Project Description

Standing on the banks of the Guadalquivir river, Sevilla inherits its current status from its rich Arab past and its prosperous trading port to the Americas. The Andalusian capital exudes joy and animation in each of the streets and squares of the old town which houses a fascinating set of UNESCO monuments inscribed. Museums and art centers, theme parks, cinemas, theaters and concert halls are some of the endless leisure possibilities offered by the city, not to mention the numerous terraces, bars and taverns, where to practice one of the most serious and tasty traditions in the city: the tapas tour.

Capital of Andalusia

It is again with a group of friends I met during my language course in Granada that we leave to discover the city of Sevilla, the famous capital of Andalusia. Thank you Eric, Katharina and Nozomi for accompanying me! We plan to leave Granada early afternoon, spend the rest of the day and the night in Sevilla and then do some sightseeing the next day before getting back to Granada. For this, we are lucky: the bus company Alsa has a direct and quite cheap connexion between the two cities, although the journey takes about 3:30. As for the accommodation, we find a “last minute” hotel room for 4 people in the heart of the old town of Seville – Hostal Plaza Santa Cruz.

When we arrived, we first reach our hotel to drop our stuff. The place is very well located in the heart of Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. Our room is clean and relatively large, which surprises us all, especially given the attractive price of the room. We also have the option of eating breakfast for a few euros, which we will certainly do the next day. Once ready for this first part of our tour of Sevilla, we walk towards the cathedral. It’s already mid afternoon, but we intend to enjoy every single minute there! After a few detours in a web of narrow streets lined with houses whose color ranges from white and ocher, churches built on ancient synagogues place and punctuated here and there with orange trees, we arrive on St. Francis Square, heart of the city since the 16th century!

Here have occurred the famous burning of the Inquisition, the various feasts of bulls and reeds and is still today one of the main places known for processions of the Holy Week and Corpus Christi. Among all buildings on this square, the Giralda (weathervane), the bell tower of the cathedral, is probably the most significant. We know it is possible to climb at its top from the cathedral and as it is part of our program of the afternoon, we head towards the entrance of the holy place where Christopher Colombus is buried.

Seville Cathedral is also known as Santa Maria de la Sede (St. Mary of the See). Because of its size, it is the largest Catholic cathedral in the world and the third Christian church after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. At the end of the 14th century, the Great Mosque at this place was badly damaged and subsequently demolished to enable the construction of a Christian cathedral from 1403. It was then inaugurated in 1506, after which was created a remarkable series of outbuildings as the main sacristy, the Chapter and other related dependencies, like the Royal Chapel, one of the key works of the building. In the end, the last works to perform where those of the three main entrances to the cathedral. These include the current Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Courtyard), one of the most iconic part of the cathedral and today fully integrated into the cultural circuit of the building.

The interior is huge and richly decorated. High Gothic vaults, impressive volume of chiseled stone, titanic organ, magnificent chapels… It’s hard to remain stonily indifferent (no pun intended) before such a masterpiece of which we admire every corner. As expected, we find the entrance to the top of the Giralda. This is the bell tower of the Cathedral, one of the biggest jewels in the world of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art. In its time, it was the tallest tower in the world with 97.5 m high and, although it is no longer the “roof of the city” since 2010, it remains a global and known icon, one of the most famous images of the city and all of Andalusia.

The tower consists of two different “bodies” amazingly united, a perfect example of the mixture of cultures that exist in the city. La Giralda has no stairs, but 35 wide ramps which allow access for people with reduced mobility. Initially, “Giralda” was the name of the figure of faith, a huge statue that crowns the tower since 1568. Once at the top, it is a magnificent panoramic view that awaits us. From there, we can see quite far away part of the Spanish Square and, more closely, the Real Alcazar.

After the visit to the Cathedral and its bell tower, we continue our walk through the streets of the city. In doing so, we reach after a few minutes the banks of the Guadalquivir river, overlooked on one of its side by the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower). This is an old watch tower of 36 meters high, located on the left bank of the river. Its Arabic name was Bury al-Dahab, Borg al Azahar or Borg al-Azajal, in reference to his golden glow which was reflected on the river. We follow a while the riverfront, and then return to the Real Maestranza Square, right next to the Golden Tower.

There are situated the bullfighting arenas, considered one of the most popular tourist attractions of the city, also located between the most visited monuments in Sevilla. Its doors are already closed, but it’s not a problem for our small group which continues its journey.

After a long walk during which we passed on the Plaza Nueva, Plaza del Duque de la Victoria and many pedestrian streets of the Centro, we reach the Plaza de la Alameda de Hércules (Hercules Promenade). This is a place for walking and relaxating, with fountains, water jets, playgrounds for children and is lined with bars and restaurants that make it a privileged place of gathering in Sevilla, both day and night. Also, we take a break from our walk on one of the many terraces and have a nice chat around a drink before returning later to the historic center. The night had fallen in the meantime, so we take the opportunity to admire some of the buildings such as the cathedral “by night”. There are still many people in the street and we should look for a place to eat quickly before they all get crowded with tourists!

As usual, I had spotted earlier a renowned place for its tapas, but didn’t count on the incredible number of tourists and locals there and the absence of any booking for us… No big deal, let’s look for another bar or restaurant which are not too close from the cathedral. And it is precisely there, right between our hotel and the St. Francis Square that we find a restaurant named “El Pasaje”. Here we order several tapas and enjoy the evening by discussing about everything and nothing before finally returning to our hotel for a night of well-deserved rest.

All right, let’s get up everybody, it’s a new day of sightseeing that awaits us! After a refreshing shower, we have breakfast at the hotel and leave our luggage on site in order to pick them up on the way back. The weather is gonna be awesome today, and it’s somewhat sleepy that we head to the Real Alcazar, one of the most emblematic monuments of Sevilla, the country and even of the Mediterranean culture. Within its walls and gardens, we will follow the historical development of the city during the last millennium, admiring amount of styles ranging from Arab times until the 19th century, through the Mudejar of the late Middle Ages, Renaissance or Baroque style. Once having paid EUR 9.50.- for the entrance, we begin our visit by the two patios close to the main gate.

First, “El Patio del León”. This is the old courtyard of the garrison at the time of the Palace Al-Mubarak. In this patio, we can admire a kapoc, an exotic tree that produces a vegetable fiber that is used for example to fill cushions. From the second courtyard, “Patio of Monteira” we have an overview of the three buildings that form the Alcazar. In front of us is the Mudejar Palace, the Gothic palace in the left and the Chamber of Commerce in the right. And it is once inside the latter that the magic begins!

The Chamber of Commerce was founded by the Catholic Monarchs in 1503 in order to monitor trading activities. At the time, Seville had monopoly concerning transports of gold between Europe and America, and this was achieved through thanks to the Guadalquivir river, the only navigable river in Spain. By transiting through it from the west to the Strait of Gibraltar, gold transports were protected from pirates. In this building we visit the Admiral’s salon and admire the paintings depicting events or known people of the city of Sevilla. Then we go through the Hearing Room decorated with tapestries, coats of arms and a painting of the Virgin Mary dating from 1530. There we start our tour of the Palace Mudéjar.

If there is more perfect representation of the association between Iberian and Muslim architecture, I don’t know it. The Mudéjar style, omnipresent in the palace and of an impressive beauty, is the symbol of tolerance between Christians and Muslims. Among the different rooms, we can admire among other the Court of Dolls, a patio decorated with stucco moldings and mosaics. The place was once reserved for ladies and its ground floor was accessible only in summer. Its name comes from the small doll heads which are represented in the decorations on the pillars.

The Patio of the Maidens, one of the other patios, is for me one of the most wonderful places in the Alcazar. This courtyard, beautifully decorated with stucco lace, is composed of several arches and walls are covered with mosaic of five different colors: ocher (representing the desert sand), blue (representing water), green (representing vegetation) white and black (representing good and evil, and also the color of Islam). The second floor of Renaissance style was added in the 16th century by Charles Quint.

Our visit continues with the Throne Room, probably the most decorated room of the palace. The ceiling, made of larch wood and gold, dates from the 14th century and a frieze from the 18th century, which represents different Spanish kings, decorates the walls. The small Renaissance balconies were added by Charles Quint. We finish our tour of this building by visiting the Dining Room of the Kings where we can see some moucharabieh which are purely decorative. Indeed, these windows were not used to perform any spy activities, but to ventilate to the Throne Room. We can thus describe this decoration as the ancestor of air conditioning. We leave now this building to visit the Gothic Palace, restored for the marriage of Charles V, and where we see the Chapel, the Hall of Celebrations and a few tapestries exposing the greatest Gobelins in Spain.

Having toured inside all buildings, we now begin our tour of the gigantic outdoor gardens of the Alcazar. These, of Mudejar style, are also among the gems of the place and have quantity of buildings you’ll find below a very brief overview.

Here, many gardens follow one another, some of which are decorated with ponds and fountains. One of them, in particular, includes the oldest magnolia of Sevilla, of over 150 years old! You will find below some pictures of the gardens.

Among the garden buildings is “El Fuente de Mercurio” (Mercury Source). Originally, this pond was a tank used to collect water from the “Maure Canos de Carmona” aqueduct to irrigate the gardens of the Alcazar. In 1575 the tank was converted into ornamental pond with a fountain in the center dedicated to Mercury, God of commerce. This representation recalls the important place of Sevilla in transporting gold from America to Europe. The “Grotesque Gallery” is also interesting because it allows to admire the gardens from the heights. This walk, built in the 17th century, was used by the king when he wanted to walk outside in case of rain or extreme heat.

This concludes our tour of the Alcazar, a place you must visit during your stay in Sevilla! Before leaving the palace and continue our tour of the city, we make a coffee break. Once back next to the Cathedral, we go in search of a restaurant in the area, and after a few minutes, we finally sit down around a table at the Gusto Ristobar, a small restaurant serving delicious Italian dishes.

After lunch, we start looking for our dessert and to stay in the same category as the meal, it will be an Italian ice cream. For this, we walk again in the streets of the center and pass by the City Hall, one of the most outstanding examples of Andalusian architecture in Plaza San Francisco. A little further, we arrive at the Plaza del Salvador which is named after the eponymous church, a Mannerist building of the 17th century situated in the same place. A few meters away awaits our dessert, an delicious Italian ice cream at Heladería artesana Bolas. It is said that whatever we eat, we always have room for dessert and this is true here! The ice cream is delicious and the place offers a great quantity of different flavors which change regularly.

Now, we’re on our way towards the last attraction of the day, the famous Spanish Square of Sevilla. The latter is a stunning architectural complex surrounded by the Park of Marie Louise, and is one of the most spectacular areas of the regionalist architecture. The main building was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of Sevilla in 1929, and all regions of Spain are represented on the walls, as well as busts of famous Spanish people. The place is huge (200m of diameter) and has a semi-elliptical shape, symbolizing the embrace of Spain with its former colonies and looks toward the Guadalquivir River as the way to go to America.

Its total area is about 50,000 square meters, 31,000 of which are free spaces. The square is surrounded by a channel 515 meters long which is crossed by four bridges. The building is made of bricks and many ceramic decorations, wood, wrought iron and the engraved and carved marble, giving the whole set a Renaissance atmosphere. The two towers that frame the square are 74 meters high, create a baroque atmosphere and have also aroused the ire of academics because of their common height with the Giralda. The central fountain, designed by Vicente Traver, give some life to the place altogether monotonous. The four bridges that cross the canal represent the four ancient kingdoms of Spain and we can see numbers on the walls of the place that define the space of forty-eight Spanish provinces placed in alphabetical order. In each of them are represented the coat of arms, a map and some historical facts.

Before going back to the hotel to take our stuff, we take a look at Maria Luisa Park, the largest public park in the city. This one, and other gardens of Sevilla, were renovated by French engineer Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier who gave them a romantic touch, taking his inspiration from the a, and the Alcazar of Seville. Opened in April 1914, the park has an extensive variety of vegetation, in order to invite visitors to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing walk. One can also observe a wide variety of bird species like peacocks and songbirds, even swans and ducks waiting patiently to get some food from the locals. Many fountains and statues, as well as quantity of benches and mosaic walls round off this magical setting.

After a nice walk amongst the trees, we begin our way back to the hotel to take our stuff, then we cross the city towards the west bus station. Finally, our bus takes us back to Grenada in the late afternoon after almost two days of sightseeing in the capital of Andalusia!

Obviously, such a short time in Seville only allowed us to see the most important monuments, but it will take much longer to fully experience the city and what it has to offer. I haven’t been disappointed by this city a single second, as were all my trips to southern cities of Spain. I love Seville and I can only recommend to visit it for at least 3 or 4 days! In addition, I could share this time with other people, which I don’t usually do very often. Not that it bothers, quite the contrary in fact – I would love to explore a city or a country with other people, but it is not necessarily easy to organize this and for many reasons. In all cases, great time, great food, great people – ¡Viva España!