Seville, dream city

Raymundo LarraĆ­n Nesbitt, March, 15. 2024

Raymundo Larraín looks at Sevilla’s highlights as a place to live, visit, and invest.

I continue today with my running series on top places to buy and live in Spain. You can find older entries on this series scrolling down below. These impromptu light-hearted guides are not meant to be exhaustive; they are just there as a lighthouse to shed light on an area’s main highlights and landmarks.

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Featured: Torre del Oro at dusk.

Introduction

Seville was founded on the shores of the Guadalquivir river, in Southern Spain, by the fabled Tartessian civilisation over two thousand years ago. Scholars speculate this advanced seafaring culture, which built huge stone cities in concentric circles separated by large bodies of water, was the source from which Plato drew inspiration for his Atlantis myth, the fabled lost city sunk under the waves.

The mythological city founder is Hercules, whose figure is depicted in the Andalusian flag (shown below), standing between two columns representing the Strait of Gibraltar. The green colour stands for hope and union, while the white stands for peace and dialogue. The Andalusian flag was designed by Blas Infante, Father of Andalusia, who in turn was inspired by the Moorish historical legacy. The green originates from the green flag of the Umayyad dynasty, ruling clan of al-Andalus for centuries, and the white colour symbolized peace or forgiveness for the Almohads.

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Seville would later be populated by Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians. In 43 BC, it was conquered by Julius Caesar and brought into the fold of the Roman Empire under the name of Hispalis, becoming one of its crown jewels (it was the empire’s breadbasket). In 1091 the Moors (first Almoravids, then followed by Almohads) conquered the city. The Moors ushered in a new era of splendour which turned Seville into the most important city in Spain. Iconic buildings, which have become synonyms with Seville’s beauty, date from this era, such as the Torre del Oro and the Giralda (a remnant of the Great Mosque).

During Spain’s Golden Age (16th and 17th centuries), and the discovery of a New World, Seville would become Spain’s second most important hub. Several landmark buildings were added, such as Seville’s Cathedral, The General Archives of the Indies, the university, la Casa de la Moneda, the town hall, etc.

Seville hosted in 1929 the Ibero-America Exhibition which changed its landscape for ever. Several pavilions became iconic buildings over time. In 1992, during Spain’s mini Golden Age, it hosted the Universal Expo which I had the pleasure of attending several times. The Expo of 1992 poured billions of euros into the city, in effect laying out the city’s infrastructure as we know it for the 21st Century.

Seville stands today as the administrative capital of the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, the largest in Spain, always holding a sibling rivalry with its sister city Málaga, Andalusia’s economic powerhouse.

Seville, culture capital, cradle of artists and intellectuals

This city is the birthplace to several renowned figures, ranging from artists to emperors. I’ve greatly abridged the list to name the main ones. To name a few: Roman Emperor Trajan, Roman Emperor Hadrian, Al-Mutamid (king poet), Diego de Velázquez (painter, Seville’s most universal son), Antonio de Nebrija (grammatist), Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (staunch defender of Native’s Rights and a precursor of the civil rights movement), Lope de Rueda (writer and dramatist), Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (romantic poet), Juan Ramon Jiménez (Nobel Prize in Literature 1956), Luis Cernuda (writer), Manuel Machado (writer and poet), Vicente Aleixandre (Nobel Prize in Literature 1977), Felipe González Márquez (lawyer and statesman, one of Spain’s finest presidents), Carmen Sevilla (actress and singer), Paz Vega (actress and model), Los del Río (duo of singers, ‘La Macarena’).

It also became the city of adoption by scores of other high-profile artists who, although born elsewhere, decided to live and work in the city such as Federico García Lorca (Spain’s finest poet), and Rafael Alberti (writer).

Its first recorded tourist was American romantic writer and diplomat Washington Irving, during his XIX century Spanish Islamic tour that also took him to Granada. Irving would spend a whole year living in Seville. But rather than read my boring drivel on his exploits, let’s hear it from him:

If you ever come to Seville, do not miss visiting its glorious cathedral … visit it at dusk, when the last rays of sun, rather the last shining of the day, shine through its polychrome stained glasswindows. Visit it at night, when its chapels are poorly illuminated, its immense ships barely illuminated by the rows of silver lamps, and when the mass is prepared on the high altar, between flashes of gold and clouds of incense … I do not believe I have never felt an equal pleasure in any other monument of this kind … It is close to the house where I stayed in Seville and it was my daily resource. In truth, I visited it more than once in the course of the day. A slow wander through that cathedral, especially towards dusk, when the deepest shadows and the light of the polychrome stained glass more confused and vague, produced in me the impression of a walk through one of our great American forests …

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La Giralda

The Giralda (Arabic: ?????????‎) is the bell tower of Seville Cathedral in Seville, Spain. Originally, it was built as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville in al-Andalus, during the reign of the Almohad dynasty. This tower is all that remains of the original Grand Mosque. The Cathedral, including the Giralda, was registered in 1987 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Alcázar and the General Archive of the Indies. It remains as one of the most important symbols of the city, as it has been since the Middle Ages. The tower is one of the most famous monuments of Moorish architecture in Spain and one of the most refined examples of Almohad architecture.

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Torre del Oro

The Gold Tower (Arabic: ????? ????????,) is a dodecagonal military watchtower in Seville. It was erected by the Almohad Caliphate to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir river.

Constructed in the first third of the 13th century, the tower served as a prison during the Middle Ages. Its name comes from the golden shine it projects on the river, due to its building materials (a mixture of mortar, lime and pressed hay).

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The Alcázar, a 1,000-year-old Moorish citadel

Seville’s city districts

  • Historic city centre (casco antiguo, in Spanish): Major tourist attractions are located here, such as the cathedral, the Alcázar (it’s the oldest royal palace in Europe that is still in use today), the Torre del Oro, the Town Hall, the Palace of San Telmo, the Archivo General de Indias, and the Metropol Parasol.
  • Distrito Sur: This was the location of the Ibero-American exhibition of 1929. You can find several museums here. It’s where the famous Plaza de España is located (detailed further below). If you have a penchant for architecture and aesthetics, it’s worthwhile taking a long stroll down the Avenida de la Palmera and taking in the breathtaking beauty of the 1929 pavilions and lush tropical gardens.
  • Los Remedios: Located on the Isla de la Cartuja, on the west bank, it’s home to the Cartuja convent.
  • Macarena: Located on the Eastern bank of the Guadalquivir river, it houses the Parliament of Andalusia.
  • Triana: Named after the Roman Emperor Trajan (who was born in Italica, Seville). Brightly coloured working-class and gypsy neighbourhood where artisans (ceramics) and flamenco dancers flourish. Several renowned bullfighters hail from Triana. On its northern edge lies La Isla de la Cartuja, which was the location of the famous Expo 92. Several pavilions are still on display.
  • Nervión: Located to the east, it’s an upscale district that serves as the city’s business and commercial centre. Restaurants and great tapa bars abound. Home to Seville’s FC soccer team.

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Feria de Abril

Every year, two weeks after Easter Week, the Feria de Abril is held in Seville, lasting a week. This year from the 14th to the 20th of April. Natives dress up in typical Andalusian bright-coloured costumes. Women look stunning in their flamenco dresses and mantillas. Gorgeous thoroughbred horses are decked up in gala exuding nobility at every step. Horse-drawn carriages patrol the fairgrounds with beautiful women dressed up for the occasion. Pavilions (casetas de feria, in Spanish) sprout all over the city, like mushrooms after a heavy rainfall. In them, you will find great food and flamenco dancing.

It’s truly a sight to behold and you owe it to yourself to visit it, at least once in a lifetime. Sevillians *love* to party and make jokes, and this is the main event of the whole year. If you are looking for a good time, this is it!

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Plaza de España

Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929

Was an exhibition that hosted the pavilions of several American countries. It left us scores of buildings of singular beauty which now dot the Avenida de la Palmera. Truly, if you love architecture, you should pay a visit to these pavilions which are now home to official institutions and important companies.

This exhibition left us as well the Plaza de España, which has been featured in countless movies and shows over time, such as Game of Thrones (Dorne) and Star Wars (Naboo, the prequels).

Fireworks display every night at Lago de España, Expo 92

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Expo 1992

I have fond memories of my multiple visits to the Expo ‘92. Seared in my brain is Japan’s castle built entirely out of wood without using a single nail in what was a feat of human engineering. Chile’s 100,000-year-old iceberg brought from La Patagonia, which was later on returned to its exact location in a heartwarming touch of environmentalism, South Arabia’s magnificent pavillion in which I signed up for Aramco’s magazine (which I’m still receiving three decades on!), Morocco’s beautiful pavilion straight out of Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights, and Australia’s exotic butterflies and wildlife. In short, it was a wonderful showcase of the best each country had to offer to the world.

The whole venue had an avant-garde microclimate installed that released clouds of water in regular bouts noticeably bringing down the sweltering heat. Since, I’ve seen this copied in many other places. It was also there I also saw for the first-time touch screens which were responsive to human interaction. It would take almost two decades for them to be released to the greater public through mobile phones and ATMs. Truly, the Expo allowed us a hopeful glimpse into Humanity’s future, and it looked bright. Every night, the magical water features came to life in its main lake (Lago de España) putting on a son et lumière show. Truly awe-inspiring stuff for young inquisitive minds.

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Alfonso XIII hotel

If you can afford it, this is hands down the best accommodation in all of Seville. Its beauty and style are unmatched. Located right at the heart of the city, within walking distance of everything.

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Seville has many delights other than monuments

Conclusion

Sevilla offers a unique quality of life that is second to none.

I could go on and on for days, and nights, lauding Seville’s mesmerizing beauty, but hands down what sets it apart from other cities – making it truly special – are its people. Sevillians are the most heartwarming people you’ll come across and will make your stay most welcome.

Seville is a dream city, home to dreamers. Do you like dreaming?

Sevilla, ciudad de ensueño, cuna de soñadores.

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Self-portrait of a young Velázquez

Procura que los sueños se vuelvan metas y no se queden en sueños.” – Diego de Velázquez

“Turn your dreams into goals, do not allow them to linger as dreams.”

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 -1660). Born in Seville during the Age of Dreams, at the apex of Spain’s Golden Age, he was the son of a notary. He became the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV in Madrid. He specialized in royal portraits. His most notable work would be a large portrait of the imperial family known as Las Meninas (exhibited in the Museo del Prado, in Madrid). This ingenious painting introduced a series of contemporary elements which in effect broke away with the past, ushering in a modern era in painting, becoming a major milestone in art history. His works would become influential, to the point of inspiring other leading artists centuries on such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Francis Bacon. Velázquez is Sevilla’s most universal son and likely Spain’s finest painter.

Other entries in this running series:

 

Please note the information provided in this article is of general interest only and is not to be construed or intended as substitute for professional legal advice. This article may be posted freely in websites or other social media so long as the author is duly credited. Plagiarizing, whether in whole or in part, this article without crediting the author may result in criminal prosecution. Ní neart go cur le chéile. Voluntas omnia vincit.

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