon as we could.

Breakfast was reasonable, and the member of staff looking after it was very friendly but didn’t speak much English. I asked for a couple of boiled eggs, and after a bit of helpful translation from Greg to the Spanish of “4 minute eggs” the lady smiled in understanding and beetled off to cook them.

Our first visit was to the Condesa de Lebrija Palace, which she bought shortly after her husband died. It was a very modern style accommodation, based on a Moorish style with Roman influences where we both felt at home – unlike many of the castles, palaces and stately homes that we visit we could imagine ourselves happily living there. The rooms were comfortable, with fireplaces plus underfloor heating topped by roman mosaic tiles, all based round a lovely open central courtyard,

From here we went to a very modern creation – the “Seville Mushroom”, more formally named the Metropol Parasol, but known to the locals as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Incarnación’s mushrooms, after the architect). It has dimensions of 150 by 70 metres and an approximate height of 26 metres and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. We were lucky enough to go on a sunny day and the design looked striking against a blue sky. We walked along the top pathway, and admired the impressive views across Seville.

After this stop we travelled back in time to the Case de Pilatos (Pilate’s House – as in Pontious Pilate), a large palace with clear Moorish influence, considered the first Anadulsian palace and built for the Dukes of Medinaceli.  Built around two open courtyards, it has very impressive roman mosaic tiles on the floors, and we bought the ticket extra ticket for the first floor and admired the large and very well decorated rooms. Like many large homes of the region and period, the family lived in the tiled open ground floor rooms in the summer with wonderful airflow.  In the winter they moved upstairs to the much cosier, enclosed rooms on the first floor.  There was also a splendid garden with some wonderful bougainvillaea.

We took a risk for lunch and stopped at an un-researched small bar and restaurant down a sidestreet, which we chose as most of the customers appeared to be locals rather than tourists. We ordered a selection of tapas, which are very traditional in Seville, and enjoyed some wonderful dishes including the apparently local favourite of chips, egg and ham – rather good! – and local fish in a tomatoey source – so good I ordered a repeat! As a bonus we also happened to be served by a rather good looking waiter. 🙂

After lunch we walked to The Plaza de España (“The Square of Spain”) which is a splendid plaza located in the Parque de María Luisa (Maria Luisa Park). It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and is apparently considered a landmark example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture. It was busy when we visited, full of visitors and families enjoying the open air. The main square is surrounded by canals, on which a variety of boats were meandering up and down (and sometimes sideways a bit out of control!). The main buildings now contain government depts including Seville Town Hall, and there are many, very pretty and rather photogenic, small tiled alcoves dedicated to each a province in Spain. Parque de María Luisa has been described as ‘Moorish paradisical style’ and is said to contain a half mile of: tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, and exhedras; lush plantings of palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and stylized flower beds! They makes quite a sight and it was very enjoyable to stroll around in the sunshine.

We exited from the plaza and wandered through the greater park, heading towards the river. We arrived just in time to catch one of the regular river cruises. The ships were clearly sized to cater for peak season, and four of us off-season passengers enjoyed a space which looked to seat about 200! We did wonder if the missing 196 knew what they were doing when it started to rain, but despite the short, but vigorous, downpour we enjoyed a relaxing journey up and down the river complete with some commentary to try and help us make some sense of what we were seeing on the riverbanks.

That evening we selected the top tapas restaurant on Tripadvisor (Taberna Coloniales), which we’d seen with huge queues previously but we managed to get straight in as we were early (by relative Spanish standards anyway!). The food was good, and Greg particularly enjoyed a scrambled egg dish. That evening we enjoyed the hotel’s rooftop jacuzzi, which had an unexpected view of the top of Seville Cathedral.

We rose early the next morning, as we were scheduled to visit the Alcazar.  It had been raining overnight but was now sunny with clear blue skies. The cathedral looked radiant in the sunshine and we got into a queue for palace just behind it, a few minutes before it’s 9:30am opening. The palace itself was very impressive, with clearly Moorish architecture making it interesting and quite different to our eyes.  Originally a Moorish fort it has been remodelled and extended many times over the years.  In the 11th century the original palace was largely converted by the Christian King Alfonso XI into a Gothic one. Between 1364 and 1366 King Pedro oversaw the construction of a new Mudéjar palace, the Palacio de Don Pedro, the current principal edifice.  It is a fascinating set of interlinked buildings arranged round lovely plant filled interior courtyards.

In the 16th century the first floor was built by Carlos V with a combination of Renaissance and mudéjar plaster work.  We again paid for the extra tickets for the first floor, and found that the upstairs tour consistently purely of us, two french tourists and our security guide escort! There were a large number of rooms with some very intricate designs, and clearly lavishly appointed.  It is incredibly difficult to describe the fascinating, intricate, detailed decoration and beauty of the rooms.  The Alcazar is the oldest palace in the world still in use with the upper floor rooms used for a variety of state functions

Outside were large pleasure gardens with various sections which were very pleasant to wander through on this warm day. There were frequent fountains and other water features, to keep things cool. One of the fountains is a musical fountain which periodically through the day, using its water spouts to play an organ!  There are a variety of pavilions which were designed as places to take tea, or play games avoiding the direct heat.  Channels of water from the water features run through them to keep them cool.  One section of the garden was called the English garden, apparently dedicated to Queen Victoria, and for us was the most boring section!

The palace tour took us several hours, after which we headed to explore the inside of the cathedral, officially known as Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See) which we’d admired so much from the outside. Built in the 16th century It is the largest catholic cathedral in the world, a title it took from Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church which had held the title for more than a thousand years.  Taking more than 100 years to build, it was completed in 1506, then the dome collapsed in 1511 required extensive rebuilding (it collapsed again in 1888 and took another 15 years to rebuild).  It was paid for by the entire parish clergy sacrificing half their income for the duration of the build.

It was quite dark on inside with huge main chambers and a very tall ceiling. There were lots of chapels alongside the sides of the main chambers, all dedicated to a particular saint. One unusual feature was a large courtyard just outside the nave, but within the main walls, which was a small orange grove. Inside the main church there was a large sacristy, and an impressive chapter house and treasury with a valuable looking collection. We also spotted a gleaming solid silver altar and ancillary pieces and much admired by visitors, the tomb of Christopher Columbus (and his brother).

Whilst Greg waited for me I climbed up the large tower, the Giralda, which afforded amazing views of Seville. The cathedral is built atop an ancient mosque and the bell tower is the original minaret of the mosque which has been converted.  The statue on its top, called “El Giraldillo”, was installed in 1568 to represent the triumph of the christian faith.  You could get glimpses from the various windows as you climbed up, and were then graced by a magnificent panorama at the top from a viewing platform which went all the way round the tower. There were also some rather fantastic looking church bells, which I suspect sounded very loud to those on the platform when they were rung!

For our final lunch in Seville we visited another restaurant for tapas (Casa Roman), again chosen as it seemed to be favoured by locals. It had an old fashioned atmosphere – there were hams hanging from ceiling, and the staff looked like they were part of the decor. The food was excellent with some of the best ham and best manchego cheese – aged, and served with membrillo – of the trip we’d had so far.

After a splendid lunch (including a second plate of manchego!) we walked back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, and then walked back to the Cathedral, got a final ice-cream (amazing Dulce de Leche – caramel), and caught the tram to San Bernardo station, ready to catch the train to our next stop of…. Granada!

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