‘In fourteen hundred and ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue’……
….as any English school child of my generation will tell you. Well, he actually set sail from Palos, not too far away from the city of Seville: soon it became the gateway to the New World. Ships returned here laden with silver bullion from Bolivia, Peru and Mexico. And before that, in the 12th century, Seville had been the capital of the Almohad Moorish dynasty. So it’s had a splendid past, and has still scores of magnificent buildings from those glittering periods in its history. Seville is famous for its fiestas, its party-going spirit, its bullfights even, and as the home of the tapas, those delicious snacks made the more enjoyable for always being shared with friends. What’s kept us from visiting it until now, I ask myself?
We spent a week there. In mid-October it should have been as warm as an English summer’s day. But in true English style, it rained, deluged, bucketed down for the whole of our first two days. So we’ll draw a veil over the soggy sights we saw then. I won’t tell you about the wonderful cathedral and its Moorish tower, la Giralda , or about the palaces of Real Alcázar: you can read about those elsewhere.
Let’s talk instead about other highlights: Pilate’s house, for instance. It’s sometimes called the poor man’s Real Alcazar, but for us it was magnificent. A mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Mudéjar styles, it’s a visual feast of elegant and beautiful tiling of the kind even the meanest back street in Seville will produce a dozen examples. It was the then Mayor of Seville who started to have this house built following his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1519. He discovered that the distance from Golgotha to Pontius Pilate’s house was the same as the distance between his planned new home and a Sevillian temple known as Cruz del Campo…. so Pilate’s house it was. Here are some photos.
The historic centre of Seville is a warren of tiny streets, some barely longer than a garden path, no wider than a single car. How does anyone become familiar with them? We didn’t. Once, Malcolm decided to explore what he thought was the parallel street to mine and meet me on the corner. We didn’t see each other again for an hour, not till we’d both abandoned meeting again and each returned to the hotel. On the way of course, we both got waylaid by splendid ceramic tiles in entrance halls, over doorways and climbing up facades. Every stroll through the town was an act of discovery.
We had a special evening on the Guadalquivir river, seeing the city by night.
I went to a truly wonderful concert, ‘In-vocazione’, that I spotted advertised in a craft-makers cooperative. Sixty singers from Seville, from Italy, and a Franco-Russian-Spanish(??) group sang together, plundering mainly from the folk traditions of southern and Eastern Europe, of Iran, of India,. At the beginning, a single male voice was joined by other men, then by women singing from the balconies. As one group moved down to join the men, more sang from the balconies and others, joyfully, among the audience. They inhabited and involved the architecture of the building as much as they did us, their audience. At the end, as part of their encore, they taught all of us there to join in one of my own choir’s standards, ‘Belle mama’. Singing ‘our’ song with these astonishing choirs was one of the most moving moments of my life.
We didn’t expect to enjoy visiting the Bullfighting Museum. But we did. Who knew that bullfighting was devised not as a spectator sport, but as a means of teaching the soldiers of the nobility how to go to war with the enemy? Or that Spain’s youngest bullfighter in recent times was merely nine years old? Or that tickets on the black market to a specially anticipated fight can cost as much as three thousand euros? No wonder we don’t plan to go.
And tapas. We ate somewhere new every day. We ate different dishes every day. The variety of foods on offer is quite extraordinary, from refined and elegant to rib-sticking and peasanty, with fish very often being star of the show. Here’s a picture of a DIY dish. Bake your own chorizo over a little bonfire of alcohol. Delicious.
Let’s end on a popular, un-cultural note. Here’s a sequence of decorated garage doors and graffiti that made us smile as we mooched round the city.
Do you fancy going to Seville soon? I certainly do.