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Spain> Seville Highlights


We should preface this section highlighting Seville with a frank admission of prejudice. It is one of our favorite cities, chock-full of fond memories of good times and good friends. Every time we return we fall under Seville's spell-and it won't surprise us a bit if you're enchanted, too. It is not that Seville is totally different from other Spanish cities, it is just that the town and its inhabitants are the quintessence of Spain. We strongly suggest several days in Seville. You need time to see its many sights, as well as time to wander along the orange-tree-lined streets and soak up the special feeling that the city imparts to its guests.

PACING: Just to get a flavor of Seville you need to stay for two nights-allow more if you include visits to museums.

After settling in your hotel, you must first visit the Seville cathedral, one of the largest Gothic churches in the world, ranking in size with Saint Peter's in Rome and Saint Paul's in London. It was constructed between 1402 and 1506 on the site of a mosque. In the elaborate Royal Chapel at the east end is buried Alfonso X, "The Wise," one of Spain's most brilliant medieval monarchs, who supervised the codification of existing Roman law in the 13th century. When his son Sancho rebelled, Seville remained loyal to Alfonso. Alfonso's gratified statement "No me ha dejado" (It has not deserted me) is the basis for the rebus symbol you are bound to notice painted and carved all over the city: a double knot (called a madeja) between the syllables "no" and "do," thus producing No madeja do, which is pronounced approximately the same as No me ha dejado. Ferdinand III, later Saint Ferdinand, who freed Seville from Moorish domination, is buried in a silver shrine in front of the altar. On one side, in an ornate mausoleum, is one of the tombs of Christopher Columbus (the other is in Santo Domingo in the Caribbean-both cities claim to have his real remains).

Just outside the east entrance to the cathedral is the best known of Seville's architectural sights, the Giralda. Originally it was the mosque's minaret and was retained when the church was built. Be sure to enter and ascend the ramp up the 70-meter spire (stairs were not used in order to allow horses access). The view of the city is outstanding, especially in the late afternoon. The name Giralda means weather vane and refers to the weather vane on the top, which was added in the 16th century.

On the opposite side of the cathedral from the Giralda is an impressive Renaissance building-originally built to be a customs house but later converted into the Archives of the Indies-which contains most of the documents (comprised of some 86,000,000 pages spanning 400 years) pertaining to the discovery and conquest of America. Students of Colonial Spanish American history still come across undocumented material when they make pilgrimages here for a rich feast of research.


On the north side of the cathedral (a pleasant spot to sit and watch Seville go by) there are cafés that are slightly more tranquil than those along Avenida de la Constitución. To the south of the cathedral is the Alcázar-not as impressive as the Alhambra in Granada, but a lovely and refreshingly cool spot to spend a hot afternoon. Most of it was restored by King Pedro "The Cruel" (14th century), but he used Moorish architects and thus retained much of its authenticity.

If you leave the Alcázar by way of the southeast corner of the Patio de las Banderas (Flag Court), you are in the old Jewish Quarter, the Barrio de Santa Cruz. Looking something like a set for an opera, this is a mixture of old whitewashed houses and shops-all, it seems, with flowers tumbling from wrought-iron windows and balconies. The painter Murillo is buried in the Plaza de Santa Cruz and the house where he died is in the nearby Plaza de Alfaro. Southeast of these two plazas, hugging the Alcázar walls, are the lovely Murillo Gardens (Jardines de Murillo), where painters are often engrossed in capturing the setting on canvas.

North from the cathedral you can stroll a few long blocks down the Avenida de la Constitución to the Plaza de San Francisco behind the city hall (Ayuntamiento), a center of outdoor events during Holy Week. Running parallel to Sierpes and out of the Plaza Nueva is Calle Tetuán, another major shopping street.

At the north end of Sierpes, turn left on Calle Alfonso XII, after which a few blocks' walk brings you to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum), housing one of the most important collections in Spain with well-presented paintings of El Greco, Zurbarán, Velázquez, and Murillo, among others.

On Calle San Fernando is a golden 18th-century building, once a tobacco factory, where Bizet's beautiful and fiery Carmen worked. This is now the University of Seville. Feel free, if it is open, to go in and stroll its wide hallways through the collection of interior patios. Upstairs (to the right of the main entrance) you can find the university bar, where students and faculty convene for a between-class cognac, beer, coffee, or sandwich. A visit here gives you an insight into Spanish academic life.

Behind the university is the entrance to the Parque de María Luisa (laid out by a former princess of Spain), a popular local retreat from the summer heat. Here you'll discover the Plaza de España, a large, semicircle complete with boat rides and tiled niches representing each of the provinces of Spain-where Spanish families like to have their pictures taken in front of their "hometown" plaque. This plaza was constructed for the International Exposition in Seville in 1929, as were several other buildings in the park, as well as the Hotel Alfonso XIII. In the Plaza de América, farther down, is the Museo Arqueológico with a very regional collection of Roman antiquities and an arts-and-crafts museum. If you fancy being covered with doves, there is a spot where a lady sells you some seeds which, when held out in your hand, attract dozens of the white birds to perch greedily on your arms, shoulders, and head-this makes a fun picture to take home. There are also, of course, numerous spots to sit and people watch.

You must not miss the Casa Pilatos, a stunning palace built in 1540 for the Marqués of Tarifa. The name derives from Pontius Pilate's home in Jerusalem (which supposedly the Marqués visited and admired). The palace is a delight-filled with brilliantly colored tiles, sunny courtyards filled with flowers, lacy balustrades, and Roman statues. A bit far off the beaten path (but within walking distance), the Casa Pilatos is usually not brimming with tourists.

The major festivals in Seville are Holy Week and the Feria (Fair) de Sevilla (about the second week after Easter). Although both are absolutely spectacular events, do not dream of getting a hotel reservation then, unless you plan a year in advance. And be aware that things can get pretty wild during the ten days of the Feria.

If time allows, you can take several good side trips from Seville:

Carmona: Head northeast out of town on NIV through fertile hills to the ancient city of Carmona (35 kilometers), which still retains some of its ramparts and much of its old-world ambiance. The Puerta de Sevilla, a curious architectural blend of Roman and Moorish, opens onto the old town, where whitewashed alleyways and stone gateways lead to private patios of what were once noble mansions. The plaza is lined with 17th- and 18th-century houses. In the patio of the town hall (Calle San Salvador) there is a large Roman mosaic. Stroll down the nearby Calle Santa María de Gracia to the Puerta de Córdoba (built into the Roman wall in the 17th century diametrically opposite the Puerta de Sevilla) for a lovely view over a golden plain of wheat fields. 

ITALICA: Just 10 kilometers north of Seville on N630, a little past the town of Santiponce, is the Roman town of Italica, founded in 205 B.C. by Scipio Africanus and birthplace of emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Still being excavated and restored, its baths, mosaics, and amphitheater are interesting and well worth the short drive (especially if you will not get the chance to visit the incredibly impressive Roman ruins at Mérida). Open-air dramatic performances are occasionally given in the amphitheater here (check with the tourist office on Avenida de la Constitución in Seville for a schedule if you are interested).   

Jerez De La Frontera: If you have an interest in going sherry tasting in Jerez, the sherry capital of the world, it is easily visited from Seville, being just a quick 67 kilometers south on the freeway (see the description in the Andalusian Adventures itinerary).

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