Our hotel was the best yet, but really cheap as it was nearly empty. Our room faced the back of a football stadium, bet it’s noisy on match days, but there were lots of comfy seating areas and the staff were lovely. So many of them too. I suppose they’re rushed off their feet when the hotel is full, but there’s hardly anyone else apart from us in a huge modern hotel.
This is our fourth visit to Seville and we know parking is impossible in the old part so the girl at the desk rang for a taxi for us. The car was a hybrid, G said – I never noticed – and most of the way we drove on electric power so very quiet. The driver went through lights on red, cut across traffic lanes and made me wish I’d stayed in bed, but we got there in one piece.
It’s a Bank Holiday so the city centre was packed, lots of queues.
Went round cathedral in Seville. We had to queue to get in of course, but played the old pensioners’ card again and only paid 4 euros. G laughed when the woman asked him to prove he was a pensioner and didn’t bother to ask me. How rude. I don’t look a day over twenty five.
There were different categories with big reductions for pensioners, students and the disabled so we limped up to the booth hoping to get a double reduction. No luck. I went through the wrong gate as I was too busy looking at a weird woman who was eating an ice cream even though it was cold and ended up back in the queue. G came and rescued me and the woman taking the tickets gave me a funny look. She might have been considering giving me a refund as I was obviously in a completely different category
Luckily, there were no dancing horses inside.
Afterwards, we walked round the Jewish barrio and had a few tapas, no pork of course. There was some street entertainment on, which made it rather jolly. The best were a group of girls and an older woman who went around playing guitars and singing. They were really good. When G went to take a photo the girl on the end went ‘ooh, a photo, better smile, in case that man fancies me,’ or something like that. Honestly, teenage girls are the same the world over.
I had 2 ‘speciality’ sherries in different bars, both recommendations of the barman and both tasted vile, but felt I ought to investigate its popularity. Will never have another until I reach 100.
Over to G now.
It’s good to be back in Seville once more. Such a fascinating city. Seville was founded as the Roman City called Hispalis and is steeped in history. We find it’s best explored in spring, autumn or winter. We came here once in summer. Temperatures hit 100 degrees and stay there for weeks on end. They call this area the frying pan of Spain; even the Spanish complain about the heat in Seville. We also learned, to be polite you have to say it properly. It's not Seville, which is how we misguided Brits say it, but Sevilla, pronounced – Sev – ee – a – with each syllable enthusiastically extended.
Our hotel was almost empty, but when we went down to sit in one of the lounges a man came over and sat down right next to Marigold.
He was very thin and completely bald. After seeing that bust of Shakespeare in Jerez, I thought immediately how much his head resembled the skull of Yorick, the former court jester exhumed by the gravedigger in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Holding the skull, Hamlet’s ensuing soliloquy is a meditation on the fragility of life. That’s the famous soliloquy that begins, ‘Alas, poor Yorick.’
When the speech continues with ‘I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy’, that’s where the likeness ended. This man was surely a quip free zone, can’t imagine he has ever cracked a joke and certainly never been amused by one. Even his mother, on the day of his birth, must have thought, ‘he looks a miserable little devil.’
Naturally, Marigold started talking to him!
I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but when he finished his drink he got up and walked away without another word.
‘He wasn’t much fun,’ Marigold said.
‘Really?’ I replied, trying to look surprised.
We got a taxi, accompanied by a mad taxi driver, to the Cathedral area. Seville (Sev ee a ) was madly busy with holiday crowds so we had to queue. It was pretty nippy out and the locals had their furs out. Strong smell of mothballs in the air. We’ve never been inside the Cathedral before, so why pick a day with long queues outside? No answer came to mind. Maybe we thought huddling together with a herd would be warmer?
First impressions: this place is big. As in massive.
A hand out leaflet on entry – couldn’t find one in English so made do with the French version – tells us that after its completion in the early part 16th century, (the precise date wasn’t given and didn’t get around to looking it up) the Cathedral took the title ‘biggest in the world’ from Hagia Sofía, which had held this claim for well over a thousand years. Hagia Sofía, once a mosque, now a museum, is certainly spectacular and the Blue Mosque also in Istanbul is even more so. We passed through Turkey a few years ago.
When people complain about traffic in city centres I think back to the time I drove through Istanbul and the several times I have driven through the centre of Marrakech – trust me, European cities may be busy, but at least there are rules! Marrakech and Istanbul, no rules or rational driving conventions are present.
Reading on, the leaflet said this was the third largest church in the world, which makes one wonder on the precise definition of ‘church,’ and the largest Gothic church in the world. We were in Milan a few years back and I distinctly remember an identical claim made by Milan Cathedral. It also gave the ‘correct’ name: the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See. Yes, that’s See not Sea, now that would be confusing, but the shorter version, Seville Cathedral, certainly rolls off the tongue better.
Like many of the post-reconquest churches in Spain, the cathedral was built on the site of a former Almohad mosque; the newly reinstated Catholic Church making a point by demolishing the places of worship used by former rulers. Announcing the intention to build with the phrase, ‘we shall build a church of such a kind that those who see it built will think we were mad,’ certainly conveys a fair degree of chutzpah, particularly so as the local worthies who instigated the project were unlikely to survive until its completion. The canons of Seville committed to a subsistence existence to make sure the project was funded, which is pretty laudable. Work started in 1402 and a mere 104 years later it was complete! In fairness, just over 100 years is pretty swift as far as cathedral building goes, as the citizens of Barcelona can testify. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.
The sheer size of the place becomes evident once we were inside, even with hundreds of other visitors wandering around. In area, only St Paul’s in London and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome are larger, but if rated by volume, not just area, Seville takes the crown.
Seville Cathedral was built on the same large, rectangular base-plan of the mosque it replaced, but the Christian architects added the extra dimension of height. The result is an astonishingly large building that breaks several size records. Measured by area, Seville Cathedral is the third largest in Europe after after St Paul’s in London and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but when measured by volume, it surpasses them both.
We didn’t realise at the time, but were told later by a fellow visitor, whom Marigold christened Senior Know-all, that we’d entered by what had been the original Moorish entrance court, the Patio de los Naranjos, and the only other remains part of the original mosque was the Giraldo, now a bell tower but originally a minaret. It’s possible to climb up to the bell tower for a view of the city. We decided this could wait until another visit, when the weather would be warmer. It was decidedly nippy inside the cathedral, must have been freezing at the top of the bell tower.
As is the norm, many famous historical figures are buried in cathedrals. Christopher Columbus has a vastly ornate tomb and his son s also buried here. It was at this point we met Senor Know-all who told us he knew ‘for a fact’ that the remains in the tomb were not of Columbus and DNA testing was under way to prove this. It may even be true. He was very insistent, got quite worked up about his ‘for a fact’ conspiracy theory. There’s the head of John the Baptist here as well, but surely not even the most devout would accept this as an authentic relic.
The centre-piece of the altar is huge, ornate and seriously over the top, in our humble opinion. Intricate carvings, more gold than Fort Knox, it’s the largest and most expensively decorated altarpiece in the world, according to Senor You Know Who!
It was a little warmer when we left the Cathedral and we walked through the Jewish Quarter, the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a labyrinth of narrow pedestrian streets, all intertwined and with unexpected entrances into picturesque squares. We had a drink, a tapa or two and wandered around for an hour or so discovering hidden gems. Order a drink, get a free tapa. It’s a good system, especially for the many ‘bar hoppers’ we came across during our own bar hopping.
The barrio was originally a means of walling off the city’s many Jewish residents from the rest of Seville, but after the Christian Reconquest in 1248 they mingled freely once more.
History teaches us these situations never endure for long and so it was here in 1391 when the entire Jewish community was violently persecuted and their synagogues were converted to churches. Thousands of Jewish lives were lost. Today, it’s an area filled with sunshine, orange blossom and good humour. Even a statue of Don Juan.
Marigold decided we’d walked these cobbled streets for far enough and we looked on Google Maps to see if there was a shorter route back. It said the walking distance from the tapas bar we were in to the Cathedral was 1.6 miles, but we must have walked at least twice that given how winding the alleys were. It estimated 26 minutes for the journey, again it took us three times that but we are nosy, stop often and need refreshments, frequently. It also said the same journey, ie from ‘here to there,’ would take 44 minutes by car. Seville city centre traffic is evidently even worse today than normal.
Back in the wide open spaces, we toured the tapas bars, just ‘window shopping,’ so to speak, this time. Lunchtime crowds, harassed waiters and the deafening babble of the Spanish enjoying themselves. Spanish bars are about as far removed from the awed hush of the Cathedral as it’s possible to imagine. There were musicians, jugglers, mime artists everywhere, not seeking donations but putting on an entertainment for the Bank Holiday crowds. Enormous fun. A group of girl singers, with a responsible adult in tow, were delightful.
We took a taxi back to the hotel, footsore but happy, and were even happier when the return journey turned out to be far more sedate than that piloted by the would be racing driver we’d endured in the outward trip.
This is a delightful city, especially away from the searing heat of high summer. It’s a great mixture of ancient and modern buildings, palm tree lined promenades, a river to stroll alongside, olde worlde street lamps and the rattle of horse drawn carriages. We love it and we’ll be back again one day.
We had intended to return to the Roman Ruins of Italica, just outside the city itself, but that will have to wait until next time. It’s a Roman Amphitheatre, said to be the first evidence of Roman occupation in the whole of Spain. We loved our last visit a few years ago as we were the only people in the arena and could recreate gladiatorial battles while unobserved. Yes, it probably was embarrassing, but it never seems so when there’s nobody around to play the critic. From memory, it’s about half the size of Rome’s Colosseum, but we had to share the Colosseum with a few hundred others so Italica was much more fun. It was free too, for EU citizens, so there’s another future cost to take into account after Brexit. We may have to pay a euro each next time we go. It’s a consideration!
We didn’t visit the bullring either. Bull’s heads are a common sight in the tapas bars and matadors are heroes around here. Seville has one of the biggest arenas in Spain, the Real Maestranza has seating for 14,000 spectators. Built in 1761, the bullring has an oval shape, which is unique among Spanish bullrings. We’re no fans of bullfighting, but the historic buildings are always impressive and it’s part and parcel of Spanish life and has been for hundreds of years.
So much more we could have done. In past visits we’ve visited a recreation of Pontus Pilate’s house in Jerusalem, the fabulous Royal Palace (queues all around the block today) and the intriguing Barrio de Triana across the River, home to a thriving pottery industry and the centre of the gypsy community. We didn’t even catch a flamenco show! These omissions, together with much else besides, are reason enough to come back again. Can’t be bad.