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Irene's Adventures

Spain - Seville

SPAIN | Wednesday, 13 September 2017 | Views [131]

After leaving Monsaraz on our private blueberry trail of a road, we crossed the border into Spain.

 

Rather than stay in busy Seville, we booked the Hotel Lince in nearby Aznalcázar. It was a sleepy little town surrounded by olive and orange groves. The room was spacious and nice. It was a short walk to a quiet bar and a beer.

 Los Bucaros Bar

 

The next day we drove the 25 minutes back to Seville and found some underground parking near the old city. We came up from the parkade only to discover we were very near Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza - bull arena. We wandered in to discover they were giving a tour in a few minutes. Built in 1749, this bullring is considered to be one of the finest in Spain and one of the most important in the world. Although bullfighting is losing popularity with the younger generation, the 12,500 seats still sell out. We were given a tour of the outer circle of the arena that houses a museum that traces the history of bullfighting from the 18th century to today. There were paintings of bullfights, bull's heads mounted, and matador's suits. Even the wall tiles had bulls heads painted on them.

matador suit   Bull arena

Further along was where the bulls were brought in and kept in stalls until their fateful event. The area that held the picador's horses had horse head rings on the walls to hold the horses. The entire area was spotlessly clean. One would never know that livestock comes and goes from here – alive and dead.

 Bull arena   Bull arena

Just before the main entrance to the arena was the chapel where matadors pray before entering the ring. It is said that no one feels more alive than a matador facing death. There was an earthen water jug in the corner of the chapel. I don't remember the significance, but it was important.

 picture from gallery

We entered the main arena through the same gates as the bulls. The circular arena is quite large and is covered in sand. There are two rows of bleachers all around. The centre of the arena is slightly higher than the outer edge giving the matador an advantage to sprint downhill to get behind a barricade before the bull crashes into it.

 barricade

The top set of bleachers are covered. The most expensive seats are on the shady side of the arena. The Spanish Royal Family sits over the Prince's Gate – a beautiful 16th century iron gate that was originally from a convent. After an outstanding performance (very, very rare) the bullfighter is to be carried through these gates on the audience's shoulders.

 Bull arena

One evening, back in Aznalcazar at the bar, some old men were flipping through TV channels and lining up their chairs to watch the bullfight on TV. We had just ordered our beer and these old guys looked like they were getting ready to watch Babe Ruth hit a home run. We were curious, so we watched too. The old men were proper armchair quarterbacks. Although we could not understand them, it was obvious by their gestures and tones of voice they were critiquing the event. When the first bull caught his horn in the dirt, did a flip, and broke his horn off the old men were beside themselves with chatter and arm waving. The bullfight was quite as gruesome as we had anticipated, but none the less not something I care to watch again.

 Bullfighting on TV at the bar

The bull comes out snorting mad. They must do something to it when raising it so that it is so mad. The matador must be a crazy person to stand in front of it and tease it with his pinkish cape. Every now and then, the bull decides to go after the picador and his horse. I have the utmost respect for the picador's horse. It has padding, like armour, all over its body; but even at that, it allows itself to be pushed, prodded, and attacked by the bull all the while standing its ground. Amazing.

 

The matador does not tease the bull very long before the banderilleros come out with two long barbs which they stab into the bull and quickly run away. Now the bull is mad as hell. These barbs are like a fish hook, they go in but not out. The bull is bleeding all the way down its shoulders while the matador changes to his red cape and teases the bull more. Even at this stage, with the bull weakened by blood loss, there is no way you would get me in front of that animal. But this is where the matador shows off. He turns his back on the bull. He drops to his knees while waving the cape in front of the bull. Finally, when the bull's tongue is hanging out and half his blood is soaking into the ground, the matador takes his sword and stabs it into the bull's heart. A team of horses come out and pull the bull off the arena. If half the audience petitions the President by waving their handkerchiefs, the matador is presented with the bull's ear. Then the whole thing starts again with a new bull. The matador will fight 3 bulls in a night.

 

After the bullring, we walked through the vine-covered archway of the metro,

 vine covered metro

past a fountain with a bronze lady lazily reclined and looking down at the passing water,

fountain

along the Avenida de la Constitucion, being careful of the tram that ran back and forth

tram

and made our way to the Seville Cathedral.

 Seville Cathedral

The Cathedral was originally built in 1172-1198 as a mosque. Shortly after Ferdinand III's conquest it was razed and a cathedral was built on the same large foundation. The internal space was divided into chapels to more suit Christian worship practices. It took 100 years to build. Construction began in 1401 and lasted until 1506. It is said that the church elders stated, “Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it finished will think we were mad.” At 11,520 square meters, it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and either the second or third largest church in the world. If based on volume (height plus square footage), it surpasses them all. Its central nave rises to 42 meters and has 80 side chapels. It has 15 doors to enter.

 Seville Cathedral

We entered through the south Door of the Prince which was decorated with intricately carved dragons and gargoyles. The bronze El Girladillo weather vane stands outside the door. This is a replica of the statue that stands on top of the cathedral's bell tower, La Giralda. More on that later.

Giralda weathervane at Prince's Door 

We entered through the gift shop, paid our fee, then entered the cathedral itself. It took our breath away. It was huge, spacious and incredibly beautiful. The wide pillars rose up to the Gothic ceiling. The domes had carvings of presumably saints and angels. There were massive paintings on some walls. There were beautiful tombs of important clergy and kings. Even the floors had beautiful geometric patterns. That said, there was an overall simplicity and restraint in decoration.

 Seville Cathedral  Seville Cathedral

We quickly made our way over to Christopher Columbus' tomb. The tomb is held aloft by four bearers representing the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Navarra. While other cities claim to hold the remains of Cristobal Colon, recent DNA tests have proven these remains to be true.

 Christopher Columbus Tomb

Attention is drawn to the Great Chapel that is protected behind huge wrought iron gates that rise at least 30 meters high. The altarpiece itself is 30 meters high and 20 meters wide. It is comprised of 45 carved scenes and 200 figures of saints from the life of Christ and is covered with “staggering amounts of gold” - no amount was actually given. The elders must have indeed been mad.

 Main Altar

Opposite the great chapel was the choir. It had elaborately carved 15th century choir stalls.

choir

 

The massive organ is coupled to the structure of the choir stalls.

 Seville Cathedral organ

Near the Great Chapel and Choir is the Silver Altar. As the name indicated, it is entirely made of silver. Much of the original silver was used to pay for the expenses of the War of Independence. It has statues on either side of a very large chalice looking structure.

 Silver Altar

The Chapter House has a magnificent domed ceiling that is mirrored in the marble decoration of the floor. There are lots of delicate alter pieces on display.

 Chapter House

Ed was getting tired but I decided to go up to the top of the bell tower, La Giralda. It is 105 meters high and has a square base of 13 meters long per side. It is the former minaret of the original mosque. It was built to resemble the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco. It was converted to a bell tower after the conquest. It is one of the most important symbols in Seville. Rather than steps to the top, there is a ramp to walk up the 35 segments. It was designed wide and tall enough for a man on horseback to ride to the top. To reach the bells, I had to walk up a mere 17 steps.

Giralda Tower

At intervals along the ramp were small, gated side rooms that acted as mini-museums. There was the original bell on display, as well as the original door knockers from the 1100's. I was amazed at how many bells were at the top. There were dozens of various sizes mounted between every archway. They were all connected to mechanical gears that suggested they play in harmony with each other. What a lovely sound they must make!  

   Giralda Tower - bells  

A bird's eye view gave me a good indication as to the size of the Cathedral.

 

view from the Tower

Before exiting the cathedral completely, we had a small walk in the Patio of Oranges.

Patio of Oranges

At one of the doors, the Camino de Santiago shell was embedded into the cement. I quickly spotted a yellow arrow while tears welled up in my eyes. Oh, how I long to do the Camino again.....

Camino de Santiago starting point from Seville   

We wandered the streets and alleys of old Seville, stopping for a coffee, beer, or snack whenever the mood hit us.

Ed taking a rest in front of an old church

Overall, Seville was a great place to wander and get lost. Everywhere we turned was a beautiful building, a statue dedicated to someone or something, an outdoor cafe with a mist of water to keep the customers cool from the heat, spacious plazas, weird and wonderful street art, posters of matadors, and interesting shops selling flamenco dresses, delicate fans, and children's flamenco shoes.

fancy fan  child flamenco shoe

Many streets and plazas were covered with canvas creating shade.

shading on street

There was bougainvillea bunched up along a boulevard to look like proper trees.

bougainvillea

There were huge trees to rest under, with roots so large we could sit on them.

large tree roots

There were old tile signs still affixed to walls of long-forgotten businesses.

tile signs

There were churches all over the place. (I read somewhere that there are over 30 churches in Old Seville. I have not been able to verify this.) We happened upon the Metropol Parasol – a large wooden structure that resembles giant mushrooms.

Metropol Parasol

 

There were many religious shops selling priest's robes and religious paraphernalia. It was curious that many shops had a figurine that resembled the Ku Klux Klan. We asked about that and were told that the anti-Catholic KKK basically stole the conical hood idea in mockery of the original meaning. It is part of the uniform of certain religious brotherhoods as a symbol of the Catholic penitent. Only members of the brotherhood are allowed to wear them during solemn processions. Different coloured hoods mean different penances.

 religious shop    Conical brotherhood

We happened upon a beautiful courtyard tucked away off the busy Avenida de la Constitucion. We passed through a corridor to enter.  The buildings were semicircular, cradling a fountain at the centre of the courtyard.  It was sparkling white and shockingly quiet for being so close to the main thoroughfare.  The Sunday Market shops sold collector's items of money, stamps, and military insignia.

 Plaza del cabildo

The following day we returned to explore Real Alcazar. It is the Royal Palace in Seville and originally developed by Moorish kings. The upper levels are still used as the official residence by the royal family, making it the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.

 Real Alcazar

The palace was a maze of beautiful rooms, fountains, and courtyards. It was not hard to see that this was built and decorated for royalty. Everywhere we looked were delicate carvings and archways. Even the cobble-stoned pathways were elaborately placed. Ed found a maze garden with cedars creating the pathways. It reminded me of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tri-wizard scene. We spent most of the day simply wandering through the gorgeous palace and around the magnificent grounds. It was beyond anything we had ever seen before.

   Real Alcazar  Real Alcazar maze  Real Alcazar maze

Outside the walls of Real Alcazar was another park that blended beautifully with the Alcazar grounds. It was in Jardin de Murillo that we saw a monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus. It has two columns rising up to hold a lion with its paw on a globe, symbolizing the Spanish empire. The two columns are connected midway up by a caravel – a Spanish sailing ship – with the names of Isabel on one side and Fernando on the other. The pedestal has a relief portrait of Columbus in a medallion.

 Christopher Columbus Monument

We stopped for lunch at Mirador San Fernando Restaurante.   The service was superb. We discovered at the end of our meal that the owner, Javier, himself had served us. No wonder it was so good.   We were brought our butter in a small pail.

 butter barrel

We walked past the old tobacco factory that opened in 1758. The original tile sign still graces the wall. At its opening, it employed 1000 men, 200 horses and 170 mills to grind the Virginian tobacco into snuff. Spain was the only manufacturer of snuff for centuries. Another 700 men were employed to make cigars. At its peak production years of the 1880's, it employed 6000 workers.

 Old Tobacco Factory

When the tobacco operations moved to a different neighbourhood in 1950, it was decided the historical building should be used as the headquarters of the University of Seville. We walked in with a group of people and had a quick peek. We walked through a gallery full of marble statues and busts then through a courtyard.

Old Tobacco Factory

We were not sure we were supposed to be there so we made our way out of the first exit we saw. On our return walk on the backside of the old factory, we saw it used to have a moat.

 moat

We walked to Maria Luisa Park to check out the Plaza de Espania. It was built in 1928 for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition and covers nearly 46,000 square metres. It is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous bridges. Each end of the half-circle of buildings has a tower. At the centre is a huge circular fountain.

Plaza de Espania   Plaza de Espania

By the walls of the plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain. The buildings consist of Government departments.

 Plaza de Espania  

There were boats giving rides along the moat. Kids were playing in the mist of the fountain. People were taking selfies in the tiled alcoves.

Plaza de Espania

Vendors were selling lacy fans and castanets in the shade of the centre building. People were wandering along the wide deck of the second floor of the buildings.

Plaza de Espania

There was a lady dancing flamenco while a guitarist plucked out the beat. Every detail of the place was beautiful. The railings and spindles were either beautifully tiled or carved.

Plaza de Espania

The paving stones had geometric designs. It was so beautiful and so relaxing. We were so taken with it that we went back the next day.

 Plaza de Espania

When we returned the next day, we took a stroll through Maria Luisa Park. We came to Glorieta de Becquer monument. It encircles a Cyprus tree. The main figure is the poet Becquer which rises above the others. The second group of figures three female figures seated on a bench (made of a single piece of marble) symbolizing three states of love – illusioned love, possessed love and lost love – based on a poem composed by Becquer himself. There are two figures in bronze that represent wounded love, a lying figure with broken wings, and the love that hurts, a young Cupid. Not surprisingly, it is a popular place for lovers.

 Glorieta de Becquer monument - wounded love & Becquer  Glorieta de Becquer monument - illusioned love, possessed love & lost love

It was time to head for Cordoba.

 

A note about Spanish roads: The locals drive like maniacs, but then again they know where they are going and are used to the hills and curves. The highways are typically lined with towering trees, even if there are fields behind them. Storks nest on power poles and on highway signs.  Near the coast, the signs are in Spanish and Arabic.

 road signs

 There are miles and miles and miles of olive groves.

 olive groves

 The boulevards between divided highways typically have flowering oleanders.

 oleander divider

Driving in the cities is a nightmare with their winding, hilly, narrow, and one-way streets. At times it is a wonder how cars and people can occupy the same street as there are only inches to spare between the car and a wall.

 narrow streets

Street parking is impossible to find, and underground parking nearly as hard. Once found it was always questionable if there are any parking stalls open.  The car parks are also very narrow, sometimes being built around Roman ruins. Cars parked on the street have only inches between them. We have no idea how they get in or out. If there is a space of a couple of feet between the cars, a motorcycle squeezes in.

 tight parking

 

 

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