Seville

Seville


Ιn the Footsteps of the Old Explorers, Barbara Athanassiadis
A dive in the Great Age of exploration is certainly a dive in the oceans which in the 15th century were unknown and cartography incomplete. Part 3
Great excitement when I went to the upper deck, after a rich breakfast with steaming coffee and fresh-baked croissants. The peaceful landscape of the river twisted my heart.
Ιmpulsively, I mingled with Christopher Columbus on his return from the West Indies; and with the eighteen sailors who survived Magellan’s expeditionary mission around the world; and even the hundreds and hundreds of caravels that sailed to Seville loaded with gold and silver from Latin America.
For two and more centuries Seville was the queen of the cities of Europe with its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its wealth and its frantically excited traders coming in and going out the Casa Lonja de Mercadores, when ships arrived from the New World.

I was eager to visit Seville and patiently waited for our cruise on the river to be completed. When I saw a huge bridge open in two and rise, stopping the car traffic for HARMONY V to cross, I understood that we had arrived. Α more stimulating voyage side by side with History, I haven’t made in my life. We smoothly anchored next to Parque Maria Luisa Gardens, and soon we left the yacht for a walk in the town enveloped by its exotic flair: palm trees, thousands of colours, old-fashioned carriages riding on tree-lined boulevards where Gothic architecture mingled with Moresque, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Oh! a celebration of myriad impressions flooded me.
Along Avenida de las Palmeras, parallel to the river, the grandest and most impressive pavilions of Latin America, presented a microcosm of their countries’ architecture and culture, built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which nowadays have been converted to museums, libraries and Consulates. The pavilion of Argentine is a flamenco school. The most famous of all is the pavilion of Plaza de Espaňa, a vast oval brick structure which displays each of the regions of Spain in beautiful ceramic alcoves and benches.

Nearby was the Royal Tobacco Factory which in the 18th century was the most important factory in Europe when Spain held the monopoly of the tobacco trade with the Americas. It was employing a thousand men and it was interesting to hear that there was an immense number of young women making cigars and cigarettes; and even more interesting to learn that Bizet’s Carmen was a cigarrera. Leaving the boulevards, we entered the historic centre of the town with its narrow streets, old houses and tapas bars whose atmosphere lures the Sevillians and they stay until late at night. There is no other city in Europe with such a vibrant nightlife. Of course, people benefit from the mild climate. There was no time to stop in one of them because we arrived at a Baroque square where the Seville Cathedral stood in front of us taking our breath away. “It is the third-largest church in Europe, but in the 16th century it was the first since St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London had not been completed”, our pleasant guide told us, and I asked Isabella to repeat the information because the guide’s voice nearby was the Royal Tobacco Factory which in the 18th century was the most important factory in Europe when Spain held the monopoly of the tobacco trade with the Americas. It was employing a thousand men and it was interesting to hear that there was an immense number of young women making cigars and cigarettes; and even more interesting to learn that Bizet’s Carmen was a cigarrera. Leaving the boulevards, we entered the historic centre of the town with its narrow streets, old houses and tapas bars whose atmosphere lures the Sevillians and they stay until late at night. There is no other city in Europe with such a vibrant nightlife. Of course, people benefit from the mild climate. There was no time to stop in one of them because we arrived at a Baroque square where the Seville Cathedral stood in front of us taking our breath away. “It is the third-largest church in Europe, but in the 16th century it was the first since St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London had not been completed”, our pleasant guide told us, and I asked Isabella to repeat the information because the guide’s voice4vanished amidst the voices of the tourists. A tower of Babel competing with a majestic church! Usually, large sizes impress people rather than touch them and keep them quiet. Walking slowly, we entered the small garden of the Orange Trees, Patio de los Naranjos. The Lilliputian garden was delightful. It is the one that remains authentic as it dates back to Moorish times. An oasis of peace with orange trees, brought by the Arabs, to offer a touch of charm.
Entering the Cathedral, I felt ecstatic. Eighty chapels including the most splendid one, the Royal Chapel, Capilla Real, all covered with gold brought from South America; the 40-meters high golden ceiling at the main nave; the Vision of St. Anthony by Murillo, born in Seville; and the Tomb of Columbus bewildered my gaze reminding me of the glories of Spain and the Spanish Armada at the peak of its power. Next, outside the Cathedral, another wonder of architecture: the stunning bell tower, 103-meters high, formerly the minaret of the Mosque that stood on this site under Muslim rule. It was built to resemble the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh in Morocco. Oh, too many impressions for an afternoon stroll. At last, my eyes could rest, when we entered the Bario Santa Cruz, two steps from the Cathedral, a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys dating back to the old Juderίa, the Jewish Quarter of the city. Scattered into the neighborhood were tiny, charming squares some decorated with azulejos (colorful tiles), some with orange trees, fountains and beautiful tiled benches.
In the past they served as open-air theatres and at one of them, close to the Moorish city wall, Isabella showed me a balcony saying it was the house where Don Juan was born. Two steps further was the Alcázar, known as one of the most beautiful palaces in Spain with its Mudéjar architecture, gorgeous golden ceilings and sumptuous decoration. The upper levels are still used by the Royal Family when they visit Seville. Seduced by such beauty, I tried not to lose our guide, but my eyes kept turning around to look at the flowering patios of the private houses, so delightful with brilliant colours behind wrought iron gates or to glimpse the entrance of the 17th century Carmelite convent founded by Santa Teresa of Avila. When the walk was over, our small group scattered in the alleys with such confidence as if, in a few hours, we could breathe Seville’s sunset as our own. Some went to see a Flamenco Show, whose secrets Isabella introduced to us in the morning on the yacht. She moved her hands above her head and epitomized the dance in three brisk movements: with the first you cut the apple from the tree, with the second you eat it, with the third you drop it, and say Ole!
I don’t know if those who went to watch the show, at a small theatre close to the Alcázar, saw exactly what Isabella said, but those who didn’t go, enjoyed the most spectacular night views of Seville from the rooftop bars close to the Cathedral, sipping a mojito and mingling with the smart crowd. The ones who wanted more privacy relaxed at one of the bars of the palatial Hotel Alfonso XIII, built in the traditional Andalusian-style and ornamented with exquisite azulejos, fine carpets and a gorgeous inner courtyard.

47. Trade mark Barbara Athanassiadis
by Barbara Athanassiadis, a travel writer

 

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