Sevilla: The bohemian heart of Spain
There is a lot to be said about Sevilla. A city so inspiring, it’s intimidating. A renowned University town founded as early as 1505, famous for its flamenco, the tomb of Christopher Colombus, Don Juan, its monumental cathedral and wiry orange trees.
After some glorious days spent in the cobbled streets of Granada, arriving in Sevilla was a bit of the shock to the system. It was vast, with swarms of people and the river Guadalquivir flowing through its center.
I only knew later, but as it happened the days we were there happened to be two national religious holidays. That meant huge processions and plenty of people. The city was bustling with life.
So here are my highlights from Sevilla. And if you are thinking of going anytime soon, make sure you spare a good few days – at least!
A city is best explored at night. Away from the crowds, the sun and the endless distractions that a day brings, a city enfolded by darkness allows the mind to focus on what it is. Exploring Sevilla at night, into the early hours of the morning, meant I had Plaza de España to myself, as well as the Cathedral, the old Tobacco factory and the views over the river. Spain, being Spain, also meant that no matter what time you needed a rest, restaurants were always selling tapas (unfortunately not for free).
Plaza de España
I had seen pictures of Plaza de España – a magnificent squares surrounded by heavily adorned buildings, with mosaic tiles representing each of Spain’s provinces. I was surprised to learn that the Plaza itself is not that ancient, having been built in 1928, between both European wars. I wonder how that expense was justified to both the Spanish and the Europeans, when the world was suffering from the dire consequences of WW1, the fragility of economics and strained political relationships. In fact, it was hardly 10 years later when Picasso painted Guernica, a world masterpiece which was to haunt Europeans for decades, illustrating the horrors of the early 1900’s in Europe.
The Plaza itself is monumental and picturesque, which makes sense seeing that it was built in the Art-Deco style, and is very much a reflection of the architecture of its time. Surrounding the plaza is a large park, dotted with trees, ponds, benches and gardens. While walking through it, we stumbled across the Museum of Archeology. Free of charge, and practically empty, we spent a couple of hours exploring its permanent exhibition, and the building itself, which offered beautiful views over the park.
Inspired by the buildings we had seen in the Plaza, we stopped to explore the old Tobacco Factory, which is now part of the University of Sevilla. This was great fun, as we were there on a weekday, where students were hurrying in and out of lectures, pausing to smoke cigarettes on the balcony. The long marble hallways were marked by academic departments and huge portraits of old Spanish professors. Compared to my alma matter, Edinburgh University, the University of Sevilla felt bohemian, liberal and laid-back.
This is a local hang-out area, where English is often scarce. Markets are set up in in the morning all throughout they day, selling the local delicacies: serrano ham, cheese, olives and churros. Bars aren’t posh, but look like someone’s home terrace or living room, and you can sit for hours watching the local Sevillanes sharing a meal after work. Get lost in the Triana lanes and bar hop, tasting the local brew or wine. Sevilla is known for their orange trees, which – amongst other things – they use to make orange wine. It’s taste is more like a sherry, or brandy, thick, syrupy and sweet, and they’re generous on the alcohol content. Not only that, but it’s €0,50 a glass.
Fine & fast dining
After spending some time in the centre of Sevilla you’ll notice that queues start to form outside some already heaving tapas bars. They seem to be talk of the town, and even our hostess recommended us a few places where you had to line up for a good hour or so before getting seated.
The pros? Where else are you going to get such hearty portions of fine serrano ham, squid and a bottle of wine for €5? Not only that, but the noisy tables and bustling waiters, with a backdrop of wine barrels and pottery makes it a very charming atmosphere.
The cons? While lunch I don’t mind missing, or on the go, dinner – especially when travelling – is a meal I like to sit down for, and unwind. It’s the time of day you can finally relax and talk about the day’s events and plan tomorrow’s. Doing this in Sevilla was quite impossible. As soon as you’re in, they want you out!
So that’s my take on Sevilla for now. There’s so much to write about this bohemian centre (I haven’t even begun to talk about its Cathedral and art scene) but I’ll leave that for another time.
What are your thoughts on Sevilla? Are you looking for more tips, or do you have some of your own?
Next stop – Cordoba!