Seville – A City Full of Surprises!
We recently travelled around Spain, and did a similar trip to the one we did in Italy where we took in a few cities and places all on the same journey. We got budget flights out to Barcelona and returned from Malaga, hired a car whilst there and booked hostels and B&B’s in the different places we visited. We took in Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Toledo, and Seville.
I’d been on beach holidays in different parts of Spain but really wanted to get a feel for the culture and personalities of the different areas. I enjoyed every where we went…but…I fell in love with Seville! Building up to the trip I’d heard loads of stories about how much people loved Barcelona and Madrid and was really excited to see these places, I’m a big football fan as well and anyone interested in the beautiful game knows that these are two of the biggest cities for the sport. With Seville I went with almost no expectations, yeah I was excited as I am with most places, just to be somewhere new. When I got there straight away I just loved the atmosphere, it’s vibrant, colourful, full of rustic charm and felt to me in a way unspoilt. Seville was one of the first Moorish conquests in Spain and became part of the powerful caliphate of Cordoba, and still retains much of this influence and historical sites.
Our base for our stay was the Hostal Alameda situated right on a really pretty square Alameda de Hercules just north of the historic centre of Seville, a pleasant stroll away. There are loads of affordable bars and restaurants around the squares with plenty of places to have breakfast sat outside in the sun. The hostel was basic but comfortable and a really good price for the location we had a private bathroom which was good for the price as well.
Something which added to the trip was that more by luck than judgement we had arrived in the city during Semana Santa, the festivities of the holy week leading up to Easter. Easter is BIG in Spain and one of the biggest festivals is in Seville. The city comes to a standstill during the festivities! At one end of the square our hostel was based on a road was closed due to the festival, and many other roads are closed around the city for the festivities. A big part of Semana Santa is the processions which take place. These can be huge and take ages to pass by! I’m by no means a religious person but the spectacle of these processions left me speechless. Nearly 70 brotherhoods from all of Seville’s churches organise processions along a set route to the central cathedral and then back to their churches. Men carry floats which themselves are works of art some dating back to the 17th century. They are made of wood, wax and wire and depict scenes from the bible many decorated with gold. Some of theses weigh in excess of 2000kg, so in the heat and distances covered its a major haul! For the men selected to carry the floats it’s a once in a lifetime experience and a moment of great pride for them.
We stumbled across the first parade we saw whilst making our way to the Plaza de Espana and finding our route blocked! It was incredible and took almost an hour to pass by, it was huge! It started with a group of people carrying wooden crosses and was accompanied by people on horseback, brass bands, and people involved in it are dressed in white robes and capes and KKK style masks! I read up on this and it is to do with hiding their identies so that the idea is that only God knows who they are. There are older guys carrying staffs and directing everyone making sure order is kept shouting commands, it was an amazing thing to see. Thousands of people with their families had dressed up in their finery and were lining the streets, it’s a serious business!
Children stand at the front of the people lining the streets and are handed out sweets from the younger members of the precession from baskets they are carrying, it’s a special thing to have seen.
The whole city is decorated for the festivities with red drapes hung from windows, stages and viewing areas set up with rows of seats for dignitaries and people with tickets, its a special time of year to be in Seville.
In the end watching this precession, we got itchy feet…it seemed endless! We waited, with an ice cream, for it to thin out slightly, saw a couple of the locals dash through to the other side, plucked up some courage, planned our escape route and did the same avoiding any catastrophes just getting a few annoyed glares.
We were close to the Plaza de Espana and when we got there I had seen nothing like it! Bathed in sunshine this semi circular plaza surrounded by Moorish style architecture, with a fountain in the middle and canal running around it was awesome! The colours, everything… It just appeared in front of us and stopped us in our tracks, we just stood there for a minute…WOW!
It got me thinking if anything would ever be built like this again? It was such an awesome place to spend a few hours wandering around chilling out in the sun (it’s a real heat trap!) having a drink, it has to be seen to be believed. It is located on the edge of the beautiful Maria Luisa Park just south of the historic centre. The four bridges over the canal represent the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. Around the edge of the plaza at the base of the buildings are loads of alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.
Ten minutes from the Plaza De Espana is the Alcazar, a big tourist attraction, the site of which rulers of Seville have occupied since Roman times. It is also the setting for the Kingdom of Dorne in the T.V series of Game of Thrones. It is a huge palace which was adapted into a citadel and has had parts added to it under each ruler how resided there. However it does retain the original Moorish style to the architecture and beautiful sculpted gardens.
Queues can be big here but it is definitely worth the wait to look inside and imagine how this lavish palace would have been once. It is said that Al-Mutadid, one ruler enlarged the palace to house his harem of 800 women and had flowers planted in the skulls of his defeated enemies. This is a place full of stories.
One of the results of the Alcazar being added to for centuries seems to me to be a disorganised patchwork of courtyards and halls and rooms, there is no real flow to visiting the Alcazar and this makes it even more interesting, you really don’t know what is round the corner or what to expect. If you really want to get to grips with the history of the place I recommend either investing in a guide book to read before you go or picking one up at the ticket office to follow.
Inside the styling and architecture is really interesting, I had never really seen anything like this before and there are eye catching things all around you, the decorated ceilings, archways between rooms and courtyards, everything has a sense of drama attached.
My favourite part of my visit there though was definitely the gardens, we stepped outside into this oasis of greenery, fountains and palm trees with peacocks wandering around putting on displays for us. It’s as if you have been transported into a a real tropical park somewhere. The colours were just amazing.
Then I looked back towards the Alcazar building and I saw this door way with a padlocked metal gate stopping you from entering, curiosity got the better of me and I looked inside and saw a beautiful hidden pool dimly lit reflecting the arched ceiling, was there no end to the surprises?
When we finally left the Alcazar we got caught in one of the heaviest most unexpected showers I’d ever experienced. Another surprise thrown at us by Seville, I ran under the small arch way seen in the first picture of the post, and felt smug, turned round to see a stampede of around 200 other people running towards me, I was getting umbrellas in my face, Ipads and cameras wedged against me, all sorts, in the end I sucked it up and stopped fighting to stay under cover and embraced the down pour!
The cathedral in Seville according to Rough Guides is the biggest gothic church in the world! It’s a pretty monumental place, due to the festivities going on unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to look inside, but it certainly dominates the historic centre.
The most impressive part of the cathedral (from the outside anyway) is the La Giralda bell tower which you can see from almost any point of the city. The cathedral and tower are dimly lit at night and it’s a really atmosperic place to wander around in the evening.
Another of one of the most visited spots in the city is the bullring. I’m no fan of blood sports in anyway shape or form, but understand that it has been a big part of Spanish culture and considered an art form by aficionados. Back in the day bullfighters were the David Beckhams of today, big celebrities and many have die in the ring. I was interested to look round and was glad I had.
With a 1200 capacity it has been hosting bullfighting since its construction in 1749, the architecture is unmistakeably Spanish.
Outside guides wait with horses and decorated carts to take you on a tour of the city or to other destinations, it seemed like mega bucks for what you get though, negotiate with them if you do fancy a trip.
I loved Seville, for me Seville is Spain. It’s everything you imagine of Spain, the colours, the culture, the food, the history, the architecture, it’s all here. For me if you want to see real Spain, try Seville. I understand completely the draw of Madrid and Barcelona which are awesome cities, but Seville is definitely a place to consider for a city break with a difference and affordable to get to from Britain.
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Thanks for reading, happy travels!!