Travel 2013. Day 9 (2) Seville

April 25. 2013.  Day 9 (2).  Seville.
See Travel Itinerary for a rationale of this trip, and a who’s who of those travelling.
For Day 1 in Seville, click here

For a quick lunch, we bought ham and cheese bocadillos and ate them under the shade of some trees.

Our next destination was the Alcázar or Reales Alcázares, a Moorish palace and garden with added Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. Its most famous part is the 14th-century Palace commissioned by Pedro el Cruel (ruled 1350-69) and carried out by Mudéjar artisans (Muslims living under Christian rule), some of whom may have earlier worked on the Alhambra Palace of Granada. The Reales Alcázares were one of Pedro’s favourite residences where he spent time with his mistress, María de Padilla (both are now buried in the cathedral). (Another favourite residence of the king was his palace in Carmona, now the parador where were staying.)

Unfortunately, when we got to the Alcázar, there was a very long line-up and it was warm and the prospect of queuing at least an hour in the heat was daunting.  So regretfully we gave it a miss. “Too many tourists,” we said, well aware of the irony of our comment. The number of tourists at this time of the year (end of April) was a major surprise for us. We had expected that by avoiding the high summer season we would meet relatively few visitors. But in Barcelona, and Granada, and even Cuenca, we had run constantly into long line-ups, and now in Seville at both the cathedral and the Alcázar we were faced with discouraging queues. (PS Statistics show that a record number of foreign tourists visited Spain in the first six months of 2013).

Instead, we decided to walk to the Plaza de España, which impressed us when we passed by it in our horse and carriage ride earlier. It took us about 20 minutes, wending our way through the Alcázar gardens and around the former tobacco factory, an impressive 18th-century neoclassic building, now part of the University of Seville, and on to the Avenida Isabel la Católica.

The Plaza de España was built to house the Spanish Pavilion for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition, and borders the North West end of the beautiful María Luisa Park. It was the centrepiece of the Exhibition, meant to impress visitors with a stately display of Spanish enterprise at a time when Spain was no longer an important international player. The Plaza was fairly empty when we were there, but it’s easy to imagine it full of people during the paseo, the traditional walk between 7 and 10 p.m. in Andalusia.  It’s a beautiful setting to see and be seen. Looking at it from the centre, we all agreed that this square was truly beautiful.

Plaza de España.The large fountain in the middle of the square adds a cooling touch, and I imagine that in high summer, when the temperatures can pass 40 Celsius, simply the sound of the water can be refreshing.

Here you have to forget the idea that all “plazas” are “square” (the usual translation). The Plaza de España is semicircular, the outer side consisting of a stunning, curved, brick and tile building, with two ornate “wedding-cake” towers closing off each end. In the middle, two smaller versions of the end towers flank the central, main building. Running along the lower floor are a series of open arches or arcades that lighten the long structure and give it an exotic, flamboyant air.

Plaza de España

Adding to its beauty is a canal that follows the curve of the “square” with an elegant balustrade on its outer side and shrubs and flowers on the inner side. As we got closer, we realised that there were people boating on the water, creating a kind of mini-Venice scene for me, even to the point of having a couple of bridges that could be taken for imitations of Venice’s famous Rialto bridge.

Plaza de Espana. Canal and bridge.

By the time we had wandered around the square and taken some photos, we were ready to sit down, and we found just the place… a series of stunningly tiled benches running along the base of the building. Backing each bench are colourful ceramic depictions of historic scenes from towns in each province of Spain in alphabetical order, beginning with Alava and ending with Zaragoza. On the ground, in front of each bench, there is a tiled map of the province where each town is located. The ceramic tiles (azulejos), so typical of Seville and Andalusia, also appear on the main building, the balustrades and the bridges, bringing a unifying element to the square.

Plaza de España. Ceramic bench. Scene depicts Ferdinand and Isabella receiving Columbus on his return from his first trip to Las Indias (The Americas).
Plaza de España. Ceramic work detail.

It was time to move on, back to the ancient Barrio de Santa Cruz, aka La Judería, the old Jewish quarter just off the cathedral.

Street in Barrio de Sta. Cruz

The Barrio is a tangle of narrow streets opening to intimate squares; there are churches, restaurants and numerous tapa bars.  Some of the streets are so narrow that you can walk along them touching both sides. Others are wider and lined with orange trees which offer year-round shade since they don’t lose their leaves.  Windows are full of flowers, especially geraniums, and if you look through the open doorways, you can see gorgeous patios with walls festooned with potted flowers and in the centre quite possibly a small tinkling fountain surrounded by plants.  This is where Sevillanos retire during the heat of summer.  Lower windows are regularly covered with beautiful wrought-iron grilles (rejas), where in the past it was common to see a young man (novio), during the evening hours, paying court to his lady (novia) chastely seated in the shadows inside.  In many ways, this is “romantic” Seville, not far from Carmen’s tobacco factory and, appropriately, where you will find a statue to Don Juan, the archetypal seducer (in the Plaza de Refinadores).

Church of Sta. Cruz from La Giralda.

We soon got lost in the labyrinth, but that is part of the magic of the Judería now, where every turn is a discovery. But if you are looking for something specific, such as the house of one of Seville’s most famous painters, Bartolomé Murillo (1618-82), you might feel frustrated since the names of some streets are difficult to locate.

Pulpit from which Vicente Ferrer, main instigator of the 1391 pogrom preached, in the Patio de los Naranjos.

Romantic Barrio de Santa Cruz also has a sinister side.  In 1391 it witnessed an outbreak of anti-Semitism that culminated in a pogrom leaving thousands of Jews dead and thousands displaced and traumatised. Attacks on  juderías spread rapidly throughout the country, and large numbers of demoralised or terrorised Jews saw no recourse but to convert to Christianity.  Almost overnight the judería of Seville, one of the largest and most active in Andalusia, became a shadow of its former self. Later, in 1481, Seville saw Spain’s first “auto-da-fe,” the public burning of six alleged heretics at the hands of the infamous Inquisition.

Our walk back to the van, parked under the Plaza de Armas bus station on the banks of the Gudalquivir River, took us past the cathedral and the Real Maestranza, the famous bullring.

The bullring from the Giralda.

We stopped for a moment, to imagine the spot where Carmen met her untimely death at the hands of her spurned lover, don José, while her current lover, the matador/ torero Escamillo was acclaimed by the crowds.

Seville La Maestranza Bullring.

Our return to Carmona was uneventful, except for a large roundabout which had traffic lights within the circle itself. That, and the disconcerting habit of Sevillanos, to dart across the lanes in the circle to get off, elicited more than one expletive!

Back in Carmona, Margaret and I went to the patio for a relaxing cup of tea and delicious chocolate cake, while John, Leslie, Andrew and Alex made their second trip into old Carmona.

Carmona. Parador patio where we had our tea and chocolate.

Margaret and I were still sitting there when JLAA returned. Andrew and Alex were ready for their tea and cake, which didn’t surprise us; tea time is a well established ritual in our house.

April 2017. An interesting article of what to do in Seville plus best hotels, restaurants, bars: