European travel and lifestyle
Would you go to Seville and spend two hours at a tapestry exhibition? Or sit down for half an hour waiting for a musical fountain to start playing? If you’re more into quizzing tour guides than lying on a beach, check out the following sites for your ultimate history fix.
Built by the Moorish kings of Al-Andalus, the Alcázar is the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use today. Apart from the Alhambra in Granada, it is the most prominent example of mudéjar architecture in Spain.
The upper levels are used for official visits from the royal family. By contrast, the ground floor, walls and gardens are all open to the public. The interior shows a mixture of styles, with Christian monarchs adding their own personal touches. The most prominent areas of the Alcázar are the patios, each with their own distinctive name (Patio de las Doncellas, Patio de la Montería, Patio de las Muñecas etc.)
Yet the palace itself isn’t the Alcazar’s main attraction. That title is reserved for the palace gardens instead. Fruit trees, green mazes and fragrant flowers provided residents with fresh food and beautiful surroundings. Peacocks walk around the orchards, and water features heavily in the form of jets, ponds and pools.
One of the biggest changes to the gardens occurred when Italian architect Vermondo Resta created the Grotto de Grutesco. Altering part of the old wall, he created a gallery from which people could admire the gardens from above.
He also built the Fuente de la Fama, a musical fountain that uses a mechanism similar to that of a music box. It plays music on the hour everyday from 10AM to 7PM. Since the original mechanism was destroyed during an earthquake in 1755, the new one does its best to showcase what the music would have sounded like when it was first created.
This imposing building is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The sole purpose of its design was to shock visitors with its size and opulence. It took over a century to complete (1402-1506) and involved hefty costs for the clergy.
The interior has the longest nave in Spain and the third largest in the world. The central one is 42m high and heavily gilded in a way that is more customary of the Renaissance period. Its most noticeable features are the great box-like choir loft and the Gothic retablo.
The Giralda is the national symbol of Seville and was the tallest building in the city for over 800 years. Built in 1195, it was originally a minaret (a tower from which the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer) for the Aljama mosque. When the cathedral was built over the mosque’s original site, the Giralda became its belltower. Along with the Alcázar, cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.
The tower was named Giralda after the weather vane placed on top (girar means “to turn” in Spanish). It was destroyed in an earthquake (can you see a pattern emerging here?) and replaced by a small bell and cross. The current bell tower and weather vane were added in the 16th century. This created a mix of Moorish and Renaissance design that was characteristic of Spanish and Portuguese Gothic architecture. You can climb to the top via a series of ramps, which were placed there so that muezzins could comfortably climb the minaret on horses or donkeys.
The Plaza de España is a square in Parque de María Luisa that was specifically built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. The buildings around it form a perfect semicircle, accessible over the moat by numerous bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain (Navarra, Aragón, Castilla and Granada). In the centre is the Vicente Traver fountain, and the walls around the square are decorated with tiled alcoves that represent each of the 52 provinces in Spain (including the cities of Ceuta and Melilla).
The area has also been used as a filming location, most notably in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and as the City of Theed in the Star Wars movie prequels (but perhaps that last one is best forgotten).
A watchtower that looks over Seville’s docks, the Torre de Oro (Golden Tower) is all that remains of the old city walls. The origin of the name is uncertain. Some say that it was originally covered in golden tiles. However, others claim it’s because the tower housed stolen Mayan and Incan gold from the New World.
The tower now serves as a naval museum and panorama point that overlooks the Guadalquivir river.
With so many historical favourites in Seville, it’s nearly impossible to list them all in a single blog post. Which ones would you add? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @sideroutes. You can also follow me on Instagram for a daily dose of travel and lifestyle.
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