Despite the unbearable heat of the Southern sun, the city of Seville didn’t fail to captivate my senses for the second time. Sevilla es una maravilla, as the locals fondly call the Andalusian capital, hadn’t changed a bit even after five years. With 41°C temperature, I literally felt warmly welcomed on my return. Ranking next to Granada (on my new top spot), Sevilla is still, after all, one of my favorite cities. Seduction is sweeter the second time around and it’s Seville’s turn to do that for me.
I happened to meet a guy named José Luis on the street to help out my disoriented mind. All I asked for was the direction on how to get to my host’s place but much to my surprise, he offered me company all the way to calle Porvenir where my accomodation was. The house was elegantly gorgeous and so was María José, the hostess and the lady of the family. Surprised as they opened the door, they stared at the haggard look that struck them until the daughter with an interesting name (she’s called África, by the way) broke the silence and asked, ¿Por qué hablas español? Curiously enough, I’ve never been asked how I’ve been or what my name is as introductory questions, but instead, I usually get the tiresome “Why do you speak Spanish?” stuff. I started to consider writing down my response on a sheet of paper so I wouldn’t have to tell the whole story every single time.
They offered me a double bedroom and a private balcony at my disposal and let me rest until the heat was more bearable later that afternoon so I could start exploring the city. I then headed back out to walk the streets of Seville, observing the same familiar sights that brought back memories of the good ol’ city. The family’s house was well-located in the center within a five-minute walk to the Plaza de España. Designed by Sevilla’s very own Aníbal González, the whole complex, with the main edifice in the middle of the square, was constructed in the 1920′s when the city hosted the Ibero-American exposition in 1929. Its architectural design carries influences from Modernism (Europe and Catalonia) as well as Historicism (reflecting Gothic revival and mudejar style). The building itself was also shown in the satirical comedy flick “The Dictator” with Sasha Baron Cohen and “Star Wars II”.
The towers and the semicircular façade are adorned with “azulejos” (blue tiles), practically covering the entire front with historical depictions of Spanish provinces and cities with their corresponding coat of arms. Scattered in the surrounding areas are the pavillions that were used in the grand expo and are now converted into office buildings though some are unfortunately abandoned and solely stand for decorative purposes.
Probably one of the reasons why I decided to come back was to see La Giralda. Finished in 1198, it is an important legacy of the Almohad dynasty that ruled over Sevilla until its reconquest in 1248 by Ferdinand the Saint. This once glorious minaret was converted into a Catholic bell tower adding the gothic influence on top of it, as well as the statue of La Giralda as its crowning symbol. However, the original Moorish influence remains unaltered to this day.
Owing its name to the statue on the top of the belfry, the giraldillo symbolizes the triumph of the Christian faith. Standing over 100 meters high, the materials used to build the tower were brought by the Arabs to Andalusia and it is the only belfry that I know that doesn’t have staircases to climb up but ramps.
Sevilla boasts the third largest cathedral in the world, next to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s in London and it also houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus after his long travel halfway around the world. At last, the navigator was finally laid to rest where he began his journey that would change the course of history forever.
Seduction has a name and it’s called Sevilla. It’s no wonder that it became Georges Bizet’s source of inspiration for his opera, Carmen, personifying the city’s irresisitible seduction. The fragrance of temptation filled up the air through the abundance of orange trees that sprawled around the city center. Barrio Sta. Cruz returned to life from a dull afternoon as soon as the city lamps’ fiery colors lit up the Plaza del Triunfo and, right on its centerpiece, La Giralda’s gorgeous transformation into a golden-colored tower became the main highlight of the evening, thus turning herself into a great seductress that allured every passersby admire her magnificence. Besides the cathedral, there are two other important sights to visit that surround the Plaza del Triunfo, namely, Archivo de las Indias, where all the records of the New World are kept, while the second one is the Reales Alcazares, a Moorish-inspired complex of palaces and gardens that was commisioned by the Catholic King, Peter the Cruel (due to his profound admiration to Moorish architecture and most likely as a result of his friendship with Muhammed V, the Nasrid king of Granada’s La Alhambra)
Pleasant evenings happen in Sevilla when the sun is finally gone. I walked towards the brightly-lit Paseo de Cristóbal Colón where the Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold) gleams along the banks of Río Guadalquivir. Set against a black backdrop, the tower appears to be more mysterious at night. Being one of the most prominent legacies of the Almohads, the tower used to be a part of the walled defences leading up to Reales Alcazares and was a watchtower that guarded the Río Guadalquivir. Through the ages, when Sevilla had lost its significance, the tower had also fallen into neglect and disrepair, as well as the once splendid river that used to be the gateway to the New World. Thanks to the Sevilla Expo of 1992, the Andalusian capital was back on its feet after a long slumber.
If Madrid is the superlative of all the Spanish cities, Seville is even a clear representation of Spanish stereotypes: bullfighting, flamenco, heat and rhythm, tiles, and Southern temperament. Having mentioned all these, I jotted down on my itinerary where to prove these clichés to be true. I joined a free walking tour the following morning around the district of Triana, located on the opposite bank of Río Guadalquivir. The barrio is the birthplace of flamenco and the pioneer makers of azulejos. What I liked most about the free walking tours was that they were done in a very unconventional way by young and dynamic tour guides and every piece of trivia was something that an average tour guide wouldn’t say.
I then headed to Plaza de Toros and Museo Taurino to escape from the sizzling heat of summer. There I (re)discovered the beginnings of bullfighting in the late 18th century. The guided visit I joined in was mainly in Spanish, but due to the number of non-Spanish speaking guests, it was also partly done in English. There was another free tour later that afternoon around the old district of Sta. Cruz, where I met a lovely couple from Galicia. We spent the whole afternoon together and they invited me for some tapas and cervezas at La Sureña to give me first-hand lessons of their Galician way of life. The time went by unnoticed as I truly had a fantastic time my lovely Gallegos. Since we lost track of each other the following morning, I went up instead to La Giralda, followed by a flamenco show late in the afternoon. Flamenco shows are popular in Seville, especially in the Sta. Cruz district but the less touristy ones can be enjoyed in Triana along Calle Betis. Because sunset has always been my favorite part of the day, it’s definitely the perfect time to see a panoramic view of the whole city. With the cathedral dominating the Seville skyline reflecting an Old World charm, the best way to appreciate the entire city in 360° is from the winding terraces of Metrosol Parasol (below).
As the day turned to night, the view appeared even more enticing, as the colors changed dramatically in the backdrop. I felt a surge of nostalgia on my last evening in the city, not knowing when would be the next time I’d be able to visit it again. It was almost midnight when I headed back home. Passing through the Avenida de la Constitución, the whole street was still wide awake with flocks of teenagers and tourists strolling along the promenade.
As I was nearing the family’s house, I had to walk through the Parque María Luisa that looked seemingly haunted in the evening, hearing nothing more than horse carriages in the dead of the night, while the main square of Plaza de España was still brightly-lit on every corner. It felt as if I was in a ghost town with no single soul marauding the area. It wasn’t until I reached the other end of the park when I heard loud music echoing all thoughout the night with drunk teenagers on motorbikes and cars, a chaotic assembly of rich kids. It was a botellón party, a nightly social event for young crowd that can not exactly afford the rising prices of alcohol in bars.
Still awake after midnight, my host family welcomed me as they were all gathered around the garden table playing a card game. I got to meet not only María José and her daughter, África but also the entire family, África’s boyfriend and the other house tenant. It was a long night of interaction as I found myself once again on the hotseat getting interviewed by my private crowd and for the bajillionth time, the undying question was raised again, ¿Por qué hablas español? (When will it stop?)
This city has won me over for the second time. Like Carmen’s lover, I’ve been lured into her lair and got entrapped by her bewildering Andalusian beauty. Witnessed her grandeur and left in oblivion, this Southern capital is to this day one of the biggest attractions in Spain, drawing visitors, both local and foreign, to the eternal seduction called Seville.