Seville’s long and majestic history has been made possible by the fact that the city sits on the banks of the broad Guadalquivir, Spain’s only great navigable river. Flowing into the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Cadiz, it was perfectly placed to make Seville the great port of the Spanish Empire. It helped that the city held a royal monopoly on trade with the new colonies in Latin America.
The vast wealth of Aztec gold and Incan silver poured east on Spanish ships crossing the Atlantic and, with them, the Spanish Golden Age sailed up the Guadalquivir to Seville. The city grew enormously wealthy. The architectural legacy left behind by 500 years of Moorish rule, was immeasurably enriched as Seville grew in size and grandeur. Today, it has one of the most attractive centres in Europe.
The city is forever associated with Christopher Columbus, who set sail and returned to Seville on his four voyages to the New World. The marble tomb holding his remains has a prominent place in the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, measured in cubic metres it’s apparently the largest cathedral in the world. His massive tomb is hoisted on the shoulders of four giants, who represent the ancient kingdoms of Spain.
The river is as good a place as any to start an exploration of the city. Sitting serenely on the eastern bank, the 13th century Torre del Oro is one of Seville’s great landmarks. Built as part of the river defences when this was capital of Moorish Spain, it offers panoramic views down the river and across Seville’s rooftops to the cathedral. We had a stroll along the river bank, and then into the city proper on our way to La Macarana.
We headed into the bewildering maze of narrow streets that was once the old Jewish quarter. Today barrio Santa Cruz is the main tourist area, but it remains an atmospheric place. The labyrinthine streets are a result of the entire jewish population being forced into this small barrio after the city was captured from the Moors. The narrow streets keep the sun out, but must be oppressive in the height of summer. They reminded me of the stifling world conjured up in Lorca’s House of Bernarba Alba.
Santa Cruz is full of small plazas, fountains, churches and tapas bars. It’s impossible to go far without coming across an inviting tapas bar offering a delicious speciality of the house, washed down with a chilled fino sherry. We’re easily distracted by nicely tiled tapas bars filled with hanging legs of jamon iberico, which could explain why it took us so long to explore this area.
It’s difficult to describe the route we took to reach La Macarana, except to say that in Seville it’s both unnecessary and nearly impossible to follow a route. We wandered generally in the right direction, popping down streets that looked interesting, and stopping to visit the occasional market or church. I could meander around these streets for weeks and never tire of it.
We stopped in an ancient looking tapas bar filled with bull fighting memorabilia, photos of Seville’s great and good posing with the proprietor hung on the wall. It was an unlooked for surprise of a place, but Seville is full of similar surprises. We eventually arrived in La Macarana, where we hoped to visit the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Macarena, home of the famous Virgin of Hope of Macarana.
We’d had a long day exploring the city, luckily the Macarana area is full of good tapas places, and a newer crop of gastro pubs serving up microbrews. We made a leisurely journey back toward the centre, planning to go to our hotel in preparation for an early start into the Sierra de Aracena in the morning. Before we got too far though, the sound of music attracted our attention.
We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a musical extravaganza. Bands in traditional costumes were roaming the streets and taking over bars. It was brilliant. We joined one group and were adopted by the double base player. Let’s just say many drinks were drunk, and our early start seemed to be slipping out of our grasp into the warm Seville night…