Melt into scintillating Seville…
A 2.5 hours journey by high speed train from Madrid Atocha station will transport you to Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city located along the coast of the Guadalquivir River in the South. The dull sandy colour of the scorched countryside, though not refreshingly green, has an allure of its own. The sunbaked red earth is dotted by miles of olive trees, sunflowers, maize and corn.
On the horizon, a sudden flash as the sun rays catches the metal of the lance that Don Quixote is wielding…the errant knight in shining armour trotting on his beloved horse, with Sancho, his partner in crime in tow, readying for another episode of comedic misadventure or chivalrous romance. A picture of impractical idealism as pure as the silhouette of the whitewashed stout windmill behind him…unreal, dramatic. Hah, it’s just your imagination again!
It is a short 10-minute cab drive to the old town area from Seville’s Santa Justa station. Andalusía’s fiery, cultural capital. Isn’t your mind already flooded with images of romance, flamenco, vibrance, fiestas, bullfights and cigars? Make the perfect choice by checking into one of the Casa-transformed boutique hotels in a narrow cobbled lane. Chances are you’ll find yourself in a restored historic mansion with a delightful interior courtyard open to the skies, colourful blue-white-yellow mosaics, a trickling fountain, and a fine lounge area with comfortably furnished alcoves. Does your window look out into back alley, facing homes with iron-balconies and drawn curtains. Doesn’t matter…you’re not going to cooped be within walls in this gorgeous, passionate city!
As you set foot into the quaint town, feel the pounding heartbeat of Southern Spain in the narrow one-way streets, ochre-yellow of the houses highlighted by pure white window frames and delicate black iron grills. A ‘fotografia’ announcing ‘fotos carnet entrega en el acto’ (photos card delivery on the spot), a ‘zapateria’ (shoe shop) stocking all kinds of fashion accessories, a graffiti scribbled shop shutter, a ‘telefono y fax publico’ selling mobile accessories…even the mundane enamours you. Many streets are almost empty in the quiet residential area. An old lady with an umbrella disappears into a corner lane, two backpackers consult their map on the opposite pavement, and in the distance, a row of parked motorcycles announce the onset of ‘busy-ness’.
Within minutes, you land at Plaza del Duque de la Victoria, enclosed by small mansions converted into hotels and the inevitable Les Cortes de Ingles. In the centre is a small enclosed park…a diagonal black-white chequered chess floor…an oasis of palms fanning the statue of Seville-born artist Velasquez. People rest on benches and potter around flea market stalls. The two parallel shopping streets of Seville, Calle Sierpes and Calle Tetuan are just around the corner…packed with eating joints, cafes, souvenir shops and high-street brands and flocking with tourists. Rebajas (regular half-yearly sales) and saldos (blemished items at a lower price) signboards beckon…come back later.
Wandering in and out of the lively streets, reach the wide open Plaza del Salvador, its western face crowned by the stunningly artistic salmon-and-cream facade of Iglesia del Salvador, the second largest baroque cathedral of the city. The other crowd pullers here are two legendary bars, Los Soportales and La Antigua Bodeguita. Old-world wood panelled folding doors and hand-painted floral designs proudly proclaim their lineage under charming arcades held up by old Roman columns of uneven height. This is the best place to sample a piece of Seville nightlife…a square jammed with people, standing with their drinks in crowds for sheer lack of space, squatting on the pavements and the steps of the church, music mingling with chatter. A temple in India with a liquor bar in front is an unthinkable anomaly, but this is Spain.
From Plaza del Salvador, walk down Calle Hernando taking cue from the wares on display in shops to translate their Spanish signboards. Test your language skills… Traies de Flamenca (traditional dresses, hats, spanish fans), filataleia (rare stamps), numismatico (coin collector), helados (icecream), fruiteria (fruits), guitarras-artesania-regalos (guitars, crafts and gifts). Turmeric, cream and peach colored houses with soft pastel window frames line the street, their common Andalusian character merging them harmoniously together. Note the electric and phone cables carefully bunched up underneath the slim balconies with lovely grillwork, they were painted in the building colour to appear more discreet. Bamboo blinds somewhere too…the insipid Indian ‘chik’ has a Spanish cousin!
Search out the inimitable landmark next…the Plaza de Espana at the Parque de María Luisa. So they had built this Renaissance Revival style glory for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition! Some exposition that would have been! Pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages dot the area filled with clear ponds, endearing bridges and gushing fountains. The spectacular half-moon building about 200 meters in diameter, is embellished with detailed polychromatic tiles, ceramic handicraft and bright pavilions, and its two spectacular towers reflect in the idyllic moat. A fairytale! Indulge in a leisurely paddle under the Andalusian summer sun. Drift along the water, under the shadow of decadence and lavish architecture. The laidback life of Sevillianos centres around company, conversation and cuisine…dive deep into it for a while.
Potter around Santa Cruz, Seville’s cultural capital, where winding medieval lanes lead to romantic plazas perfumed with orange blossom. This is the Jewish Quarter and spiritual home of the famous Andalucían traditions of bullfighting and flamenco. All around is a littering of art galleries, museums and cultural delights including the intriguing Museo del Baile Flamenco housed within an 18th century building. None of the political and religious violence against Jews was evident anywhere…just clean, whitewashed buildings, lively tapas bars, cheerful restaurants and a relaxed, fun-loving vibe.
Myriad outdoor cafes provide delectable food in gorgeous settings. You’re reminded of wailing flamenco singers, morena Sevillanas dancers, stylish Don Juans, all along the curving narrow streets, small churches and outdoor cafes. Shops sell flamboyant bullfighter and flamenco costumes…rich embroideries, bejewelled buttons, glittering sequins, heavy girdles and collars on dark coloured heavy fabrics. The mantilla (Spanish veil piece of lace or silk worn over head or shoulders), the peineta (large decorative comb with a curved body), the gilet (sleeveless embroidered waistcoat)…centuries old traditions live on here. Bright blue-green and yellow Spanish tiles adorn the exteriors of pastel houses, walls of forgotten churches, noisy tabernas, historic buildings and even street signs. The abstract, repetitive patterns added charm to benches in parks and pillars in plazas…and intrigue to hidden courtyards of private mansions and corridors of quiet museums. Tiles even beautify the under-surface of balconies…beauty for beauty’s sake! Pure colours, brilliant surfaces and kaleidoscopic shapes…every tile art piece calls out to be photographed. “Te queiro, Seville!” (I love you, Seville!) you murmur under your breath.
Loiter in and out of the centuries-old labyrinthine, streets twist and turn, and sometimes without realising, your direction changes from east to south, or west or north. Each corner brings more wonders…a Roman column juxtaposed into a wall, a grand mansion with lavish carvings on its front door, a sudden plaza, a minaret peeking from behind a building, a Mudejar-style municipal office, a church tower visible from a distance. Layers of ancient influence…Roman over Phoenician, Visigoth over Roman, Moorish over Visigoth, Christian over Moorish…mysteries reveal at every few feet…an unparalleled medley of spectacular Medieval, Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Clearly, the inhabitants of this city are proud of their heritage…every street, every house, every shop was a joyous celebration of ‘being-Andalusian’, and every inch of the town is embellished painstakingly, like a personal living space lovingly on display.
As the day ends, find a bench to rest your exhausted legs. An elderly Spanish woman with a couple of El Cortes Ingles bags strides along the pavement at breakneck speed, with the single-minded purpose of overtaking everyone she encounters along the way. She jumps the bus queue, wiggles through a couple of teens ahead of her and pushes her way into the bus, making a loud declaration in Spanish. Was that “Let me pass, I’m in a rush”? Everyone just kept clearing the route. This little grandma is fiery and feisty. Just like Seville!
Pin this post for later!!