The fourth largest city in Spain and the capitol of Andalusia, Sevilla has a laid-back charm that’s hard to beat.
Parade of Conquerers
Although legend has it that Sevilla was founded by Hercules, the area saw a variety of occupiers, including Phoenicians and Greeks. Then, in 206 BC, the Romans sent the Carthaginians packing. Julius Caesar made this port city a Roman colony in 45 BC, and – you guessed it – built – – a wall. It was a time of splendor and prosperity, but sadly, there is little left in today’s Sevilla to show for it.
When the Visigoths invaded the area during the 7th and 8th centuries AD, they brought instability where ever they settled. It took the Muslims, who arrived in Sevilla in 712 to restore order and usher in another age of glory and riches.
But when the Castilians conquered southern Spain in the 15th century, they removed nearly every trace of Muslim culture in their path. So what is there to see and do? In a word, plenty.
Sevilla is divided by the river Guadalquivir. The east bank is where most of Sevilla’s popular sites are to be found, including the cathedral, and the Reales Alcázares palace. The west bank is where you’ll find some of the city’s most historic neighborhoods. Topping the list is Triana, where poor Muslims, Jews, Gypsies and Christians formed a melting pot of poverty, giving birth to the music and dance known as Flamenco.
If you have to prioritize, make a beeline for Sevilla’s grand Cathedral, the third largest cathedral, and the largest Gothic building, in the world. The only two bigger cathedrals are St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. But size isn’t everything. This cathedral is the final resting place of none other than Christopher Columbus.
Built in 1401 over the ruins of what was a large mosque, the Cathedral managed to retain a few Arab style elements in its structure. La Giralda, the tower at the rear of the cathedral, is in reality one of the few remaining Almohad minarets in the world.
At the arch where you exit the cathedral, stop to admire the original ornate metal door from the mosque. It stands approximately 18 feet tall, and approximately six feet wide.
Another spectacular structure is the Reales Alcázares, the royal palace built by the Castilian kings. It’s the oldest palace in Europe still in use by a royal family.
Allow plenty of time to explore the palace’s interior and grounds, because the Alcázares, is not a single palace but several palaces fused together. The combination of architectural styles., have been contributed by Muslims, Mudejars and Christians. When you’re palaced out, take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the fountains, ponds, and the fragrance emanating from profusions of colorful flowers.
Now that you’re outdoors, why not treat yourself to some time at Plaza de España? Built for the Ibero-American exhibition of 1929, this enormous square is located opposite the Maria Luisa park, which is also worth a ramble. The square will dazzle you with its ceramic tiles, fountains, bridges and benches representing each of Spain’s provinces. Wander over the bridges with their blue and white ceramic rails and posts. Then rent a rowboat and enjoy the view of the square from the water.
When You Visit Sevilla
- The best bakery in Spain can be found in the Catalan Quarter, and has been in operation since 1383.
- If you see the letter V and a signature in red on the wall of the cathedral, you are gazing at a centuries-old tradition. The “Victors” were university graduates, who used bull’s blood to tell the world of their success. An early form of Face Book, perhaps?
- The films “The Dictator” and “Lawrence of Arabia” were filmed in Sevilla
- Sevilla was host to two major expositions: the 1929, Latin-American exposition, and 63 years later, the 1992, Universal Exposition
- Sevilla became the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.
- The bull fighting arena with an associated museum dedicated to memorabilia housed under the bleachers in rooms that were once used as stables and dressing rooms.
If you plan to visit Sevilla in April, make sure your trip coincides with La Feria de Abril, the city’s annual week-long flamenco party at a huge fairground used solely for this event.
Depending on where you enter, you’ll either be right next to a brightly-lit amusement park or you will see it beyond long lines of colorfully decorated tents that appear to stretch almost to infinity.
And drinking, eating and continuous flamenco dancing are the order of the day in each. Most of the over 1,000 tents are privately owned by families, neighborhoods, businesses and political entities and without an invitation, you’re out of luck.
But take heart, there are always a few public tents, where anyone can join the party. Flamenco, horse-drawn carriages, with women and girls decked out in their colorful dancing dresses and bullfighting combine in a celebration of tradition, culture and just plain fun.