Saturday, August 03, 2013

Al Andalus - Seville


We spend four days in Seville and it was not nearly sufficient. A grand city, it has the feel of a great European capital while still retaining the laid-back nature of the region. A chilled out Paris with friendly people.

Straddling the banks of the Guadaquivir not far from the remains of Roman Italica, Seville has had its fair share of glory days. The old town is a conglomeration of pretty streets and squares punctuated by stand-out buildings leftover from headier times. At its heart is the Cathedral de Santa Maria de la Sede.
Build, upon, around and inside the old grand mosque, the building symbolises the triumph of the Reconquista, is vast and very impressive. Indeed it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. On entering, Niko looked up at the ceiling way above and span round and round lost in its vastness (or at least that was my interpretation…). I did the same thing and so must have people for centuries. The religion fuelled ambition is remarkable. To build such a building today would be a very expensive headache, but the mind boggles at the difficulty of building it back then.  My favourite features are though Islamic.

Neighbouring the main structure of the church is the orange garden which started its life as the garden of ablution for the original mosque. A place of peace and calm, still with the original water channels to feed the trees. Above the Giralda, the remnants of the mosque's minaret, rises up to the heavens. Shortened and converted into a bell tower, it still stands 105 m tall. When originally built in the twelfth century it was the tallest structure in the world. An astounding place, showing the fusion of cultures which makes the region so special.
Crossing a horse and cart strewn square from the Cathedral the bold gates of the Alcazar hold the view. Walk through and you enter the fortress and palace of the Muslim emirs and then Catholic kings. While the intricacy and scale of the palace is impressive, it is the gardens that take the biscuit. Enclosed by the fortified walls, they are varied, lush and carefully laid out to calm the mind and put one at peace.
Seville encapsulates the laid back grand nature of a Spanish imperial city. Spiralling around the old town from these core, it was like I was back in Quito or La Candelaria in Bogota. In fact one corner was so similar to Cuzco that I had a flashback to an unfortunate Peruvian encounter with a group of thugs intent on robbing and beating me (fortunately the combination of warnings from a kind little old lady, a big stick and fast turn of heels just about got me out of that one!).
Not for a long time will I forget walking along the broad walkways which line the Guadaquivir river as the sun set.  A circular Moorish fort still stands guard, its stone work shown off by the narrowing spectrum of light.

Behind this is the opulent Parque de Maria Luisa, stretching on through one variety of horticulture to another and, at its centre, the preposterous Plaza de Espana. A little downstream is the huge Plaza de Toros, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain and only second in stature to the bullring in Madrid. A tour illustrated just how refined and steeped in history this much derided blood sport is. Along with the inherent savagery comes tradition, skill and bravery. I left with a desire to witness it in the flesh (so to speak). Next time.

So many remnants of rich and, depending upon your perspective, glorious times. It gets me to thinking of what our times will leave behind. We are richer than any other time in history (in an absolute if not always a relative sense), but what grand public structures and parks will we leave behind to startle and confound those centuries henceforth? I suspect a disappointing number. Canary Wharf definitely does not count.

ONWARDS AND OUT

Seville really is a wonderful city. Alongside its clear aesthetic attributes, most of all I was captured by the charm off its people. From the friendly waiter who late on our first night warmly welcomed into his restaurant two tired parents with two even more tired tiny children, to ice-cream sellers who wanted our life story. Great, engaging people.
I was sad to move on, but move on we did via some very confused driving through the confounding one way system of the old town and an emergency U-turn on a main thoroughfare. Bring on Cordoba!
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