Have you ever stepped in the fiery heart of Andalusia? Part 2

Melt into scintillating Seville…

Seville is home to two of the most magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites, two outstanding pieces of other-worldly architecture. Both will leave you reeling in disbelief with their grandeur and intricacy. Both are monumental tributes…one to the Lord, the other to royalty. If you were forced to explore just one, which would it be?

Cathedral de Sevilla: The grand splurge

You try in vain to capture a complete image of the majestic 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cathedral de Sevilla. Its an impossible feat from ground level and close quarters. After all, the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world occupies a gigantic 11,520 square metres area.

Seville Cathedral 6.JPG

Seville Cathedral 7.JPG

Pause to pan across the modest brick facade, dulled with the ravages of time and hidden from full view by a row of orange trees. The iron panelled ‘Doors of Forgiveness’ (Puerta del Perdón) are framed by a large, intricately carved horseshoe arch ornamented with relief sculptures and delicate Koranic inscriptions. Inside is an ancient Moorish courtyard studded with orange trees…the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Courtyard), reminiscent of typical Islamic gardens.

Move to your left, to get a closer look at the original minaret from the 12th-century Almohad Mosque, now a bell tower for the Cathedral…the most magnificent structure in all of Seville, a beacon of antiquity and culture in all of Andalucía. The Moorish tower is nothing short of overwhelming. Its intricate lattice work, Arabic patterns, keyhole niches and windows are in strange harmony with the Renaissance balconies that were added much later. For some reason, you are reminded of a Muslim veiled woman wearing Prada sunglasses! Above the belfry on top, was poised a statue symbolising faith, a functioning weathervane nicknamed Giraldillo (‘to turn’), which gives its name to the tower, the Giralda. Climb to the top later.

Seville Cathedral Giralda 1 .JPG

Just opposite the Puerta del Perdón is the main entrance to the Cathedral…this time a pointed horseshoe arch, heavily adorned with reliefs depicting biblical events and figures of saints. Once inside, you so are intimidated by the size and the scale, that feelings of reverence were sidelined completely. Vaulted ceilings soar at a height of 121 feet…St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s Basilica don’t even close in this respect! 80 chapels and the longest nave of any church in Spain…lavishly decorations of art and bronze sculpture and gold in the side aisles, but an unexpected restraint with the huge nave that is left almost empty. They wanted to have a church of the kind that “…those who see it built will think we were mad.” Well, they succeeded, you agree, as you bathe in the multicolour rays of the light streaming in from the gorgeous stained-glass windows.

Seville Cathedral 9.JPG

Seville Cathedral 4.jpg

Examine the huge choir stalls and gasp at the gold flamboyance of the largest altarpiece in the world shielded by a large ornate wrought iron screen…the entire life’s work of one craftsman, Pierre Dancart. It is easy to see that Seville had been basking in the glory of its new wealth after becoming a major trading center after the Reconquista and conquering the rich Incas in the 1500s…and this was the grand splurge. Observe the tomb of Christopher Columbus held aloft by four soldiers, representing the four kingdoms of Spain. DNA analysis and controversy apart, it is a fitting tribute to the last wish of the Italian explorer who died in Spain in 1506. RIP, Chris…wherever you are!

Seville Cathedral 2.jpg

Seville Cathedral 3.JPG

Brace for the best part…a heart pumping workout up a spiral, circular walkway of 35 gently inclining ramps, 100-meters up to the bell tower. Stop at the several window alcoves for close-ups of the bells and gargoyles and much-needed gasps of breath. Scrutinise the cream brick walls and the brick-fishbone patterned floor…imagine two mounted guards following the muezzin on his horse all the way up to call people to prayer! Great for him, not so great for the horse, specially if he had a weight disorder. At the belfry, enjoy the spectacular views of the town, full of zigzag lanes and the bull ring, Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza in the far distance. Try tracing the path back to your hotel, and give up…the maze of streets is too complex a mystery. 

Seville Cathedral 10

Seville Cathedral Giralda 6

Seville Cathedral 11

Seville Cathedral Giralda 2

Seville Cathedral Giralda 3

Seville Cathedral Giralda 4

Seville Cathedral Giralda 5

Afterwards, cover the entire perimeter of the Cathedral. The plain brick is a perfect backdrop for all the elaborate Gothic stonework…unadorned high walls crowned by a terrace of stone pillared railings and punctuated by a line-up of chess-bishop shapes and peeking from behind, a jumble of bud-spangled spires rising to the skies. Each of the 15 doors on the cathedral’s four facades feature unique reliefs…it is no use keeping track of the patterns, there are far too many to remember.

End your jaunt at the 1386-founded Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas on Puerta del Perdón. Savour delicious gazpacho and paella at one of the small pavement tables under a shady canopy. Poet, playwright and novelist Miguel de Cervantes de Saavedra, (author of Don Quixote), French author Alexandre Dumas and British author Lord Byron had once graced the traditional establishment and dined under the brass-studded mahogany ceiling. The crockery is not that old, so there was no chance we were eating out of same plates, but you will leave with a strong feeling of being in exalted literary company.

Real Alcázar: This can’t be real!

The second UNESCO World Heritage Site of Seville, the medieval Islamic-style Real Alcázar (Royal Palace), is just a few minutes away. Dating from its 1300s identity as a fort for Cordoban officials, this intriguing fusion of Spanish Christian and Moorish architecture is sheer resplendence. It is a fantastic Arabian palace still in use by the Spanish royal family, complete with hedge mazes, scented orange groves, and an abundance of colored tiles.

Seville Alhambra 1.JPG

Seville Alhambra 6.jpg

Seville Alhambra 7.jpg

Soak up Andalusia’s Moorish heritage by spending a few hours meandering through the patios, rooms, halls and stately apartments filled with intricately designed arches and decorative rounded shapes symbolic of the unknowable true nature of Allah. The ornate arches and shady corridors surrounding a long reflecting pool at the Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens) make you question the myth that the Moors used to demand a tribute of 100 virgins from the Christians, every year. You can almost see the King and Queen strolling by the pool contemplating a redesign. But what redesign? It is too perfect.

Seville Alhambra 2.JPG

Seville Alhambra 3.JPG

Seville Alhambra 5

Seville Alhambra 15.JPG

Seville Alhambra 13.JPG

Pick up your jaws from the floor of the Salón de Embajadores, (Hall of Ambassadors) after staring at the bas-relief carvings literally dripping from the walls. And close that open mouth as you study the dramatic cedarwood cupola ceiling…a giant gold sun studded with sparking jewels in star, circle, tears and other shapes. Real Alcazar is not for real!! The drama continues in Palacio Gótico, the gothic palace built for Alfonso the Wise, which dazzles with floor-to-ceiling tile mosaics. And these days, wallpaper is the epitome of luxury in home interiors. Hysterical!

Seville Alhambra 8.JPG

Seville Alhambra 11.jpg

Seville Alhambra 12.JPG

The royal gardens, built over 1100 years are a compendium of the history of gardening…Andalusian, Moorish, Italian, English and French styles are all featured. Ornate clipped hedges, trickling water, and fragrant, colourful flowers in the bright and spacious green areas, geometric patterns, surrounded by closed areas urge you to explore them. Water accompanies you everywhere, trickling through ditches and canals, ripping in the many pools and springing delicately in sprays, gushing in fountains and grottos…enhancing the serenity and calm, adding to the coolness of the shade, and providing soft background score to the chirping vocals of the feathered ones hopping and flying around.

Seville Alhambra 10.jpg

Seville Alhambra 9.jpg

Suddenly, you are a Spanish queen, sitting in this verdant paradise of the royal retreat on a rainy day, watching peacocks dance and sipping exotic fruit cocktails served on silver trays. Am I right or am I right?


Pin this post for later!!

Explore two of Seville's architectural icons



Have you ever stepped in the fiery heart of Andalusia? Part 1

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!

Courtesy: Wikipedia

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!

Casa Romana.jpg
Courtesy: Casa Romana

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.

Seville 2.JPG

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.

Plaza del Salvador 1.JPG

Plaza del Salvador 2.JPG

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.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

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.

Seville 5.JPG

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.

Seville 3.JPG

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. 

Seville 8.JPG

Seville 4.JPG

Seville 7.JPG

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!!

Melt into scintillating Seville