It’s time for another Friday Five, but this time from across the pond in Seville. Before arriving in Seville I hadn’t done tons of research about this Andalusian city, but I’ve since realized that it’s really the hub of all of the romanticism which we discussed in my seminar last semester: a university building was once the Royal Tobacco Factory where fictitious Carmen worked, Don Juan (El burlador de Sevilla) darted through the streets, flamenco shows take over the city at night, and the city’s bull ring is a popular reminder of Spain’s connection to bulls. While I intend to talk more at the end of this trip about romanticism in Spain and how the tourism industry plays into that, for now I present my Seville five. Seville has been my favorite city so far. With its narrow streets and “kissing lanes”, gothic cathedral, and impressive Alcázar it seems to depict the Spain that I imagine most people picture in their heads.
1.) Flamenco–This famous Andalusian dance, a fusion of different traditions which converged on the Iberian Peninsula, is most popular in Seville, the capital city of the country’s southernmost region Andalusia (Andalucía in Spanish). While you will certainly see shows advertised all over Spain, you may want to hold out for a show in Seville. As this is such a popular spectacle, it’s easy to find touristy places (which are also pricier) and harder to find more authentic venues. Thanks to Rick Steves’ Spain (at this point, just assume that I’m using his book to help me), I found a great venue near the Iglesia del Salvador. Casa de la Memoria holds nightly flamenco shows in an intimate setting and doesn’t allow the audience to take pictures until a designated five minutes at the end. This policy is really great because it allows you to enjoy the show the entire time and not be distracted by either taking your own pictures or the person next to you recording the entire program.
To be honest, I was expecting a slightly cheesy and overdone show, but I left the venue smiling and in a fantastic mood. I can’t think of a way to explain flamenco except explosive (with fingers snapping, feet stomping, hands clapping), suave (hands twirling, guitar strumming), and sensual. The performers definitely had duende. Tickets are only 15 euros with a student ID, so it’s definitely not something you want to pass up, and if you’ve been getting student discounts at other museums and locations, you’ve probably saved more than enough for this already.
2.) Churches–Seville’s most famous church, the Catedral de Sevilla, is the third biggest cathedral in Europe (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London) and the largest gothic cathedral in the world, if I remember correctly. It sits in the spectacular, though touristy, Plaza del Triunfo along with the Alcázar, and this plaza should really be on any traveler’s shortlist as it’s the stuff of storybooks, as I think the whole city is. Inside the cathedral, enjoy visiting the Tomb of Columbus (though this is constantly debated as a church in the Dominican Republic also claims to house his remains), the massive High Altar with scenes from Jesus’s life, a number of stunning chapels, the treasury, and the outdoor courtyard. As always when in a church, don’t forget to look up and take in the massive scale of the building.
The cathedral was built on the site of a former mosque, though the Giralda Bell Tower, a minaret tower from the original structure, still stands. Admission to the cathedral includes a walk up the tower’s ramp, which was designed so that the man who rose to the top to call people to prayer could ride on a donkey and not have to ascend by foot and lose his breath. The views up here are incredible and are definitely something to marvel over, observing the tight alleys and nooks and crannies of the city as well as its white-washed buildings.
Now, I said churches plural for this listing, and that’s because of the Iglesia del Salvador. To beat the crowds, Steves recommends stopping by this nearby church and buying the combined ticket (which I say to do at the student rate) so that you can skip the line at the cathedral. This is absolutely worth it as you get to see another church instead of simply waiting in a line for that time, and the church is also beautiful, filled with statues and equally ornate splendor.
3.) Alcázar–An example of Mudéjar architecture and art (Moorish style commissioned by Christians with Christian meanings behind it) , the Alcázar was the quarters of Spain’s royal family and the Reyes Católicos when they ruled from this crucial port city. The intricacies in the design are truly stunning, and the building’s history is also fantastic as the Royal Family lived here. I went shortly before closing the day I arrived, so I rushed through, but it was really pleasant at six in the evening, and the gardens are also beautiful and open to the public. It’s rather similar to the Alhambra inside, though smaller in scale, and also drawing smaller crowds which is nice.
4.) Tapas–Another thing almost everybody knows about Spain is tapas. And while the practice of getting a free tapa with a drink has declined as tapas have become trendier and restaurants realize they can make more money, it’s still easy to make a cheap meal out of a tapa or two. Bodega Morales near the cathedral has this great, old, historic vibe and serves great Andalusian classics like soremolejo, a cold soup similar to gazpacho. When I went here for lunch after visiting the Iglesia del Salvador, I only overheard Spanish, so it was a nice escape from hoards of tourists. I also got albóndigas (Spanish meatballs) to make it a meal with a water for only five euros: great quality and great value.
After going to the flamenco show, I browsed around the Plaza del Salvador for a quick place to duck inside and found Los Corales Gastrobar. It wasn’t very crowded, which wasn’t a great sign for a nine PM dinner on a Friday, but the tapas were good, though not particularly Spanish (croquettes and mini burgers and the like) and at least 4.50 euros a piece, and you can taste the sugar in the sangria. You can find much cheaper further from the square for better value.
5.) “Nightlife”–I don’t mean nightlife in the clubbing sense, but Seville is really beautiful at dusk. Spaniards take to the streets for a late dinner, tourists find a flamenco show, and the city’s spirit seems to be tangible as the sky turns orange and pink. Last night, some people from the tour went to the Metropol Parasol, or the “giant waffle” as some call it. This avant-garde sculpture sticks out like a sore thumb in old and traditional Seville, but it does offer great views of the entire city and its major landmarks (and your 3 euro elevator ticket includes a free drink). If you’re not ready to end your night after dinner, make the visit, decide what your opinion of the sculpture is, and enjoy the views and booze (or water). No matter what, make a point to meander through the streets with your travel buddies at night after dinner, maybe to this sculpture, or perhaps to the historic Barrio Santa Cruz.
Coming up soon, I’ll have a post on the other places I’ve visited so far in Spain. Up next on my itinerary, though, is Lisbon!