What are the top tourist attractions in Spain? The conventional answers to this question would be Barcelona, Madrid, perhaps the Canary Islands. After this trip to Spain I changed my mind completely. The most incredible, fascinating, impressive tourist city in Spain must surely be Sevilla. If anyone should ask me for a travel advice in Spain, Sevilla will be my first suggestion from now on. Like a huge birthday cake full of exquisite and varied flavours, it simply explodes with head turning attractions and authentic experiences. Sevilla surpasses all expectation.
So much so that I even have trouble choosing where to start. Let it be the fairytale-like Plaza Espana. This ensemble was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American exhibition and like the Eiffel tower never left – turning instead to a symbol of the city.
The semicircular square is limited by the channels.
How it looks from the enormous Maria Luisa park which complements the ensemble:
Granted, the Neomauretanian style is a little kitsch, but here it is so absurdly festive, it just sweeps you off your feet!
Boats roam the channels:
Nowadays the buildings that once hosted the exhibition are housing the city government and its various related offices. A casual visitor will simply enjoy the stroll and wonder at the beauty. Of course it’s a common stop for the newly weds. It’s been used in some major movies too, such as Star Wars:
The niches around the semicircle are filled with mosaics that represent every province of Spain in alphabetic order. I was wondering what will happen if Catalunya becomes independent – will they destroy the corresponding mosaics?
I decided to describe the two most famous attractions of Sevilla, the Cathedral and the Alcazar, in a separate posts. In this post I will talk about the “secondary” attractions. See what goes for “secondary” in Sevilla!
Andalusia is the birthplace of modern corrida and Sevilla was close to its genesis. Some of the most famous toreadors lived and fought here. One of the largest corrida arenas in Spain is also found here – it’s called Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza. You immediately notice it as you look over the city:
The edifice is enormous, as you can see. The reason it is rounded is so that there is no corners where the bull might hide. The arena in Sevilla is in fact an ellipse, not a circle. It’s the only arena which was built as an ellipse not by design, but rather due to an error of calculations by the architect. Surprising!
Somehow these colours remind me of a certain flag.
Just when I was in Sevilla the last corrida performances of the season were taking place. But I didn’t even consider buying a ticket. First I’m sure they’d been sold out long ago; second, even they hadn’t been, to sit several hours under the scorching sun observing animal cruelty would be a strange pleasure.
In the Royal box it’s probably less tiring though.
You can visit the arena on an organised tour which includes also the attached museum. The guide tells you all about the origins and rules of corrida. Indeed it is a true spectacle with rather rigid rules. Each performance is divided into the so-called tertia. The killing of the bull by the matador is but the last of the moves.
This photo shows the two most famous matadors of Sevilla – friends and competitors.
The matador uniform is in fact rather heavy. Note the blood stains on the right sleeve.
Nowadays many people abhor corrida and perceive it as an expression of animal cruelty. While I agree, I think even more cruel is the way we treat the same animals in our industrial abattoirs. Compared to this endless cruelty, corrida is just a small drop in the ocean.
The toreadors would step onto the arena through this gate. These rooms by design are isolated from the rooms where the bull would be waiting, in order to prevent all attempts at tampering with the animal.
On the right on previous photo you can see the chapel door. The toreadors tend to be very religious people – easy to understand – and they pray in the chapel before stepping out to fight.
The horses of the picadors would be kept here.
Not content with corrida, Sevilla is the birthplace of flamenco. This haunting art form was created in the Gypsy community in the Sevilla’s Triana area. Triana is located on the Western shore of Guadalquivir river, away from the city centre. Looking South from a bridge over Guadalquivir, the city centre is on the left and Triana is on the right.
The Triana riverside. Today it is no longer that poor quarter where the Gypsies would be dancing and singing.
The restored San Jorge castle – housing the Inquisition museum.
I seized the opportunity to visit a flamenco performance and opted for the company called Casa de la Memoria. Their performances are considered authentic and were highly recommended by some locals. TripAdvisor also gave them a high rating. I could see their popularity right away – as I arrived about 5pm, all tickets for 8pm and 10pm performance had already been sold out. But there was also a 6pm show, and I joined it. The tickets have no seat numbers, so the seats go on the first come, first served basis. You are advised to arrive at least half an hour in advance if you want a good seat. Something I experienced first hand. This kind of a queue forms before every performance – waiting for the doors to open:
No photos are allowed during the performance except in the last 5 minutes. There are three parts to a performance – singing, guitar, and dance of two dancers. At the end all artists perform together.
I used to take flamenco classes for about a year long time ago. Later I’ve taken contemporary dance classes for many years, so I can appreciate the level of difficulty of the things the dancers were doing. Breathtaking.
This is the performance area. Long and narrow, and if you sit in the middle of the first row, like I did, you can literally touch the dancers; whereas sitting on the sides doesn’t offer much of a perspective at all.
The Pilates House is so called as it is considered to be a copy of a palace in Jerusalem that belonged to Pilates himself. It is of course only a legend, born thanks to the palace’s builder and first owner’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The dukes of Alcala, some of the richest aristocrats in Spain, used to live in the palace until it passed to the dukes of Medinaceli, who occupy the palace to this day.
The internal patio is considered the most important element of the edifice.
The glorious gardens.
And internal passages covered in azulejos – the tourists are only allowed to see a small selection, including a museum where all kinds of curious objects can be seen – such as handwritten letters of the Catholic Kings, Queen Isabella’s original dresses etc.
The patio from above:
You can wander around the old town of Sevilla forever. Indeed it is one of the largest preserved medieval towns in the world.
On every turn new luxurious buildings appear in front of your eyes. In a lesser city they would qualify as a major attraction, here it’s just one of many. For example this is a gigantic Iglesia del Salvador.
Lope de Vega theatre.
This unusual wooden structure, called Metropol Parasol, occupies a whole square in the business centre of Sevilla. It was conceived as yet another symbolic building and a tourist magnet. It houses an archeological exhibition, restaurants and concert halls. However its first fame was of a rather scandalous nature – the initial project was found to be impossible to implement due to the lack of proper testing of the planned material, i.e. wood. As a result the cost of construction skyrocketed from 50 to 100 million euro – which was a huge scandal in Spain (though these amounts are nothing compared to the waste linked to Sochi Olympics, for example).
A Columbus memorial in a wonderful park next to Alcázar.
A picturesque paseo in the same park – the gardens of Alcátraz are behind the wall.
The next post will be about the two most famous attractions in Sevilla. These are the Cathedral and the Alcátraz palace.