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Category: Spain

Torro! Torro! in Sexy Sultry Seville

Bullfighting in SevilleHot, intense and bitter sweet, Seville is famous for passion, for spectacle and theatre, and for song. It’s the greatest city of the Spanish south, the home of such legendary characters as Carmen, Don Juan, Figaro and Columbus, and the city of the Andalucian gypsies and their flamenco culture.

It’s an elegant and wealthy city, whose buildings and culture reflect the centuries it spent under Roman, and then Moorish, rule, as well as the wealth generated by its adventurer-son, Columbus, and the conquistadors. However, it does have one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain (at nearly 20%) because Andalucia in general is predominantly agricultural and is quite a depressed area, economically. Consequently there’s been a rise in petty crime, especially car thefts, in past years, although compared with many cities it’s still relatively crime-free.  Be careful, but don’t let it put you off! This is a great city for a weekend break, especially if you immerse yourself in the local culture.

Seville has a sub-tropical climate, and as temperatures hit the 30s as early as May and increase steadily through to the upper 40s in the summer, perhaps the best time to visit is in April, especially as this is the month in which the two most important festivals occur – Semana Santa (Holy Week) followed two weeks later by La Feria de Seville (Seville Fair).

Historically, Seville is a fascinating meander through layers of colourful and glorious architecture, over laid by the trappings of wealth from Spain’s colonies in South America. In fact, in many ways it resembles a Latin American city, from its meandering streets where the houses nearly seem to meet above your head, to the heat and relentless sunshine, to the passionate and exuberate nature of the Sevillianos themselves. All good stuff, especially if you’re not the shy and retiring type!

Friday night is a great time to arrive and plunge straight into the true Sevilliano experience. Book your flight for straight after work – flights go from …

Once you have arrived, change into your best togs and head straight into town for your first taste (literally) of Sevilliano culture. Most Sevillianos don’t really get going until after 11pm on a Friday night. Firstly they’re all way too busy on the ‘Marcha’, promenading, seeing and being seen, checking out the shop windows and comparing prices and arguing about where the best deal is to be found. And then Friday-night dinner is often ir de tapeo, or ‘tapas crawl’, where the locals (and tourists in the know) meander their way around an area sampling a selection of scrumptious tapas, each one in a different bar. With a glass of sherry, of course. Remember Seville is the capital of the sherry-making area of Spain, so there is a vast choice available, none of which tastes remotely like the stuff from your Nan’s drinks cabinet at Christmas. This is divine stuff, nectar, and there’s a huge variety to choose from, from the very dry, almost salty, through to the richly sweet, although the locals generally stick to the chilled dry fino with their tapas, especially with shrimps.

Good grazing grounds include Alfalfa, which lies north of the cathedral and gets so packed on weekend evenings that cars can’t get through – try Bar Alfalfa on the corner, and try their provolone al horno (baked cheese). Calle Betis by the river over in Triana is another good tapas cruise option, as is around the Alameda, and in the Santa Maria de Blanca area of Santa Cruz…not that I’m saying that we sampled tapas extensively, but as Seville is the city that is reputed to have invented tapas, it would have been rude not to!

Many tapas bars shut around 9pm, but this is still very early in Seville, as things really don’t start kicking off until midnight, especially in summer when temperatures stay in the 30s all night. There’s a wide choice for your evening entertainment, from the big bar scene along the river (it’s cooler here), especially El Faro de Triana on the bridge  (Triana/Isabel II), which has the best view of the river, as well as all around Calle Betis in Triana (so stay put if that’s where you were grazing), particularly Café de la Prensa, Or, if you want the chance to hear and see some spontaneous Sevillian-style flamenco, head towards Carboneria on calle de Levies, just north east of the Cathedral, an atmospheric old building that is packed at all times and is renowned for its free nightly flamenco.

The club scene is pretty major in Seville, being a Spanish university town, so if you want to go dancing head for Alfalfa, where there’s a good selection of venues, or ask around the students (they’re everywhere) for what’s hot this season (it changes every year), or head over towards the Triana riverfront and follow you ears. Rio Latino on Betis is usually a good bet. For hard house, the serious choice is Weekend in Torneo, but be warned – there’s no alcoves for chatting, so only go if you’re a serious dance bunny!

Saturday through to Sunday offers you the chance of a little culture or shopping wrapped around some good lazy lunches. Now, if you want to go shopping, you’ll have to steel yourself to get up early as most shops, bar the really large ones in the centre, shut by lunchtime on a Saturday. The main shopping thoroughfare is Calle Sierpes (the street of snakes), especially the area just north of the Cathedral, between Plazas San Francisco, Encarnacion, Magdalena and Nueva (where the bus terminus is), the ancient Jewish quarter of the city. The best place if you’re short of time is probably El Corte Ingles on Plaza de la Magdalena, which claims to sell almost everything – clothes, electricals, everything. Their food hall is excellent, if expensive, and recommended if you want a slice of Seville to take home – try their olives from all over Andalucia, the fabulous local marmalade made with Seville oranges (see box), sherry from nearby vineyards, and the local cured hams.

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Sevillian Festivals – The Holy and The Wild

Gateway to the Seville Fair (Feria de Abril)

Gateway to the Seville Fair (Feria de Abril)

Festivals in Seville set the bar for Spanish festivals generally – they are intense and unforgettable. Just make sure you book your travel and hotel or accommodation well in advance, as they get really really packed.

Semana Santa

Important throughout Spain, Semana Santa, or Holy Week (Palm Sunday – Good Friday), is celebrated in intensely passionate and flamboyant style in Seville. Over a 100 incredibly intricate canopied pasos, or religious floats, each decorated with swathes of silver, candles and white flowers and bearing the figure of the Virgin, are carried through the city by hooded penitents. Many Sevillianos, especially the men, are visibly overcome, and the cries of guapa! (beautiful) echo through the early hours of Good Friday, when the final procession travels towards the Cathedral.

Feria de Abril

And two weeks later they’re at in again, but this time in celebration of dancing, drinking and having a wild time…yes, it’s the Seville fair, when flamenco dresses are worn by every local woman (and some visitors), the local men get to show off on their horses and carriages as Sevilliano society parades around the city each afternoon, and everyone stays up all night drinking rebujitos and dancing..and what dancing! If you thought you knew what dancing was since Brucie bought it back to our screens, think again! This is a revelation.

The Feria de Abril runs from 24-30 April and is centred on the barrio of Los Remedios on the far bank of the river. Book your hotel well in advance as the city gets packed!

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Seville Orange Marmalade

Oranges in SevilleFor those with a passion, the annual arrival of Seville oranges in Britain is an eagerly-awaited arrival akin to the first Beaujolais in other circles. They usually make a brief appearance just after New Year and fly off the shelves as cooks seize the chance to make their own home made marmalade.

The tart oranges from Seville are the ones that make the most superb marmalade and sauces, such as France’s classic duck a l’orange. The Seville orange has thrived in and around sub-tropical Seville for centuries and the tart fruit ripens slowly, hence their appearance on our shores in mid-winter.

The practice of making marmalade, albeit with the peel of the orange or, indeed, any citrus fruit at all, originated way back with the ancient Greeks. There  μελίμηλον melimēlon or “honey fruit” referred to quinces cooked with honey into a fruit paste. This was transformed into “marmelo” by the Romans in a cookbook on how to make various fruit preserves with honey.

Preserves of quince and lemon appear—along with rose, apple, plum and pear—in the Book of Ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, and a few centuries later, Henry VIII received a “box of marmalade” , which was likely to have been marmelada, a quince paste from Portugal. The extension of “marmalade” in the English language to refer to citrus fruits was made in the 17th century, when citrus first began to be plentiful enough in England for the usage to become common.

Seville orangesThere are lots of different recipes for marmalade using Seville oranges, Dundee and Oxford marmalade being the most well known.

Oxford Marmalade

Ingredients

1.4 kg (3 lb) Seville oranges
3.4 litres (6 pints) water
2.7 kg (6 lb) brown sugar
Method
Makes 4 kg (9 lb)

Peel the oranges and cut the peel into strips and the fruit into small pieces, reserving the pips. Put the pips into a small bowl. Put the strips of peel and chopped fruit into a large bowl. Bring the water to the boil and pour 600ml (1 pint) over the pips and the remainder over the orange peel and fruit. Cover both bowls and leave for several hours or overnight.

The next day, the pips will be covered with a soft transparent jelly which must be washed off them into the peel and fruit. To do this, lift the pips out of the water with a slotted spoon and put them in a nylon sieve. Pour the water the pips were soaking in over the pips into the large bowl. repeat the process, using water from the large bowl. Discard the pips.

Boil the peel, fruit and water until the peel is very soft – the longer this mixture boils the darker the marmalade will be. When the peel is quite soft, remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved. Boil very gently until the marmalade is as dark as you like it, then boil rapidly for about 15 minutes. Test for a set and, when the setting point is reached, remove the pan from the heat and skim the surface with a slotted spoon. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, then stir to distribute the peel.

Pot and cover the marmalade.
Oxford marmalade
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Sightseeing in Seville

Alcazar, Seville, Spain

Alcazar

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”.

Real Alcazar

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!

El Arsenal

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.

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Seville’s Literary Heroes – Don Juan and Carmen

Bizet's Carmen

Bizet's Carmen

Seville has provided the world of fiction with two of the most passionate characters – appropriate really, from this sultry Southern city.

Like the city of Seville itself, somehow they touch a nerve with us and their stories can still be heard, seen and read worldwide today.

The legendary Don Juan started from here to conqueror legions of women across Europe. His story is thought to have been inspired by 17th century Miguel de Manara. De Manara reformed from his wild ways after he had a premonition of his own funeral one night, and he then founded the Hospita de la Caridad.

Passionate Carmen, the passionate gypsy girl who was killed by her jealous spurned lover, was inspired by the hot-blooded cigarreras who worked in Seville’s Royal Tobacco Factory.

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