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Travel - Sevilla... Si!

by Bernardo van Eekhout in Travel and weekendtrips , 12 februari 2008


According to Greek mythology Heracles (Hercules) founded the city of Seville when he visited the seven nymphs. Of course he fell in love with it, because the home of the Spanish flamenco goes straight to your heart. That’s how beautiful it is. It looks like an open-air museum with all its cathedrals, parks and museums displaying centuries old cultures.

Seville is the fourth biggest city of Spain after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia and the capital of the autonomous region of Andalusia. With an average temperature of about 23 degrees centigrade Seville is one of the warmest cities in Europe. Any time of the year is a good time to visit but Spring is probably the best. This is when the sultry scent of orange blossoms perfumes the entire city.

Seville lies only twenty meters above sea level in a large valley along the banks of Spain’s only navigable river: the Guadalquivir. Since 1991 the North of the city can be reached via the Puente del Alamillo, a white bridge with a 140-meter high mast designed by the well-known Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. From the banks of the Guadalquivir you have the most spectacular view of the skyline of Seville, with many church spires and cathedrals pointing up.

In 1992 Seville made history with the organization of the World Expo; unlike Barcelona however, after the Expo Seville didn’t manage to fully profit from all the investments in the infrastructure of the city. Many of the buildings on the site are still vacant and criminality is scaring investors and settlers away. But the government is now going to spend nine million euros on the former pavilion De La Navegación to turn it into a maritime museum. One of its main highlights will be a futuristic ocean made of about 8500 lights. They will also build a convention center and a public library. It’s expected that the museum will open its doors in October 2009 and that it will draw around 75,000 visitors per year.



Photo's : Alcazar ; Casa de Pilatos ; Plaza de Espana

In 2006 Seville started construction of two tram lines which should have been finished halfway 2007. Although everything is almost finished it is not operational yet. Cycling however, is a very good option as there are bike tracks everywhere. Or you can tour the city with a traditional horse-drawn carriage, which you’ll find at the Plaza de San Francisco and cost €45.

In summer temperatures soar to over 40 degrees Celsius and to protect the people from the blistering sun there’s white fabric covering the shopping streets and the squares around churches. There’s simply not enough water for the trees to grow large and offer some shade. This white fabric also protects the many processions during the “Semana Santa,” the big religious celebration of the Blessed Week. Catholicism is still omnipresent here and seemingly innocent graffiti depicting the Holy Virgin can cause quite a stir. Yet, there are some who think religion is holding Seville back from becoming a fully-fledged modern city.

Monumentos

Many conquerors have left their traces in Seville; there are many monuments which remind us of them. Christian, Roman and Moorish influences are worked into the most impressive cathedrals and palaces. Especially the Mores have left Seville many sights. One of the most impressive is the Gothic Catedral y la Giralda. The largest religious building of Spain and the third largest church in Europe. Even for heathen tourists a visit is a must. The Giralda tower is the symbol of the city. It used to be part of a large mosque, which was demolished when Christians came into power around 1401, and replaced it by a magnificent cathedral. After climbing thirty-four staircases you have an incredible view over the entire city. The interior of it is also astonishing.

All the glitter and glamour of the Catholic Church are abundantly displayed through golden statues and ornaments in many niches. Brightly colored stained glass windows which sharply contrast the faded sandstone of the building itself. The main altar is a masterpiece of woodcarving. The cathedral is in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, what once was the Jewish quarter in Seville. This is where you get lost in a myriad of small alleys and narrow streets. You can spot a lot of typical looking peach and mustard colored patios with cast iron window decorations and a lot of cafes with outside tables. It’s probably the quaintest part of Seville.



Just out of the center lies the imposing Plaza de España, constructed in honor of the Iberia-American Expo held in 1929. This square in the shape of a crescent moon has a diameter of two hundred meters; it’s the largest square of Seville. All the buildings surrounding it are government offices. On street level there are fifty-two recesses with brilliant “azulejos” (ceramic tiles with stunning painted scenes). All the important events from every Spanish province are depicted. Very beautiful!

Another highly recommended sight would be the Reales Alcázares: the royal palace. This palace complex is the oldest royal palace of Europe that is still used as such. All the rulers of the region, whether they were Christian, Jewish or Arab, used it as their main seat so the structure shows a combination of many different styles. Altogether it’s an amazing fairytale-like palace. High walls completely covered in mosaics, stunningly precise stone carving, complete verses from the Koran carved in marble... it’s incredible what human hands can craft.

The Moorish Patio de las Doncellas is a well-known part of the palace. Central in the patio is a long pond surrounded by sunken gardens and a gallery giving access to the reception halls. Only two wedding ceremonies were held in the Arabian part of the palace with the golden cupola: King Carlos the Fifth and the Spanish Infanta Elena in 1995. The gardens around the palace are huge as well, and also show different styles: from Moorish to Renaissance.

After the Alcázar palace, the Casa Palacio de Pilatos is the biggest castle of Seville. Again you’re just transported to another time and place; it’s a very tranquil and peaceful surrounding in both Moorish and Renaissance style. There are tiled mosaics, arched courtyards teeming with exotic plants, flowers and fountains. Not as well known as the Alcázar but definitely worth a visit!

Comercial & Gay

In contrast to Madrid or Barcelona Seville doesn’t have the big flagship stores of Spanish companies. They have to make do with more modest housings concentrated in the three main shopping streets: Calle Sierpes, Calle Velázquez Tetuán and Plaza Nueva. All three quite close together. Shoes are always a good choice in Spain, quality and prize wise. El Corte Inglés has several shops in Seville, the most comprehensive one being on the Plaza Duque de la Victoria. The clothing shop next to it, Sfera, is El Corte Inglés’ answer to Zara. Affordable and fashionable. Zara has several stores in Seville as well, with a distinctly better collection than in Holland but there’s only one men’s shop in the Calle Rioja (side street of the Calle Velázquez).

Zara Home, with all kinds of living accessories are worth a visit on Calle O’Donnell.
Cortefiel (Calle Velázquez) has good basics for men and the specially designed collections of designer Pedro del Hierro. His dressy shirts especially are of superior quality. Other good Spanish designers are Purificación García and Roberto Verino with each their own shop in the Calle Rioja. The chic Spanish label Loewe has its shop on the Plaza Nueva. Their leather ware and accessories are worthwhile and comparable with the French Hermés quality.

The Spanish response to Victor & Rolf are José Víctor Rodríguez and José Luis Medina del Corral a.k.a. Victorio&Lucchino. They’ve been producing men’s collections for a couple of seasons now and they recently got married officially. For Seville might be very catholic still, homosexuality resides here as well. Especially around the Alameda de Hércules the gay scene flourishes.

This relaxed central boulevard in the old center of town is the place to be seen. It’s been renovated just this year. This is where you find the bars, cafes and restaurants with outside tables that stay open till late at night. The warm weather draws everyone out on the streets and gay and straight mingle happily. Many so-called gay places are very mixed. The gays say there are just not enough of them in town.



Café Republica stands out the most with its glass front and multicolored interior; Café Central is the most popular amongst locals. The Mallorcan franchise concept Diablitofoodandmusic has been around for over ten years and has a second place now at the Plaza de Hércules that’s been open for just a couple of years. A great place for food and drinks. Itraca is the oldest gay club in town and tout gay Seville gather here every Wednesday for Tina, Cristal and La Dodot’s drag show. You can check for agendas and listings in the “Guía de Sevilla para gays & lesbianas.”

This highly informative guide is free and you can get it at the tourist office in Plaza San Francisco. There are other tourist offices but they had mysteriously never heard of this publication. A good and safe way to get to Seville is with Transavia: 126 euros all in. Check www.transavia.com. For accommodation the three-star Casa Sacristía Santa Ana Hotel is an excellent option. This former sacristy is completely renovated and is very centrally situated at the Alameda de Hércules. More info: www.sacristiadesantaanna.com.



 







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