HOT Properties Magazine Archive
Hot Lifestyle - Sevilla... 'Jewel in the Crown'
The capital of Andalucía, Sevilla is the heart, soul, and the very essence of Southern Spain. World-renowned for the passion, pomp and pageantry of its Easter Week processions, followed a fortnight later by its exuberant Feria de Abril – a week-long festival of flamenco, fino, dancing horses and non-stop partying – Sevilla is steeped in history, rich in tradition and a cultural hotspot. Sultry, sophisticated, romantic and breathtakingly beautiful, Sevilla has also got attitude. If you haven’t been before, it’ll be love at first sight. And if it’s a return visit, you’ll be swept off your feet all over again…
Not much more than a 2-hour drive from the Costa del Sol, Sevilla is Spain’s fourth largest city – after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia – and is strategically situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir, lending the metropolis its highly privileged status as the country’s sole river port, and acting as the catalyst that was to so resoundingly shape its future and shower it with inestimable wealth, power and kudos.
As for Sevilla’s early beginnings, while according to mythology it was founded by none other than Greek god Hercules, archaeological evidence favours an early Bronze Age settlement dating back to the 10th to 11th centuries BC. Early Iberians gave way to the Phoenicians, who were displaced by the Carthaginians who, in turn, were ousted by the Romans in 256 BC. And it was also the Romans who in 206 BC founded the magnificent city of Italica – a mere 9km from Sevilla – whose impressive and extensive ruins are open to the public. But more about that later…
By 50 BC Hispalis, as Sevilla was then known, was one of Roman Andalucía’s major cities. Subsequently sacked first by the Vandals, then the Visigoths, the Moors took the city in 712 – changing its name to Isbiliya in the process. With Christians, Jews and Moors all coexisting in harmony and a mutual sense of respect, it remained under Islamic rule until 1248, when the city was conquered by Catholic King, Ferdinand III of Castile and León.
In modern-day Sevilla, this signature fusion and diversity of cultures, beliefs, architecture and cuisine is all too apparent wherever you look. And since there are so many amazing and utterly unforgettable things to see and do, let’s get started…
And where better to begin than with Sevilla’s three breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites, each epitomising Spain’s ‘Golden Age’: the Cathedral, the Alcázar and the Archivo General de Indias (General Archives of the Indies).
The largest Gothic temple anywhere in Europe, and boasting the longest nave in Spain, work began on the awe-inspiring St. Mary of the See Cathedral – built on the former site of the city’s Mosque – in 1401 and lasted until 1519. The tomb of Christopher Columbus rests within its lavishly decorated interior. Adjoining the Cathedral is Sevilla’s most iconic and instantly recognisable landmark, La Giralda.
Nowadays the Cathedral bell tower and dominating the city skyline, La Giralda was originally a 12th century minaret. By means of a series of ramps once traversed by donkeys bearing muezzins to call the faithful to prayer, visitors can climb to the top to enjoy the stunning views.
If the second of the World Heritage Sites, the Alcázar, seems strangely familiar, that’s because you’ll recently have seen it on HBO’s fantasy epic, Game of Thrones, Series 5, where the historic palace and gardens – even more imposing than Granada’s La Alhambra and still used by the Spanish royal family whenever they’re in town – have been immortalised as the Dorne Palace, the seat of House Martell. Right opposite Sevilla’s Cathedral, construction of the Alcázar began in 1181 and took more than 500 years to complete.
And then there’s The General Archive of the Indies – a serene Italianate building constructed to house the priceless documents bearing witness to the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. Following Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the New World in 1492, Sevilla benefited enormously from having been awarded the royal monopoly for trade.
"...it was created for the 1929 World Expo... and is one of the most charismatic parks you'll find anywhere in Europe."
Since it was only sailing ships leaving from and returning to the inland port of Sevilla that were able to trade with the Spanish Americas, the city’s population rocketed to nearly a million. Until, that is, the late 16th century when Cádiz was also authorised as a port of trade and around the same time too, Sevilla’s populace was decimated by plague.
OK, so where to next? Well, let’s take in the captivating Parque de María Luisa, the perfect place to escape the heat and the sun’s relentless rays. Designed by French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier it was created for the 1929 World Expo known as the Exposición Iberoamericana, and is one of the most charismatic parks you’ll find anywhere in Europe. And as its centrepiece, the fairytale semi-circular Plaza de España, of massive proportions, and whose Renaissance splendour stunned visitors from around the globe.
Here, intricately designed ceramic-tiled alcoves depict each and every one of Spain’s 50 provinces, while you can also hire a rowing boat to discover the Plaza de España’s mini-canals, rent a quad bike, or feed the doves.
Since it’s played such a fundamental role in the shaping of the city’s history and fortune, let’s head for the river next. Landmarks you won’t want to miss include the distinctive, 12-sided Torre del Oro – built as a watchtower and epitomising Sevilla’s ‘Golden Age’ – and of course the Real Maestranza Bullring nearby, Spain’s second-most important after Madrid’s famous (or notorious, depending on your standpoint) Las Ventas. You could stroll or cycle along the banks of the Guadalquivir, or better still take one of the hour-long cruises departing every 30 minutes.
Some 80km inland from the Guadalquivir’s estuary at Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz, it was from Sevilla that Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, set sail on the first circumnavigation of the globe on 10 August 1519. Almost 500 years later, the city is a charming – if little known – base for gentle week-long cruises along the Guadalquivir and across the Bay of Cádiz to the River Guadiana separating Spain and Portugal. In August 2012, with 700 passengers aboard, Royal Caribbean’s ‘Azamara Journey’ was the largest liner ever to have tied-up in Sevilla.
Bisecting the metropolis from north to south, the Guadalquivir waterfront is a natural landmark and magnet at all times of day. But with its various bridges strung across the river like diamond necklaces, it’s at night-time that it’s at its most magical.
The city’s two most emblematic bridges – the Alamillo and the Barqueta – were both built for Sevilla’s Universal Exposition Expo ‘92, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, and at which more than 100 countries were represented. Now having evolved into a Research and Development Park, Expo ‘92 occupied a huge site – formerly banana plantations – at La Cartuja, a peninsula between the canal and the River Guadalquivir, with access to it provided by the two bridges.
"Italica was the birthplace of Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian..."
Built between 1989 and 1992, the Puente de la Barqueta is a tied-arch bridge also known as the Puente Mapfre, while the Puente del Alamillo – designed by none other than Spanish ‘starchitect’ Santiago Calatrava – is a cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge consisting of a single pylon counterbalancing a 200m span with 13 lengths of cables, built more as a monument than a piece of structural art.
Sevilla’s newest – and certainly most controversial – landmark is the strangely named Metropol Parasol. Looking both backwards to the time of the Romans… and forwards, it’s said to be the largest wooden structure in the world, and also the biggest to be held together by glue… quite a feat in the city that, during the summer months at least, is known as ‘The Frying Pan of Europe’.
Still, it was completed in 2011 and reassuringly hasn’t come unstuck yet.
Designed by German architect, Jürgen Mayer H, and colloquially known as the Setas de Sevilla (Sevilla Mushrooms), Metropol Parasol comprises a market, shops, and a podium for gigs and events. The 30-metre high roof forms an undulating pathway from which to admire the city skyline, while the structure’s unusual footprint is down to the invaluable Roman and Moorish subterranean remains, discovered during excavations.
But although the Antiquarium showcases significant in situ relics, no visit to Sevilla would be complete without a side-tour to the magnificent and well-preserved Roman city of Italica, a mere 9km to the northwest. Partly overlaid by the modern suburb of Santiponce, Italica was the birthplace of Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian – and possibly Theodosius too – and was founded in 206 BC by Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio.
One of the most significant archaeological sites in the Iberian Peninsula, the highlight of Italica is its impressive amphitheatre which, with a seating capacity of 25,000 was the third largest in the entire Roman Empire. Other ancient remains still clearly visible include parts of the city walls, thermal spas, various Roman villas and exquisite mosaic floors that will take your breath away.
Back in Sevilla, we’ve barely got started on things to do and places to see. Perhaps the most Spanish of all Spain’s great cities, it’s home to legendary Don Juan, Bizet’s Carmen and Rossini’s Figaro… as well as being famed for having invented both tapas and flamenco, too. A city that indulges all the senses, if you love Spain, you’ll adore Sevilla – the jewel in the crown.
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