At night we could hear the echo of clattering hooves on the cobbled street below our hotel window. When we rose in the morning the sun-chased light buried into the window, burned through leather-bound curtains and warmed the room like oil’s kiss on cast iron. Warm and lured into a state of leisure, I quickly discovered that Seville is not a city that inspires you to jump from bed each morning and join the maddening crowds at the next tourist spot. It is a place to be drunk in, slowly—a chewy sip of something meant to age and breathe and intoxicate.
After seven bustling days spent in Paris, I leaned into Seville like an old lover. I arrived late and weary and laid upon down at the Alfonso XIII, where I awoke to a buffet breakfast that perhaps Shakespeare wrote his sonnets for. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? In equal measure it is a city that allows for the languid measure of time, but its sultry mood also inspires the kind of hunger you can’t satisfy with another chunk of Manchego.
Resting on the edges of the Guadalquivir River, Seville boasts a 2,200-year-old history. Originally founded as the Roman city of Hispalis, the city was conquered in 712 by the Moors and was ruled by various Muslim dynasties from the 8th to the 13th century. Eventually, Ferdinand III brought his Christian conquest to Andalusia and took Seville in 1248. Seville became the economic center of the Spanish Empire after the Americas were discovered, prompting a golden age of arts and development—the city sitting as the gatekeeper between the New World and the rest of Europe. It is the city from which Ferdinand Magellan set out to circumnavigate the Earth; it is where Christopher Columbus is entombed. And with the other giants of its kind, Seville eventually saw it’s fall when the river that birthed it’s economic position gave way to the silt of time and age.
Today it is an amalgamation of this history—filtered through palettes of colorful change, resolute culture and the unidentifiable smell of desire. I didn’t visit Seville in summer, but it was hot in the sun and I navigated the city on foot under the brim of my hat, shaded by a café umbrella, or walking the narrow, winding streets from one tapas bar to another—perfumes of food and echoes of flamenco music following down the corridors. Time drifts idle on leftover saucers, and the hunger of summer is marinated with things leftover from history’s past, much like the fruit floating in your sangria. Take your hunger on the road and consider these sights and experiences during your next visit to Seville:
Seville Cathedral and The Giralda
The cathedral is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the largest gothic cathedral in the world and is where you can visit the tomb of Columbus. Take your time and wind through all the outer chapels to explore the unique art, artifacts and various styles of architecture. The Giralda was the former minaret of the Muslim mosque and was later converted into the bell tower for the cathedral. At night, the light of the Giralda will lead you down the bar-speckled Calle Mateos Gago, and eventually guide you home.
The oldest palace still functioning in Europe, the quarters are still used by the royal family as their residence within the city. Here you will see architectural influences ranging from Arabic to the Middle Ages and Mudéjar, not to forget the Renaissance, Baroque and even the 19th century. Visually and spatially, it is something to behold. If we still worshiped actual film, I would have dedicated a whole roll just to tiles and landscaping. I recommend the audio tour and at least a half-day to make it through all the rooms and gardens. Let them shock you with their changeable shapes, like history always does.
Maria Luisa Park & Plaza Espana
I am not one for touristy gimmicks, but I am one for horses and they are prominent within the Santa Cruz area—all the ladies in beautiful hats run to pet their fly-ridden faces. Reluctantly, we overpaid for a carriage ride that took us around the Jewish quarter and into Maria Luisa Park and to Plaza Espana. It was worth it. Whether you walk, take a carriage, or rent a bike, every great city’s park should be explored; this one is no exception.
Commonly known as the Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation) this large wooden structure designed by Jürgen Mayer-Hermann sits in the middle of the old quarter like a strange, imported saprophyte. On the underground level there is Antiquarium that houses Roman and Moorish ruins that were uncovered when they were breaking ground for a parking area. The elevator takes you to the tops of the wooden mushroom caps where you hoover like Helios and see the city for miles in every direction.
Museum of Fine Arts of Seville (Museo de Bellas Arte)
Housing one of the finer Spanish art collections within Spain, this museum feels like a quiet secret tucked off of the Plaza de Museo. Everyone should see a Murillo in person once in his or her lifetime; here is the place to do it.
Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla
It’s easy to imagine the heat of the bullring, the cheers of the spectators and the sounds toreros make as they face the blood-red shudder of their opponent. I didn’t visit during bullfighting season, and also learned enough from reading Death in the Afternoon to understand that I might not have the stomach for it. You can walk around the Arenal district—nestled against the left bank of the river—visit the arena itself, tour the museum and even see a fight during the season if you're up for it. But on the quiet days, I swear you can hear sanguine cries of blood-thirsty heroism off in the distance.
So Much Tapas, So Much Sangria
Take to the Barrio Santa Cruz on foot and you will find unlimited options for enticing tapas. It’s overwhelming, really. But the true magic of tapas lies in the fact that you can experience a few plates at one location and move on to the next. Don’t limit yourself to just one spot, or to just one plate. Try everything, and then try it again. The afternoons are sticky and quiet in Seville as businesses doors close and owners stroll casually back to their homes for an hour or two. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned in this sultry city is about time: there will be more of it coming along shortly—seemingly dripping much slower here; slow down, sit down and have another sangria.