Friday, October 16, 2009

Next Stop: Sevilla

Taking a day-trip to Sevilla is like taking a day-trip to New York. Sure, you can see a lot, but you'll miss a lot more. Unfortunately, we only had a day in Sevilla, but it's definitely a city I'll visit again and stay in much longer. Truly breathtaking, Sevilla is worthy of its reputation as one of the great architectural beauties. So much so, I'll be doing two separate posts on the city, of which this the first. I must add that Sevilla's legendary heat was also palpable during our visit; though already late September, the sun fell like an anvil on this gorgeous city steeped in the past, which basks on the banks of the River Guadalquivir.

They say that Sevilla simmers but at night it becomes an intoxicating cauldron filled with dama de noche, a fragrant flower vine that grows everywhere on trees in Andalucia and emits its perfume only at night; and, of course, with the scent of oranges. The trees grow in the streets, and while their fruit is sour and unpalatable, the Seville orange's scent is so intense, it was coveted in ancient times for its use in body-oils.

Sevilla has been inhabitated since the 9th century; Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians have all at one time called this city home. It was named Hispalis by Julius Cesar; toward the end of the Roman Empire, it was one of the most important cities of Empire and center of Christian activity in the Iberian Peninsula before its conquest by the Moors in 711. The Plaza de Espana in the photo to the right, built in 1929, honors both Spain and the city's incredible historical past with mosaics surrounding an impressive palisade.

Like most Spanish cities, Sevilla had a rich centuries-long tradition of Jewish livelihood and wealth, which was tragically lost under the reign of the Catholic monarchs. The quarter has greatly changed and now houses some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Still, as you walk through its narrow streets, past brightly painted houses with Moorish-arched windows hidden by celosias (shutters) you can feel the ghostly remnant of a time when different faiths and races thrived in harmony in Spain, creating one of the most splendid and evanescent civilizations the world has ever seen.

The Cathedral of Sevilla is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, spanning several blocks and festooned with gargoyles, turrets and buttresses. Built upon the remains of a central mosque, the Cathedral carries its Islamic foundations within the orangerie outside its gates and decorative brickwork. Since 1568, the Cathedral's tower has been crowned by an airy belfry with a bronze weather vane known as El Giraldillo, which has lent its name to the tower La Giralda, known as one of the most famous belltowers in Christendom.
I'll post next about the incredible Royal Alcazares of Sevilla. For now, I leave you here with a photo of a palace in the casco viejo, or historic
center; and of me with one of Sevilla's most venerable residents: the carriage horse.


Glynis Peters said...

What a delight of a post. I remember seeing Sevilla when I was 16 years old. I was from a small English port town, when I arrived amongst this beauty of a place I was overwhelmed.
The orange blossom in my garden, here in Cyprus always takes me back, now your blog has given me images to link with it again. Thanks I enjoyed my visit. Glynis @

C.W. Gortner said...

Thanks so much. It's great to hear from a visitor from Cyprus, a place I've always wanted to see! Isn't the scent of the Seville orange incredible? I can still smell it if I close my eyes.

J.M. Aucoin said...

Great pics!

Lizzie said...

I can just imagine being in the yellow house on that balcony at night smelling the night time flowers! Ah, dream away!