Seville. Oranges. Seville oranges. The city, with its 25 000 or so orange trees, has capitalised on the fruit: it’s in everything from lip balm to wine to hand cream. Nuns in cloistered convents don’t sell marmalade though – they sell rose petal jam. And some of the rose bushes we saw are said to be 300 years old. So between the oranges and the roses, Seville smells great.
It was strange being back in a big city again, with highstreet shops, streetside cafés, and the complete gamut of restaurants covering all sorts of cuisine. After the wows of Écija and Carmona, it was a little disorientating to see modern buildings, even if Seville has its fair share of old architecture, too. I felt a little off-kilter.
Eating and sleeping in Seville
We stayed in Hotel Zaida, once a single-family residence belonging to a doctor. A fabulously impressive place with some original, non-glazed tiles still on the walls. On the edge of the historic quarter, it’s around the corner from a great little bar/restaurant, Bar Zafiro (Calle San Eloy, 58) with its friendly staff and excellent tuna steaks and paella. Avoid the tourist cafés by the river and go deep into the Triana neighbourhood to see the real city. Beware of reviews – make up your own mind. If the place has locals in it, it’s a good sign.
Doing the church thing in Seville
I find it hard to pass a church if the doors are open. That I get three wishes when I enter one for the first time is an added bonus. My mother probably made that one up to get me to visit them as a child but hey, I’ve been doing it for years and it’s done me no harm. Three, in particular, stand out.
Santa María Magdalena, a Baroque church dating back to the early 1700s, is a little too much gilt and glitter for my liking but it has some pretty amazing wall paintings. And it was on this site that the first HQ for the Spanish Inquisition was located (the logo can be seen on the dome in the Calle San Pablo entrance). I’ve seen many depictions of the Crucifixion but this was the first time I’d seen anything about taking Jesus down from the cross. Have a look around for yourself and enjoy.
In Iglesia de San Buenaventura, I came across an image of the Black Madonna but can’t for the life of me find any information about her. Back in a previous life, I was quite taken with her and travelled to see images in Poland, Italy, and Spain. She still intrigues me. Older, and somewhat simpler than the Magdalena, it, too, is worth a look.
High on my list of churches to see was the one in the Hospital de la Caridad. Surprisingly, I had little trouble shelling out the €8 entrance fee (audio guide included) even though I don’t usually like paying to enter a Catholic church, given that I’m a card-carrying member of the universal congregation. But this church is part of a Baroque home for the elderly and the infirm and the entrance fee goes towards the costs of running the home. Seeing the residents wander amongst the visitors made it all too real. It houses some magnificent works of art, the main four being copies of originals looted and now hanging in galleries in Ontario, Washington DC, London , and St Petersburg. The virtual tour is worth a look. The founder, Don Miguel Mañara, wrote his Discourse on Truth more than 300 years ago. I have a translated copy in my bag as my go-to read for the next few weeks. If I were to visit just one place in Seville again, this would be it.
Of course, while we were wandering the back streets, the real tourists were queuing up for tickets to the Alcazar. Having missed the one in Jerez, I had thought I’d go see the one in Seville – but to queue? No thank you. The line for the Cathedral was far more manageable and although I didn’t think much could beat the Mezquita in Córdoba (and I was right) I was curious to see the biggest Gothic cathedral in the world, the tomb of Christopher Colombus, and the 80 chapels the Cathedral is said to house. It was busy – very busy – and far from being a place to sit and pray, it is now a place to take selfies and wow. It could well have been that I was tiring of all this touristing, but I was distinctly underwhelmed.
Walking the streets of Seville
The Plaza de Espana is quite the monument to Spain. Very impressive. Built for the 1929 Expo and situated inside Parque Maria Luisa, it is known as the Venice of Seville. Put a canal anywhere and you can call it the Venice of whatever. The 500-metre canal is spanned by four bridges (one each for the four ancient provinces of Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon). It’s possible to rent a boat and row your way around but having been rowed across Lake Bled, I wasn’t tempted. Around the 50,000 sq m semicircular plaza (apparently the size of 5 football pitches), 48 alcoves with benches represent each province of Spain. Maps of the provinces are painted on ceramic tiles – azulejos – and are the focal point for visiting Spanish tourists. It’s definitely worth a look.
The riverside walk was ruined for me as I couldn’t get Chris De Burgh’s Spanish Train out of my head:
Well that Spanish train still runs between
Guadalquivir and old Seville
And at dead of night the whistle blows
And people fear she’s running still
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