Seville is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is almost like a living museum, particularly in the evocative old Jewish quarter, the Santa Cruz. There is a unique quality of light in Seville, and the sensual perfume of the ubiquitous jasmine blossoms lends itself to the romance of the place. Unbelievably narrow streets lined with whitewashed palaces and balconies bursting over with fuchsia-colored bougainvillea, lead you from one tiny square to the next, inevitably full of orange trees, graceful courtyards which passers by can sneak a peek at, and charming Tapas Bars covered in typical tiles and lined with wine barrels.
Conquered by the Moors in the 8th century, Seville has always been a royal residence. Even before the Caliphs arrived, the Romans and Carthaginians were fighting over Seville, and the Phoenicians and Greeks before them. Italica, just outside Seville, is the site of preserved Roman ruins dating back to 3rd century BC. Roman Seville became Christian in the 4th century and the Visigoths who ruled afterwards built amazing Christian monuments, including the Cathedral. History in Southern Spain was tumultuous for the next few hundred years including religious crusades, the “Reconquest”, the religious expulsions and cruel conversions and the monumental discovery of “the new world”.
From the Spanish conquest of the Americas, riches flowed back to Spain, literally directly into the country through Seville’s Guadalquivir River. Exuberant palaces and mansions were erected and Seville was (and still is) the home of one of the leading Spanish aristocratic families, the Medinacelis. In the 1500’s, Seville became very wealthy and the Port grew to be one of the busiest in the world. The defeat of the Spanish Armada and the escalation of religious fanaticism, however, did little good for Seville and the city suffered a decline until the 17th century’s “Golden Age” explosion of Baroque painting and architecture. The legacy of this creative “boom” includes the works of Murillo, Zurbarán, Alonso Cano, Velasquéz and Juan de Mesa. The next few hundred years, brought political insecurity, the loss of the colonies, and the horrific Spanish civil war. In the late 20th century, things looked a lot better for Seville. The town hosted the Expo in 1992 and saw the introduction of the fast speed train from Madrid to Seville (called the “Ave”, meaning “bird”).
Gastronomy & Wine
Seville is one of the best cities in Spain to experience the famed Tapas Bars. Eating is an art form in Seville, and “Tapa Hopping” is what the locals do, starting at one bar and slowly making their way down to four or five different bars, sipping wine and chatting along the way, until they get full, at which point, they drink more wine! This ritual is called “Tapeo” and the historic quarter is conducive to this kind of fun “culinary traveling”. The Santa Cruz barrio, for example, is literally lined with bar after bar, each specializing in various Tapas and Vinos.
Tapas you shouldn’t miss while in Seville, include: “Pringá” (very typical, it’s a little toasty topped with different meats such as pork, bacon and chorizo); “Montaditos” (these are pieces of rustic country bread that can be topped with blood pudding, spicy sausages, Roquefort and walnuts, anchovies, Pork marinated in Jerez wine); Papas Aliñás (cold potato salad doused in gorgeous Olive Oil and tossed with prawns, onions, garlic, tomatoes and a splash of vinegar); and Garbanzos con Espinacas (chick peas lightly sautéed with fresh spinach, olive oil and garlic.) the most traditional wines to be served with Tapas are the wines from Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlucar de Barrameda, which include: Manzanilla, Fino, Oloroso and Amontillado. For cheese based tapas and desserts, the ultra-rich Pedro Ximenez is often served. Those who aren’t fans of Sherry, can enjoy a variety of red wines from La Rioja and Ribera Del Duero and white wines from Rueda or Rias Baixas.
Seville fell to the Moors in 712 and the military chiefs built their fortress on the very site where the Reales Alcazares are today. Called the “Royal Fortress”, this beautiful property houses the 9th century Moorish Palaces built for the Emir, Abderraman II. These superb palaces are absolutely stunning for the first time visitor. Intricately carved arches, hand painted tiles with Arabic calligraphy and spectacular gardens can all be enjoyed here. This is an absolute “must see” in Seville.
One of Seville’s finest palaces built by The First Marquis of Tarifa in the late 1400’s, to resemble Pontius Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem. The palace is owned now by the Duke of Medinaceli and is the most beautiful private residence in Seville, which is luckily open to the public. You will see beautiful Roman busts, an interesting fusion of Renaissance and Mudejar architectural styles and a collection of family paintings including ones of Barbera de Braganza who once lived there.
Due to be reopened soon after recent renovation, the “Indies Archives” is a library/museum located in a gorgeous 16th century building, which holds more than four million documents relating to the discovery of “the New World”. One of the most interesting bits of the huge collection is the personal diary excerpt of Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus).
This graceful building has an almost anarchic past. The site of Seville’s huge cathedral was the original site of Seville’s 12th century Mosque (of which only the Giralda tower is left). A Visigoth church was rebuilt over the Mosque. Work began in 1401 and lasted until 1506! The beautiful result is a mix of Gothic, Plateresque and baroque styles, and is today the third largest Christian church in the world (after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London). You can climb up the Giralda tower to take in the sweeping views below, but be prepared for a long wait in line.