All Ways Spain – Seville Giralda Cathedral

The quintessential Spain

Seville is unique. Its char­ac­ter, his­to­ry, bravu­ra – all mark it out as excep­tion­al. Although at times it gives the impres­sion of already know­ing this, most vis­i­tors are won over by its radi­ant self-con­fi­dence and unde­ni­able glam­our. To start with, it has an his­tor­i­cal pedi­gree that few cities in Europe can match. Iberi­ans, Phoeni­cians, Carthagini­ans and Visig­oths had all left their mark before the Moors sit­ed here their first cap­i­tal of al-Andalus, pri­or to turn­ing their sights on Cór­do­ba. After its con­quest by the Castil­ians in 1248 under the “holy” King Fer­di­nand III it became a favoured res­i­dence of Span­ish kings, notably Pedro “the Cru­el” who had Mus­lim crafts­men build him a palace in the Alcázar, in a fusion of Chris­t­ian and Mus­lim styles known as “Mudé­jar” that per­haps best serves as emblem of the city’s brassy orig­i­nal­i­ty.

But it was in 1492, with the dis­cov­ery of the “New World”, that Seville saw its sta­tus leap from mere­ly impor­tant to essen­tial and all-per­va­sive. As the exclu­sive port for trade with the Indies (1503−1718) the city became a hub­bub of activ­i­ty and intrigue, Spaniards and for­eign­ers alike attract­ed by its beguil­ing promis­es of new rich­es, new begin­nings. Those rich­es endowed church­es, con­vents and monas­ter­ies, built sump­tu­ous noble palaces, and gave the city a cos­mopoli­tan air that few oth­er Euro­pean cities could rival. Gón­go­ra, per­haps the poet of the cul­tur­al and finan­cial “Gold­en Age” that cen­tered upon Seville, described it as “the great Baby­lon of Spain, map of all nations”. The decline that set in abrupt­ly with the move to Cádiz (1718) of Spain’s Atlantic trade caused great hard­ship in the city but inad­ver­tent­ly helped to pre­serve for longer much more of its archi­tec­tur­al lega­cy than might oth­er­wise have been the case. To the incred­i­ble trea­sure trove of Seville’s rich his­to­ry the lat­est cen­turies have added the build­ings of two grandiose, ruinous­ly expen­sive world fairs and dar­ing if not uni­ver­sal­ly loved projects such as “El Para­sol Metropol” (a struc­ture more com­mon­ly referred to by the locals as “las setas” – “the mush­rooms” – but which affords the best views over the city).

But Seville is much more, of course, than its archi­tec­ture: its peo­ple, among the most attrac­tive and exu­ber­ant in Spain, its tra­di­tions – cen­tered on the ecsta­sy and pomp of its incred­i­ble Sem­ana San­ta (“holy week” or East­er) – and its musi­cal­i­ty (the city lays claim to “Car­men” and “Figaro”, plus a large slice of fla­men­co) are what con­tin­ue to exert a mag­net­ic field on vis­i­tors, novice and vet­er­an alike. This fas­ci­na­tion is per­haps best expressed by the words of British writer Lau­rie Lee who, on his first vis­it in the 1930’s, saw Seville as “a city where, more than in any oth­er, one may bite on the air and taste the mul­ti­tudi­nous flavours of Spain – acid, sug­ary, intox­i­cat­ing, sick­en­ing — but flavours which, above all in a syn­thet­ic world, are real as nowhere else”. This earth­i­ness con­tin­ues today in the 21st cen­tu­ry and Seville still retains its mag­net­ic attrac­tion to the out­side world and ranks as per­haps the best-known of Span­ish cities out­side the top two — and cer­tain­ly the one that is seen as most typ­i­fy­ing what is judged to be “Span­ish­ness”. Tours that fea­ture Seville in our Sam­ple Itin­er­aries all aim to take you beyond these rep­re­sen­ta­tions and allow you to expe­ri­ence and enjoy this vibrant city in all its sat­is­fy­ing com­plex­i­ties.