The Cathedral and La Giralda
Probably the most popular attraction in Seville is its enormous cathedral with its gorgeous and dainty Moorish minaret, la Giralda, which is now topped by a renaissance belfry and bronze weathervane (giraldillo) from which it takes its name. La Giralda was originally built in the 12th century as part of the Moorish mosque, and would have been used both to call the faithful to prayer and also as a lookout. And if you have time, do go up inside – you’ll get a remarkable view of the city, and can also marvel at the gently inclining ramps that you climb up (35 in total) because these were designed to be wide enough to allow two mounted guards to pass each other as they rode up and down inside the tower!
The Cathedral itself is the largest Gothic church in the world and fulfils its 15Th century creators’ desire that it be “a building on so magnificent a scale that posterity will think we were mad”. For all the beautiful art in the Sacristia (especially those by local boy, Murillo) and the tomb of the local hero, Christopher Columbus, I’m inclined to agree with them. It’s even bigger than St Paul’s in London or St Peter’s in Rome, and is truly a place to get lost in.
However, I did fall completely in love with its surviving Moorish Patio de los Naranjos (by the former front entrance), with its simple fountain, where the worshippers would wash before prayer, and the rows of formal orange trees, which give it its present name.
Hospital de los Venerables
First founded as a home for elderly priests in the 17th Century, the Hospital is now a cultural centre that stages exhibitions. Check with the tourist board or in the local listings paper, Giraldillo, (in Spanish and English) for what’s on. But even if you don’t feel particularly tempted, the Hospital is one building in Seville that is well worth a visit – it has the most of the most exquisite patios in a city where there’s one in almost every place you look, and the trompe l’oeil ceiling in the sacristy, which depicts the Triumph of the Cross, really does “fool the eyes”.
Like an extravagant and beautiful dolls’ palace, the royal palace of Real Alcazar (above) is, for all its regal grandeur, on such a human scale that you can’t help immediately imagining how you would live here. It’s an utter mishmash of additions and styles, as any of the guidebooks will tell you, but what they all fail to impart is how truly gorgeous it is, which is why, perhaps, the Spanish royal family still use it as a home. The way the rooms intersperse with the different patios to keep you interested, how the light plays on and plasterwork so it doesn’t look solid somehow, the combination of water and plants… Lovely!
Major Sevilliano entertainment centres on the old port area, known as El Arsenal, where you will find the Teatro de la Maestranza, where more high-brow plays and performances are staged, and the bullring, the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, with its eye-like frontage and stunning interior. Bullfighting proper starts in April and runs through the summer until the end of September. Like it or not, bullfighting is an integral part of Sevilliano society and everyone, that’s everyone, goes as often as they can. The matadors are as famous as football players elsewhere and bulls that show such bravery that they are reprieved go on to live a celebrated and pampered life. The history of bullfighting is extremely well presented in the small bullfighting museum next door, although it is closed on Sundays, so if you’re interested, plan to come on Staurday morning or during the week.
Parc de Maria Luisa
To the South of the centre lies the Parc de Maria Luisa, a beautiful lung of freshness set beside the river Guadalquivir. Great for a picnic on some of those olive and yummy hams you bought, it is also worth a mooch around.
The Tourist office, for example, is a wonderful confection of a building known as La Costurero de la Reina, or The Queens Sewing Box. Personally I would say it looked more like a hat box, or something out of Alice in Wonderland!
Then there’s the former Royal Tobacco Factory, which is now part of the University, but is forever associated with Carmen, and the Plaza de Espana, where each bench celebrates a different part of Spain and you can enjoy watching patriots of all ages pose for the photos!
Right next door to the former tobacco factory of Carmen fame stands the baby cousin of the London eye, the Noria Panoramica de Seville. British-run, you can hire a six-seater pod, order the champagne on ice, and enjoy an unrivalled view of the Cathedral and La Giralda, and right across the city in every direction.
Other Sunday-ish activities might include messing about on the river. In an area known as El Arenal, just a block down from the bullring, you can hire a pedal boat nearby the 12-sided Torre del Orr. This so-called tower of gold (it is thought it was once covered in gold leaf) was once one of a pair, one either side of the river. In Medieval times they had a metal chain slung between them across the river in order to keep out any rival or enemy boats.
The flea market on the Avenue de Hercules in La Marcerena is also worth a visit – look out for brass ornaments and old paintings. Once your there, you can also visit the nearby Basilioca de la Macerena and enjoy the incredible wall paintings and the devotional shrines to the Virgin, who stands amongst waterfalls of gold and silver when she is not being paraded around the streets during Semana Santa.