After our visit to the riding school in Jerez we had lunch and set off for Seville our next destination. A nice drive through the Andalusian countryside took us to the outskirts of the city and a decision about where to stay. Seville is a big city and with it comes the increased risk of noise and crime therefore we decided on a secure paid aire on the edge of the city centre. The aire is part of a secure new car storage and preperation facility and just a 10min bike ride from the centre. Charged at 12euro per 24hr also offering electricity for an additional 3euro, it was packed with motorhomes. In the end we stayed 2 nights as we felt we needed more time to fully explore Seville, amazingly they were the most peaceful nights we have had in a while and so it was a nice easy ride into the city after breakfast. We weren’t quite sure of the way but followed a French couple also on bikes who seemed to know where they were going and luckily they were heading into the centre too! Seville is perfect for cycling, there are wide cycling lanes all over, even on the main road along the river.
When we first arrived in the morning the cathedral and bell tower were still closed but there was already a long queue forming which surprised us being January. We left it a while and came back and there was still a queue so we got in and waited. Seville’s cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world (and 3rd overall in the world), although because of the layout it doesn’t appear as huge and imposing as the one in Florence. Once inside the cavernous interior became clear, but because there are so many parts to it, different chapels and rooms you can’t see its true size in one go.
The adjoining Giralda tower was once the tallest tower in the world and the view from the top gives a completely different perspective. Gazing over the cathedral’s rooftops you get a better idea of the area it takes up. It’s quite an unusual tower in that instead of stairs there are 35 ramps, which were much easier on the legs! It is said that ramps were used so that the Sultan could ride his horse to the top to survey his kingdom – not sure about that though, it is very steep and narrow!
The cathedral stands in the area of Santa Cruz with a mixture of wide cobbled streets and plazas and winding narrow lanes packed with shops and cafes. There are horse-drawn carriages everywhere, lined up along every available area, with their distinctive bright yellow painted wheels and plush seats and the sound of horses’ hooves is never far away. The central city area is pedestrianised and has a calm, almost serene atmosphere. There is no traffic noise at all and just the quiet hum of people quietly wandering around chatting and the occasional glide by of a passing tram.
After that we joined another queue for the Real Alcazar, one of the UNESCO jewels in Sevilla’s crown and certainly the one with the oldest heritage. The site of the Alcazar has had some form of occupation since around the 8th century BC, having changed hands many times. The current buildings started taking shape under Muslim control around the 12th century with changes and additions taking place under both Muslim and Christian control, with Pedro I (Peter the Cruel – sounds like a nice fellow!) adding to it in the mid 14th century making it his Royal Palace. The palace is still used today by the Spanish Royal family making it the longest continuously used royal palace in Europe if not the world. It was given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1987.
The Alcazar is definitely worth visiting, however a word of caution if you have visited the Alhambra in Granada, then don’t expect it to be as spectacular. If you intend to visit both we would suggest if possible you do this first. That said it is an impressive complex stretching over several acres including the extensive gardens. The buildings are a blend of exquisite delicate Moorish design and plasterwork and cool courtyards and at the same time elements of big bold Christian Gothic design. The gardens have lovely tranquil areas and walkways are well looked after and a nice relaxing environment to wander or spend some time sitting. If in Sevilla do go as no visit to the city is complete without seeing it and if you can pre-book online to save a long and in the summer possibly hot queue. Remember it is a Royal Palace and security is tight and time consuming.
We took a slow stroll to the Northern part of the city next to take a look at what is described as the ‘largest timber framed structure in the world’. It’s a curious, curving lattice of wooden panels, creating a kind of giant sunshade, the Metropol Parasol. It look 6 years to build and is 30m at its highest point. It was built in a previously neglected area to inject some interest and modern architecture and has been so popular it is now a city icon. People come here to wander under its light and shade, sit in the nearby cafes, play and socialise. There’s a walkway on top which you can walk along and get some great city views too. The Spanish affectionately call it Las Setas, or the mushrooms! When it was being built, some Roman ruins were discovered and these can also be visited in the Museo Antiquarium below.
The city of Seville sits alongside the Guadalquivir river with a pleasant tree lined promenade you can stroll along. Walking this way we came to the Torre del Oro, a crennelated Moorish defensive tower which was originally chained to a matching tower the other side of the river to prevent unwanted ships going upstream. The tower has been used as a chapel, prison, gunpowder store and is now a naval museum. Oro means gold and it’s thought that it was once covered in gold tiles although there’s no sign of them now. You can go up the tower for 3 euros for a nice view over the river.
The most scenic part of the city is the Plaza de Espana, a captivating crescent shaped plaza with a 500m canal along its perimeter. Adorned with painted, glazed tiles it features 48 alcoves each representing a province of Spain. Four beautiful arched bridges represent Spain’s four ancient kingdoms. When we reached the plaza it was late afternoon and just the right time to see that golden glow bathing the area in soft light and casting colourful reflections on the water. Over the bridge down in the shade a musican and Flamenco dancer were putting on an intense display and we joined the crowd to watch before having a relaxed walk around and sitting for a while on a bench watching the world go by. If you’re a fan of Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars (Attack of the Clones) look out for the plaza, it was featured in both films!
As the sun lowered we got back on the bikes and made our way through the green park of Maria Luisa back out towards the river to ride back to Buzz. It had been a lovely time in Seville but it was time to move on.