“Religion and bullfighting go hand in hand in Seville,” the guide says to me as we walk in to a typically Andalusian restaurant for a spot of lunch. It was perhaps the most accurate introduction to a new city that I’ve ever had; the embodiment of it is everywhere you look. The world’s largest Gothic cathedral sits but a stone’s throw from the most important bull-ring in the world. Seville is a city of passions albeit on the opposite ends of the scale. Here are seven reasons of passion to visit a city with an unconventional past and a prodigious present.
Around 20% of the population in Seville are Roman Catholic and it is home to 200 churches dedicated to the faith. In addition to its churches the city is adorned with religious iconography at every turn. You will spot carvings, paintings and even alters for Virgin Mary, Christ and saints outside restaurants, on walls, alleyways and the most unexpected places. They are always brightly coloured, artistic and wholly up lifting.
Whether you agree with the practice or not bull fighting is an integral part of Andalusian culture. It has been so since the Roman empire. Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla, with a capacity of 12,000 and over 15 annual events, holds First Category status as a bull ring in Spain. For a matador to be carried through its gates on the shoulders of fellow matadors is considered a tremendous honour.
Each April the city is host to Seville Fair which is one of the most renowned bull-fighting festivals in the world. The crowds in Seville are considered the most onerous as they watch the fights with quiet, intense focus as opposed to other bull fights where visitors pay little attention. Tickets are sold in advance and frequently sell out within hours. Alternatively there are also tours of the building and a museum open to visitors.
In the heart of Seville beats duende; a word that is impossible to accurately translate from Spanish. At best it can mean passion or spirit relating to a performance. And the performance is of course flamenco. To leave without experiencing flamenco would be a terrible sin. It is said that more intimate the space the more intense your experience of duende. Los Gallos, Plaza Santa Cruz is the best place for it. The venue has hosted flamenco troupes since 1966 and retains an antiquated charm. Crossing the city and walking through ancient squares, surrounded by stately buildings, to arrive at this tiny venue will set the tone for the most magnificent evening of dance that will move you to tears.
In 1492 Catholic monarchs won the last Moorish bastion ending 800 years of Muslim rule in southern Spain. In the same year Christopher Columbus stumbled on a ‘New World’ across the Atlantic Ocean. These events ushered in Spain’s Golden Age (16th and 17th centuries) and Seville was at the very heart of this renaissance.
This Moor/Catholic history is none more apparent today than it is in the city’s resplendent architecture. Seville’s imposing Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is built on what was the city’s mosque. The unmistakeable symmetrical Islamic detail in the bell tower being a reminder that it was once the minaret of the mosque. This blend of architecture commonly known as Mudéjar architecture is now typical of Seville’s historic buildings. Royal Alcázar Palace, Casa de Pilatos, Archive of the Indies, and the breathtaking Plaza de España are all finest examples of Mudéjar architecture.
“What’s that smell?” were the first words to glide past my lips as I stepped off the coach, for the first time, in Seville. Streets here are lined with citrus trees covered in white flowers and bursting with bright yellow lemons all year round. The fruit-laden trees with vivid green leaves not only makes for the prettiest streets but adds a delicate, sweet aroma to the air which stimulates the senses. Seville is simply the most fragrant city you’re likely to visit.
If you’ve never eaten tiny dishes of delight on a rooftop in Seville you’ve not had tapas. Hotel Doña Maria, with its open pool and views over the city, against a sparkling blue sky, would be my first choice. Full-flavoured dishes of mozzarella, foie gras, Jamón Ibérico and gazpacho Andaluz paired with Spanish white and red wine made their way to the magnificent split-level roof top during my visit. It is a place to unwind and take in the city; you may spend a great deal longer here than you intend. Whilst the roof top remains open all year the use of the pool is only between April and September.
Plaza de España
This immense square was built in 1928 to mark the world fair Ibero- American Exposition (1929). Set within its own park, Parque de María Luisa, with tiled bridges, a boulevard and pond it was dedicated to the exhibition of Spain’s industrial and technological triumphs. There are 48 alcoves in a semi-circle around it to mark Spain’s provinces; all intricately decorated in tiles complete with the region’s coat of arms. Today, the offices around the plaza are used by various government departments and the space has evolved into a spectacular tourist attraction. With boat rides, hat sellers and even horse rides to entice visitors. This vast outdoor space, originally designed by Caidon Fox, was my stand-out experience in Seville.