As we write this story and look around the car on our way to Gibraltar, I see lots of sleeping faces; the heat of Seville has taken its toll. I have heard many Sevillans say: Barcelona has Gaudi, Granada has the Alhambra, but Seville has an unmatchable spirit (duende) which shines bright in every corner of the city. If you need some help, just compliment the beauty and soul of the city, and the locals will jump to the rescue.
Seville was once Spain’s wealthiest city, the city in which Columbus found his start and final resting place. Today, Seville is as lively and enjoyable as ever. In every corner of the city you’ll find lighthearted locals enjoying a beer and some tapas while trying to escape the heat. There are dozens of worthwhile sights to visit, but perhaps the most unique to Seville include the Plaza de España, the Royal Alcázar, the Cathedral of Seville, and the still-functioning Bullfighting Ring.
The Plaza de España
This was our first stop. It’s large, impressive, and exciting with the grand colonnade that seems to stretch on forever. Built as the entrance to a massive park for the 1929 International Festival hosted in Seville, this site is immediately recognizable to most travelers (maybe because of it was used as a location in Star Wars Episodes I & II) even though they often don’t know its name or even that it’s in Seville.
The following afternoon, we toured the Royal Alcázar—purportedly the oldest palace still in use in all of Europe (though I think “still in use” is loosely used). This was a beautiful and stunning experience. Built and renovated over the past thousand years, the palace complex combines a unique mix of Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The Alcázar is known for many things, but one of them is its complexity and mazelike interior. It also has an extensive network of gardens and fountains, which are lovely but can be difficult to savor in the summer heat.
The Cathedral of Seville
is outstanding—the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. This is also where Christopher Columbus’s body now rests in a beautiful display after being moved several times after his death. Don’t miss it. It’s not just another cathedral.
Plaza de Toros
Perhaps my favorite stop and the one most unique to Seville. The thirteen-thousand-seat bullfighting arena still holds regular matches throughout the spring and fall with a lull in summer due to the extreme heat. There is still a royal suite where only Spain’s Royal family may sit; the last royal visit was only two seasons ago. We learned that the arena and the sport in Seville are still controlled by a small group of aristocratic families who sadly are no longer taking applicants for their clubs; believe me, I tried. Although we did not see a fight, we learned a great deal about the sport and art of bullfighting on a tour of the arena.
One thing I did not know was that there are three types of matches: “horse and joust” (works like it sounds), “pin the hat on the bull” (a three-person team on foot attempts to place a papier-mâché crown on the bull’s horns), and finally the death match (one-on-one, with the objective of a quick, clean kill). Forgive me for my creative and highly untraditional names.
Seville is hot, but wonderful, and filled with so much to do and see. From June through September it can be unbearably hot, but that’s nothing a nice cold beer and some AC can’t solve. If you haven’t been, try to go. You will not be disappointed.
Special Bonus – We made a quick day trip to Gibraltar between Seville and Granada. Wow, all I can say is that it was unexpectedly amazing. This small piece of land, which has been fought over for centuries, is dominated by a massive rock (pushed out of the ocean 200 million years ago by the movement of tectonic plates) with a virtually flat cliff face occupying a majority of the city. Over ten million visitors a year brave the top of this Rock, Gibraltar’s top destination. It is the only place on Earth where you can see two continents and two major bodies of water at the same time; Europe & Africa, the Mediterranean & the Atlantic.
Gibraltar was also a nice change of pace. We jumped from southern Spanish culture and cuisine to typical British fare: tattoos, fish and chips, young chaps speaking far too loudly, and recognizable comforts for those who enjoy the British way. They use the pound sterling, too. Even the wild monkeys on top of the Rock have recognizable British names, such as Charles, Harry, William, and (one of their newest additions) Kate. Do you sense a trend?