Uday K Chakraborty finds this beautiful Andalusian city is where Spain’s soul lies
According to my Spanish friends, the Andalusia region is the heart of Spain. It is home to what most people think of as Spanish: the Flamenco, bullfighting and matadors. From Madrid the long road to Sevilla passed mostly through the countryside, given mainly to olive, orange and grape cultivation, is very rugged, so are the roads. Sevilla was a pleasant surprise. Beautiful buildings, ancient streets and squares lined with orange trees, exotic gardens, pavilions and patios! Can such a place fail to enchant?
Land of legends
An eager official at the tourist office was a ready source of information on Sevilla’s history and culture. In the Cathedral of Sevilla are buried the remains of Christopher Columbus; Don Quixote de la Mancha was born in Sevilla prison, for his creator, Miguel de Cervantes, spend his youth here. The original Don Juan charmed ladies at Sevilla, which is also the birthplace of great artists such as Diego Velasquez and Murillo.
I started my exploration of the city from the base of the 322-ft tall Moorish tower, La Giralda, now the symbol of the city. Four golden apples top the tower, besides 25 bells and a huge statue of faith called Giraldillo. I climbed to the top of the tower, indeed a tough job, but my reward was a breathtaking view over the city’s rooftops.
In fact, La Giralda is the only remnant of a mosque the Romans destroyed to build the Gothic cathedral. The largest in Spain and world’s third largest after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Here Even the uninitiated are found catching their breadth in admiration, such is the decorative opulence of its interior.
Pleasant city life
Our next stop was Alcazar, one of the grandest palace complexes in the world. It is the oldest active royal palace in Europe. It was built by the Caliph of Andalucia in the early 9th century, and was later modified by the later Christian kings in the 14th century. So, the collection of palaces represents styles followed in different stages of Andalusia’s history. Its powerful Moorish interiors, beautiful water bodies and outstanding formal gardens, however, never fail to amaze any visitor. The whole edifice is awe inspiring and takes at least half-day to appreciate in detail.
The Old City, unchanged for centuries, has a maze of alleys with colourful names. One afternoon, I took a stroll through the picturesque Barrio Santa Cruz. The setting of flower decked patios, iron grills, sleepy squares fragrant with orange blossom and lazy fountains simply urges you to put your feet up and rest a while. The most pleasant are Dona Elvira Square and Cruz de Cerrajeria where a filigree work of forged-iron cross marks the place where the ashes of Murillo are buried. The houses have facades of balconies and an inner court or patios – a legacy of Roman and oriental origin, but in its form a genuine Andalusian creation.
Of bull-fights and flamencos
While its past is well kept here, Sevilla is also a full-blooded living city. My visit, fortunately, coincided with the bull-fighting season and the evidence was everywhere. Outside the La Maestranza stadium, thousands were milling around, catching up with old friends, buying last minute tickets from the scalpers, a bunch of flowers to throw at a triumphant torero, a paper hat to keep the sun out, a bag of peanuts or sunflower seeds, a cold beer or an ice cream. Most were in their Sunday best: middle-aged men in well-worn suits, with sparkling white shirts and colourful ties, their stout partners straining against satins and silks.
As I could not manage a ticket, I decided to enter one of the bars along the stadium. Where out-of-work picadors and banderillos gather in the hope of running into an impresario’s representative who needs their services; and the noilleros (apprentice bullfighters) and clapped-out matadors stand around in their once shiny suits, nursing a beer and dreams of that big break. When the spectacle starts, it’s like being there. It is now standing room only and the 50-or-so patrons groan and murmur approvals: “Bien, Bien!”and “ole!” They clap and whistle and yell out witticism and obscenities just like the 15,000 inside La Maestranza.
The best (but pricey) Flamenco shows supposed to be held in a tiny cafe at calle Sierpes, a walking plaza, in the heart of the Old Town. But, I got free glimpses during an open air cultural show right on the picturesque location on Guadalquivir River foot bridge.
Undying old charm
Sevilla takes particular care of its Spanish garden complex – a walk through Parque Maria Luisa along the banks of the River Guadalquivir proves this point. On the left bank of the Guadalquivir stands the Torre de Oro (Golden Tower), as if it were watching over the water.
In Sevilla’s past is grandly represented by La Giralda and La Alcazar, but its continuity remains in her dusty squares, narrow alleys and particularly in her people. Amidst young women balancing precariously on high heels, young men either in packs or with their novias, looking sharp in the latest Italian styles; whole families, the kids all buttoned and bowed, and scrubbed and lacquered – today’s Sevilla retains her old world charm.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set off from Cadiz, an Andalusian port, to discover the New World. Today, people from all over the world are coming in droves to discover the capital of Andalusia.