Dover man writes of ‘flamboyant’ Seville

While riding on a horse-drawn carriage down one of the main streets through Seville, Spain, I couldn’t help noticing the bright colors and flare that the city had to offer.

Some cities have looks, other cities have personality, but Seville has both. Compliments of their charismatic, exuberant ever-evolving Andalusian metropolis; founded as a Roman city. Soaked for most of the year in spirit-enriching sunlight, this is a city of feelings as much as sights, with different seasons prompting vastly contrasting moods.

Seville is the capital city of Andalusia, located in the south of Spain. Seville, or Sevilla in Spanish, is one of the largest cities in Spain with over 700,000 people.

Seville occupies the valley of the Guadalquivir River. The river, with 37 navigable miles, was an important harbor during the Spanish conquest of the American continent. Silver and gold from the new world arrived to Seville through the river and were distributed throughout the country from here.

The city is famous worldwide for its culture, monuments, traditions and artistic heritage. This is the birthplace of Flamenco and the city where the most amazing Easter processions take place.

Some would even argue that Seville is easily Spain’s most flamboyant city. As a former Moorish capital, its streets are awash in a sultry jumble of Christian-Muslim architecture, with many grand buildings coated with bright colors of red, orange, yellow and green. Unlike much of Spain, Seville has resisted the urge to make its ceramic-tiled courtyards and medieval sidewalks sleek and trendy.

Flamenco dancers, gypsy street performers and Andalusian cowboys in wide-brimmed boleros still strut in 2,000-year-old plazas shaded by orange trees and palms.

The majority of the must-see sites are clustered around the Seville Cathedral complex. The cathedral is an UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the Archivo de las Indias and the Alcazar Palace.

Seville Cathedral

The Seville Cathedral is noteworthy as it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the burial site of Christopher Columbus. This Roman Catholic cathedral was built to demonstrate the city’s wealth, as it had become a major trading center in the years after the reconquest in 1248.

When the Seville Cathedral was conceived on the site of a former mosque during the city’s reconquest, builders and city planners wanted to make it so grandiose that they’d be taken for mad men. Mad or not, this is a cathedral not to be missed. Construction of the cathedral began in 1402 and continued until 1506.

The cathedral tower alone will knock your socks off as well as the magnificent rosette-stained glass, enormous nave (central part of the church building) and the golden altarpiece. The tower or Torre Giralda on the northeast side of the cathedral is a testament to the mosque that once stood there and to Seville’s Islamic history.

Reaching to a height of 341 feet, the tower is the second-tallest structure in Seville. City law mandates that nothing in the historic center can be built any taller — which ensures that the 360-degree views of Seville and the surrounding areas, are the best in the city.

Metropol Parasol

Not far from the Seville Cathedral is the Metropol Parasol. Also known as the Las Setas de la Encarnacion (Incarnations Mushrooms) claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. It is a massive mix of grids and swirls that contains a market and a terrace observatory.

The structure consists of six parasols in the form of giant mushrooms whose design is inspired by the vaults of the Seville Cathedral and the Ficus trees in the nearby Plaza de Cristo de Burgos.

At first glance of this structure, it is a bit strange to see the modern architecture of the parasol in the middle of an old traditional space, but the Parasol sits quite comfortably among the older buildings. From the walkways around the structure there is a superb panoramic view of the city.

Archivo General de Indias

Archive of the Indies houses valuable archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish empire in the Americas and the Philippines. The building itself is an example of Spanish Renaissance architecture.

The archives are rich with autograph material from the first of the Conquistadores to the end of the 19th century. The journal of Christopher Columbus, maps and plans of the colonial American cities are stored here. Ordinary archives that revealed the month-to-month workings of the whole vast Colonial machinery have been sought out by every Spanish historian in the last two centuries.

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace is a stunning example of several types of architectural styles and a building whose history can be traced back to the Almohads (ruling dynasty of Morocco – 12th century).

I marveled at the Baroque and Mudejar architectural details, lush gardens and labyrinth that the Alcazar possessed. The Alcazar Palace is one of the most prominent and emblematic structures in Seville.

Its origins lie in a hunting lodge that has been converted over several centuries and styles, into Europe’s oldest palace still used by royals.

A wonderful neighborhood to stroll through is the Barrio Santa Cruz. Not far from the Alcazar Palace – Barrio Santa Cruz has winding cobblestone streets that took me to hidden plazas and manor houses. Some consider Barrio Santa Cruz once a Jewish enclave – a Spanish Disneyland, but beyond the souvenir shops and overpriced bars, there are plenty of treasures to discover.

Plaza de Espana

Another interesting mix of architectural styles and techniques is illustrated in the Plaza de Espana. The plaza, which is located in the Maria Luisa Park, was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is a landmark example of the Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival (Neo-Mudejar) styles of Spanish Architecture.

The complex is a huge semi-circle with buildings and two towers. The shape represents the embrace of Spain and its ancient colonies and it is oriented facing the Guadalquivir River as a path to America.

The square is surrounded by a canal (1,690 feet in length) that is crossed by four bridges, each one representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain (Castile, León, Aragón and Navarra). The complex has a balanced structure of a central building with long arms that terminate into two towers, named South Tower and North Tower.

Adding to the beauty there is a series of 48 hand-painted ceramic tiled alcoves with benches, each representing a Spanish province. The alcoves are in alphabetical order and each one has the name, coat of arms, map and some historical facts pertaining to that province. Located throughout the plaza there are busts of Spain’s most illustrious figures.

Besides its architectural beauty, the Plaza de Espana has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia.” The building was used as a location in the “Star Wars” movie series “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones in 2002.

It is clear to see why Plaza de Espana is one of Seville’s most beloved plazas. It is truly a landmark that is loaded with Spanish culture and architectural heritage that has remained popular for decades.

Everything that has traditionally made Seville so captivating survives – beauty and hospitality, colorful Fiestas, lively street life as well as the spirits of Don Juan (a legend born here) and Carmen (the operatic embodiment of Seville). But layered over that is a new cultural and commercial role. Today a bullet train whisks travelers to Madrid in just over two hours. It appears that the old and new has fused well in the city of Seville.

I cannot deny Seville being one of the most charming cities that I’ve ever visited. Seville’s rich history has left the city stuffed with innumerable monuments, wonderful palaces, amazing cathedrals and the passion for Flamenco with the aroma of orange blossoms on every corner.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Derek Miller lives in Dover with his wife Kathie and daughter Brittany.

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