Andalucía’s alluring capital, the stunning city of Seville, was once the heart of the Moorish empire and wherever you look you discover brilliant and beautiful monuments to its rich historic past.
This is the city of Carmen and Don Juan. It has the greatest Gothic cathedral in Europe and is home to two of the country’s greatest festivals – the renowned Semana Santa (Easter) celebrations and, hard on its heels, the spectacular April Feria when the city is full of music, dancing, and finely dressed folk astride gaily bedecked horses.
Wander into the heart of Seville’s old town and turn back time
It is a modern city and nowadays the administrative capital for Andalucía. But walk through the narrow medieval streets with flower festooned balconies into the heart of the old town, and turn back time.
The Cathedral, the Giralda, the Alcazar and its stunning gardens, the secret patios, the bars full of chatter where you can sit and watch flamenco dancers…the air drenched in the heady scent of orange blossom – all a vital part of a city which, with its firmly forged links to bullfighting and Flamenco, is at the heart of Andalcian culture.Seville is dotted with beautiful architecture and the opulent Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque buildings form the tapestry of its fascinating past. You would never realise it now, looking at the map, but Seville was the most important Spanish port for the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries as ships plied their trade on the Guadalquivir River, which flowed through the city and linked it to the ocean.
As years passed the river slowly silted up until the big ships were able to pass through no more. But the city did not die. It held its own and by the 19th century people from miles around flocked to its cattle fair. It was the opportunity for the family to turn out in their finery and it was here that the flamenco dress started to make an appearance beyond the dance stage. This was the birth of what became the April Feria – now declared an event of National Tourist Interest, and both the feria and Semana Santa draw visitors from around the world.
The largest Gothic building in Europe
The Baroque Fabrica de Tabacos (tobacco factory) on calle Fernando was the inspirational setting for Bizet’s well-loved opera Carmen and nowadays is part of the city’s university. The UNESCO World-Heritage listed Cathedral of the Virgin Mary and its Giralda (bell tower) is at the heart of the city’s historic centre. The cathedral was founded in 1403 on the site of a mosque and is the largest Gothic building in Europe, with five naves, and contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Remnants of the original mosque are found in the Giralda and the Patio de los Naranjos.The Alacazar was constructed during the rule of the Moors, became a royal residence in 1248 and contains a dazzling selection of rooms with Moorish, Baroque and Renaissance details, intricately carved wooden ceilings, deeply coloured azulejos (tiles) and tranquil gardens.
Nearby is the Archivo de Indias, the Renaissance building which houses all the documents relating to the discovery of the Americas.
One of the most picturesque areas on the tourist trail is the central Barrio Santa Cruz. Its maze of cobbled streets was home to Seville’s Jewish quarter. Across the river on the west bank is the Triana district, with flamenco dancing, ceramics and art at its bohemian heart.
It has been claimed that the tasty morsels called tapas were invented in Seville, and that the city has around 4,000 tapas bars and tabernas so there is plenty of opportunity to take time out from sightseeing for the sort of refreshment stop enjoyed by Sevillanos themselves – a pause to soak in the atmosphere while sipping a chilled sherry and sating the hunger pangs.