“Seville doesn’t have ambiance, it is ambiance”, wrote James Michener. And our introduction to Seville certainly supports that assertion. We spent our first two days with our guides rubbing shoulders with tourists from all over, dodging cars and motorcycles along the narrow streets and seeing the sights. Yes, Seville does have something special.
Like most travelers, we read guidebooks to prep for a new destination, talk to fellow travelers to get tips, but once there, often just follow our nose. We have learned, however, that a good local guide provides more insights than a guidebook and knows the community better than our fellow travelers. They invite you to see their towns through their eyes, with their insider’s knowledge, passion and pride.
We hired guides for two different tours of Seville — Penelope for the more typical tourist route. The Royal Alcázar and gardens. The Sevilla Cathedral. The Barrio Santa Cruz. The Jewish quarter. And the second day Maria led us on a gastronomy tour — because after all, we travel on our stomachs. A couple shops that offer local delicacies or traditional foods. The Triana Mercado. And several tapas bars. A brief dip into tasting sherry. We asked both of them for tips on where to get good local food, where to shop and what other sites to visit. Armed with their advice, we are ready to take on Seville on our own for the next few days.
In both cases we got much more than we bargained for.
First the food. Like many tourist cities, food is more expensive and often less authentic the closer you are to the major sites. We found good tapas restaurants off small squares a bit further away from the Seville Cathedral. We love the Spanish approach in many restaurants. Order a couple dishes and share them. Splitting or sharing meals is expected. Tapas bars often offer dishes in three sizes — tapas, media raciones, and raciones or plato (single, double or full order).
Tapas are often eaten standing at the bar or around a tall table in the midst of a crowd. As Penelope said, it is as though Spaniards want to feel the breath of others on our cheeks. And because the bars are so crowded, everyone practically yells to be heard. Intimate, yes. Quiet, no.
Many restaurants don’t even open for dinner service until 8:30 in the evening. But the tapas bars are busy starting with the lunch crowd in the early afternoon, then the after work crowd grabbing a snack (and a drink) a couple hours before dinner and they may stay full late into the night for the dinner crowd.
While food is always on our minds, our trip to Seville and Spain has not been entirely about food.
Yes, we are interested in the Spain’s history, but capturing it is complicated. The right wing in Spain would like you to believe that historic conquest of the Moors made Spain more Spanish, and keeping immigrants out now does the same. As you look around and see ancient palaces in the Moorish style built by people who lived here for hundreds of years, it’s hard to say to say their descendants aren’t as Spanish as anyone else. Identifying the Seville Jewish ghetto ignores the breadth of Jewish contribution to the city. And looking at the architecture built after the second conquest (“reconquista” is a term now appropriated by the right wing), it’s good to remember in the 14th century the Christian King Pedro I had the 10th century Moorish castle rebuilt by Muslin workman to capture both cultural traditions. Such is the complexity of history!
And if Seville is not just about the food, it is not just an historical museum. It is also a living city.
The Metropol Parasol, informally know as The Mushrooms, was built as an urban renewal project a dozen years ago—controversial both for its design and changing (some would say destroying) a decaying neighborhood. An elevator ride for 10€ takes you up to the viewing platform. From there you climb up to walk around the top of the structure with incredible views of the city. Exiting down the flight of stairs you go past placards describing how many bolts were used, how much Finnish pine was used (and trees replanted) and other points of civic pride. The largest wooden structure in the world!
From the top of the Metropol Parasol, we counted over 30 churches, monasteries and convents. No wonder at 9:00am each morning the church bells ring and ring and ring.
Seville is know for its religious processions, where during Holy Week, or in honor of a church’s patron saint, members of neighborhood group carry floats depicting religious statutes are carried from their home church to the cathedral and back. A process which can take hours, if not the full day. While we were not there for Holy Week, we did stumble across a training session.
As we continue to explore Seville, we will continue to hear Maria and Penelope in our ears, reminding of the lessons they shared with about their home.
One thought on “Seville, Part 1”
Thanks a lot for your words about Maria and me! What a gorgeous review about your first impressions of Seville. It’s been a pleasure to guide you in my city. You’ll be always on my mind 💚.