The Romans were the first to settle in Seville, on the banks of the Guadilquiver River. Because of its easy access to the sea, the settlement quickly became an important city within the Roman Empire. Among it’s earliest inhabitants were the Jews, who some scholars believe came here shortly after the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem.
By 400, the Visogoths had arrived and around 700, when the Moors conquered Seville, it quickly became their Andalusian capital.
Eventually the Moors were defeated by the Christians and the Jews were driven out during the inquisition in 1492. The Torre de Oro ( Tower of Gold), still visible today, was once a part of the Moorish city wall.
Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus all sailed from here to the new world.
Returning with gold, silver, tobacco and cocoa, trade with the Americas made Seville Spain’s richest and wealthiest city and an important cultural center where painters as Diego Velasquez, Francisco de Zubaràn and Bartolomé Murillo lived and worked.
From here, during the Spanish Civil War, General Queipo de Llana broadcast his wartime propaganda against the King.
Here too, hoping to promote trade and tourism, a grand exposition was scheduled for 1929 . It was a “crashing” failure.
In 1992 a more successful World Exposition was held and since then the city has prospered.
Today Seville is a thriving city of flamenco dancing, music and culture, where religious festivals go hand in hand with bull fighting and neither is politically incorrect. It is a city for all five of the senses.
As James Michener says in his marvelous book Iberia “Seville doesen’t have an ambience, it is ambience.”
Our first stop is the Jewish Quarter in the Barrio of Santa Cruz.
It is a labyrinth of formal gardens, secret tunnels, orange trees and twisting streets, some barely wide enough to walk through let alone drive through.
The area takes its name from the Church of Santa Cruz. The church was build on the site of a former synagogue. Then the church itself was destroyed during the Napolionic wars. Today the floor which makes up this plaza is in part the same stones from both the synagogue and the church.
I remember having to drive a rental car through this area and into the street below to get to our hotel. I don’t think there was a foot to spare on either side. It was terrifying.
Shortly before this hair raising drive, I had been followed for several miles by a police car. I was driving the wrong way in a dedicated bus lane, my husband and a friend howling in terror. We all survived this adventure, as did the car.
Happily, on this tour I, like you, will be a rider on the bus.
During the Roman Empire and the Muslim Caliphate, Jews were valued members of the community as scholars, doctors, lawyers, merchants and experts in the fields of textile dying. During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella their rights and their property were curtailed and they were expelled from the country.
Today, Santa Cruz it is a thriving neighborhood of shops, restaurants and secret passageways. It is a Mecca for tourists and a Heaven for photographers.
In 2014,a law was passed giving full citizenship to the ancestors of any Jew who had been driven out of Spain.
Today there is a small community of Jews, mainly from Africa but some of ancient lineage, returning with Spanish passports and the same house keys their forebears took with them when they left Seville centuries ago.
Our second stop is the Alcazar or the Royal Palace. Originally it was part of a moorish fortress and the home of the Muslim governor of Seville. At that time, it’s gardens were decorated with flower pots made from the skulls of its enemies and a harem of 800 lived on the grounds. Fruit trees and fountains were plentiful.
The structure was rebuilt by King Peter of Castile and is considered to be the finest example of mudejár architecture in the world. The term Mudéjar refers to Muslims living in a Christian community and with its mosaics, star shaped ceilings, keyhole doorways and multiple gardens it certainly does reflect the Moorish influence. To this day the King and Queen of Spain maintain an apartment there.
Our final stop is the Cathedral and it too is on the site of a former mosque.
In 1401 workmen began building what is considered the largest gothic church in the world.
It’s High Altar reredos, depicting 44 scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary, is 65 feet tall and made of walnut and chestnut and covered with gold leaf.
The Altar de Plata or silver altar looks like a gigantic monstrance.
Goya’s painting of Santa Justa and Santa Rufina, patron saints of Seville, hangs near Murillo’s portrait of Saint Ferdinand.
Finally, we have the tomb of Christopher Columbus, held aloft by four kings of Spain.
Recent DNA tests confirm that after being buried in northern Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, his travels are over at last, and he has truly come home !
A quick look outside at the original Minaret which once called Muslims to prayer. Now the cathedral bell tower, it still has the original door and lock.
It is possible to go up a series of ramps rather than stairs to see the view overlooking the city. Horses were used to haul the stones up as they built the tower. The ramp were wide enough for two supply carriages with horses to ascend side by side. Hence there are no stairs.
And so for us, our time in Séville has come to an end.
I will leave you with a couple of lasting memories of this colorful city where even the pigeons are photogenic.
Tomorrow we work our way north to Zafra on the Via de la Plata. Hasta mañana!