Guest post by Jocelyn Dorgan
The Beauty, History, and Culture of Seville
My son invited me to visit Spain to sell me on his dream of moving to
Seville. Who am I to turn down an adventure? He’d told me it was the most picturesque city he’d ever visited, but I was to discover that it is also steeped in a turbulent history and a rich, deeply rooted culture, all while relatively gentle on the budget.
Seville, the capital of the Andalusia region, is easy to get around by mass transit, taxi, bicycle, or on foot. There are numerous housing options. Hostels begin as low as $20/night, offering both dorm-style living and private rooms. Similarly, hotels range from bed and breakfasts under $40/night to the opulence of Hotel Alfonso XII with its Royal Suite at about $3000/night. Or, there is the Airbnb option, which was what we chose, at $50/night for an entire two-bedroom apartment located right in the historic center. I could have spent an entire week shopping, from El Corte Inglés, the biggest department store in Europe, to open-air markets to specialty shops. Desiguel, the trendy clothing store based in Barcelona, is prevalent throughout Seville, too. The central shopping area is in the Old City, between parallel pedestrian streets, Sierpes and Tetuan, with jewelry, clothing, hats, ceramics, tourist souvenirs, and nearly anything else you can imagine.
The Old City, which still has remnants of the wall that once surrounded it, was built under the rule of Julius Cesar. The roads here emerged organically, so it is easy to get lost along the snaking streets, many of them cobblestoned, some of them for pedestrians only. There are countless plazas that appear from nowhere. Narrow alleys are not merely cut-throughs to larger roads but host shops and taverns and hotels. Every pathway was a parade of colors, flowers, and architectural interest. Cathedrals materialized around a bend. Songs from accordions or guitars would follow you from one plaza as the melody of an acapella would lure you into the next. Everywhere was the laughter and conversation of the inhabitants of Seville over food and drink, as they ardently believe they have achieved the perfect work/life balance.
Sevillians generally grab a cup of coffee and something light, maybe a slice of toast, before work. Mid-morning, they have a full, leisurely breakfast, often with friends or family. They work until early afternoon, then break for three hours for lunch, their most substantial meal of the day. They return to work until about 8 PM, then linger over dinner until 11 PM or so. Every day is a mix of work and pleasure, and it’s usually centered around food.
Tapas are shared Spanish dishes, some served cold, such as Iberian ham or slices of Manchego cheese (from sheep’s milk) with pecos (breadsticks), and some are hot, such as ham croquettes and Spanish tortilla. In most restaurants, you pay 2-3 € per plate. As Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives, patrons are served marinated olives as readily as bar nuts in the United States. Olive oil is drizzled over most dishes. “Tapiad” is the experience of eating tapas, often done in the form of a bar/tavern crawl. In traditional tapas bars, the custom is to stand with your friends while resting your food and drink on any available ledge or table surface. Two or three plates of tapas are ordered, accompanied by small drinks, such as wine, beer, or sherry. Once your group is finished, you can order more plates or move on to the next tavern. Some of the oldest taverns in Seville still tally your order by writing with chalk on the bar or ledge near you, adding to it as you order more. When you’re ready to close your tab, the bartender adds it up.
Sherry, a fortified white wine, is produced only in the Andalusia region of Spain. The length of the aging process will determine the final color and alcohol content of the sherry. Also indigenous to this region is flamenco, a type of storytelling told through music – guitar, and singing – accompanied by handclapping and dance. Night owls can catch a free show in any number of spots throughout Seville, often beginning after 11 PM. There are numerous paid shows – either alone or over dinner or tapas. The Museo del Baile Flamenco will offer both a show and a museum displaying the history and culture of dance.
Seville is roughly 2200 years old and the various civilizations that have occupied it left their mark, creating the rich culture we have today. The Romans have left remnants of columns, the centralized market area, and the excavated remnants now exposed under the Metropol Parasol building (the most massive wooden structure in the world). The Moors and early Christians left must-see antiquities: the Seville Cathedral, containing the tomb of Christopher Columbus, is the largest Gothic structure in the world, with its famous Giraldo (the bell tower); the Alcázar which is still used today as the Seville residence of the Spanish royal family; and the General Archives of the Indies, an ornate building housing all documentation related to the Spanish Empire in the Americas and Philippines. The Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 saw the addition of numerous hotels and public parks. The expansive Maria Luisa Park stretches along the Guadalquivir River, offering a peaceful place to take a siesta. Nearby, the Plaza de España, now used for government offices, attracts countless tourists with its curve-shaped structure initially designed to house Spain’s industry and technology exhibits. Complete with horse and carriage rides, or a paddle on the surrounding moat, the intricate tile work on the bridges and the building itself celebrate the provinces throughout Spain. It has even been used as a movie scene location in several movies including Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
I wish I’d had more time to explore Seville. With its beautiful weather, history, and culture, not to mention my new addiction to tapas, I could have spent another month there, kicking back at a leisurely pace and enjoying life the way the Sevillians do. That’s okay. I think that if my son really moves to Seville, I will become a frequent visitor.