|Torre del Oro (foreground) and the Giralda (background) at the blue hour|
Its long decline began to reverse in the 20th century with two great fairs, first in 1929 with the Ibero-American Exposition—which brought together all American nations to Spain—and then with the Expo ’92—which celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s journey. One of the first destinations to come online Spain’s high-speed rail network, today Sevilla is a lovely Big City yet still retains its Andalusian charm.
And I think that’s what I love most about Sevilla: it’s the heartbeat of Andalucía and truly epitomizes the region’s distinct character, cuisine, and its past.
The lookout point: Las Setas
The big monuments: Plaza del TriunfoThe historic downtown area of Sevilla has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and all three of the main buildings on that list can be found in the downtown Plaza del Triunfo, or “Triumph Square.”
|Going up the spiral ramp-case|
That same Giralda was originally built with 35 spiral ramps wide enough that Sevilla’s muezzin could ride up to the very top on horseback and call the city to prayer. It sure is a hike, but ascending the narrow passageways up to the top is a really satisfying experience as you get to see not only the whole city before you but also the cathedral and its fragrant courtyard. The Giralda’s Renaissance-era cap was added after multiple earthquakes damaged the upper terrace.
Three important Spaniards are buried here: Fernando III, the saint-king who conquered Sevilla from the Moors; his son Alfonso X “the Wise” who popularized Castilian in the royal court; and Christopher Columbus, who needs no further epithets.
The General Archive of the Indies (Spanish, Archivo General de Indias) was a major letdown. Housed in a stately, square Renaissance building, it houses basically all documents and communications dealing with Spain’s overseas empire. I was looking forward to eyeing Columbus’s journals, gazing at reports written by Hernán Cortés, and old treaties, but all I got was a single exhibit about the Spanish War of Independence (a.k.a. the Peninsular War against Napoleon). Whomp whomp. At least it was free.
|Royal Alcázar of Sevilla|
The whole complex is a truly dazzling ensemble of rooms and halls that flow from intricate plasterwork to tiles to woodwork and to arches. If you get overwhelmed by all the wondrous wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-the-floor beauty, you can step outside to the south and emerge in a well-curated set of gardens, flower beds, and sleepy trees. If you’re lucky, you may even run into a peacock or two like I did!
The green spaces: María Luisa ParkIn preparation for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, Sevilla moved heaven and earth (mainly earth) to prepare for the dozens of country pavilions and inevitable crowds of tourists. To the southeast the city already boasted a substantial city park, donated by and named for the infanta (princess) María Luisa Fernanda, and it was in this park and its surroundings that they constructed the exhibition buildings.
|María Luisa Park|
The María Luisa Park was once the royal gardens belonging to the San Telmo Palace, and after it was given to the city it was reconfigured to resemble a more Moorish paradise. Today it’s the best place to go for an afternoon stroll or paseo, since really tall trees give you plenty of shade. Joggers go
The Plaza de España was the largest structure built and housed the exhibition’s main offices. A vast semicircle built in the Renaissance Revival style, the “Spain Square” contains numerous alcoves built into the walls that celebrate each of the country’s provinces. Each alcove was decorated with tiles depicting famous events in the province’s history, important monuments, as well as a map with major cities. I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken in front of the alcove for Jaén, the province where I lived and worked this past year.
|Plaza de España|
Further to the southeast you run into two museums facing each other. The Archaeological Museum of Sevilla is worth visiting, especially if you plan on taking a daytrip to the nearby ruins of Itálica—Spain’s first Roman settlement—as most of the artifacts, mosaics, statues, etc. from the site are displayed inside here.
Finally, even if you don’t end up stepping inside the Popular Arts and Customs Museum, take some time to appreciate its exterior architecture. It was built in the Mudéjar Revival style, and thus reflects that movement’s penchant for grand Moorish horseshoe arches and geometric designs. The actual exhibits within were rather dated and boring, although I was really amazed by the room dedicated to handmade lacework and mantillas (traditional women’s headwear).
The perfect sunset shot: Guadalquivir River
|The Guadalquivir River and the Torre del Oro at the blue hour|
The aroma of spring: the orange blossom
|The azahar or orange blossom|
Until I smelled it—until I swooned. Dear lord, that heavenly fragrance of the orange blossom is quite possibly the most wonderful aroma in the world: a pleasant, addictive cross between magnolia and wisteria. The tender, delicate scent was so lovely that I literally went out of my way to walk beneath orange trees in the street…and I lingered for half an hour in the cathedral’s Patio de los Naranjos just soaking in the smell. If you come to Sevilla in April, expect a perfumed city!
The expat meet-up: with Cat of Sunshine and Siestas
|Gratuitous Royal Alcázar photo because I forgot to take pictures at the park|
What’s your opinion of Sevilla? Too touristy or the azahar of Andalucía? Add your voice to the discussion below!
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.