On subsequent trips to Spain I have really only spent time in Madrid. I sometimes stop in the Capitol for a week to see the new museum shows and drink a bottle or two of good Spanish wine before flying on to Paris. This time I thought I would explore the Andalucia region in the southern part of Spain.
The area was a major Phoenician settlement in 1000 BC and was subsequently settled by the Greeks and Romans until the 5th century AD. The Muslims moved into the area and by the 10th century this region was one of the most splendid, sophisticated, tolerant and scientifically advanced kingdoms of the Medieval world. For me the mix of Moorish and Renaissance architecture was a huge draw…The Alhambra, The Mezquita, The Cathedral of Seville…all unique and awe inspiring.
My first stop was Seville a rich and fabled city with a current population of around 700,00. In the 15th century it was the center of control over the trade between Europe and the Americas. All the riches of the New World flowed to Seville some of which can be still be viewed in its churches and palaces. Currently the main altar of the Cathedral is under renovation and a guide told me that they were using 1,100 pounds of gold leaf to restore the intricate carvings of the 15th century main altar which is about 21 Million $. Ahhhh…all for the glory of God.
Some cities have looks and others have personalities the sevillanos (Seville residents) are lucky they get it all…a flamboyant, charismatic metropolis that is a doused in never ending sunlight. A city with a dark soul and a complex personality….blood soaked Jesus’s carried throughout the streets during religious festivals juxtaposed with the sensual delights of Flamenco that fill the evening hours. A city that has thousands of years to develop a personality cannot be understood in a week but it is a place to start.
Seville is a great walking city….lovely fountain filled plaza’s, street musicians, cafe’s, horse drawn carriages, river walks and stylish young people parading the boulevards and narrow streets of the old city. I did something that I rarely do…I took a double decker bus tour around the city and it was a great overview of the modern city…I would recommend it. The ticket also gives free admission to many churches and sights around town.
The main attractions are the Cathedral and the Alcazar. The 15th century Cathedral, which is the third largest church in the world, has an abundance of riches including the tomb of Christopher Columbus, a treasury filled with jewel encrusted gold and silver religious statues, altars and chalices, magnificent stained glass windows and the soaring architecture of the Spanish Renaissance. It was easy to spend hours wandering the naves and side alters but get there early because once the tour buses start arriving with the Chinese tour groups it is not as pleasant.
The Alcazar…a palace once belonging to the Moorish rulers of Andalucia and taken over by Isabella as her palace once she had concurred the area…is a strange and wonderful compilation of Moorish and Western architecture. The gardens and court yards are a sensual mix with a end result that is sublime. Plan to spend hours here either wandering the palace or strolling the gardens…I was entranced and I think you would be as well. Again get there early.
The city has two main museums… the Modern which is housed in a 15th century monastery on the edge of town and the Museum of Fine Art. The collection at the Fine Art Museum is almost to a piece religious art. The various churches and monasteries around the region had valuable art by most of the famous Spanish artist and the works were either donated or confiscated for this museum. Holes in the collection were filed by loans of second tier works from the Prado. Of the two I most enjoyed the Modern…both for its buildings and its collection.
As I always do I walked the streets…exploring the little narrow passages in the old city and stopping for a glass of wine and some tapas while I sat and watch the handsome peoples of Seville parade by. So different from Asia or the Middle East…it was good to be back in Europe.