Thursday, April 21, 2005

Day Five – Seville, Spain - 37o 24’ N, 05o 59’ W

....and clears.....and tilts alarmingly.

When I manage to re-orient myself I find I'm lying on my side on a bench! Groggily I haul myself upright and only then do I truly appreciate the fabulous building before me, the Seville Cathedral. It's a cool, crisp, early morning here in Spain, so I don't need much encouragement and briskly walk across the plaza and enter the Cathedral.


The history of the Cathedral reads like a history of Southern Spain in general, and Seville in particular. Construction began in 1402 on the site of what was once Seville’s Grand Mosque (a 12th century Moorish building) and continued well into the 16th century.

A truly enormous building, its central nave is rises 42 metres high, whilst its total area covers 11,520 square metres – in fact, recent measurements based on cubic volume have led it to be crowned the largest church in the world, narrowly edging in front of St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.

I have to confess to being rather disappointed with the interior, regardless of any photographic evidence. Size simply isn’t enough here. For me, it is just a touch too gloomy and ill-lit, the interplay of various architectural styles clashing rather than blending in a harmonius whole.

Having said that, however, there are some singular works of art in here. Take, for example, the altarpiece, the Retablo Mayor. The lifetime’s work of a single artist, Pierre Dancart, it comprises 45 distinct wood-carved scenes from the life of Christ and is the largest altarpiece in the world.

Also within the church is the tomb of that terrible navigator, but great explorer, Christopher Columbus .

Reflecting Seville’s Moorish heritage is the exquisite minaret, La Giralda, part of the mosque which originally occupied this site, reaching up to meet the glorious blue sky.

Dominating the Sevilla skyline, the minaret of La Giralda served as a model for the minarets in the Moorish imperial capitals of Rabat and Marrakesh. It was used by the Moors for calling the faithful to prayer and also as an observatory and was so beloved that they wanted to destroy it rather than see it fall into the hands of the Christians. The original top of the minaret, a copper sphere, was destroyed by an earthquake in the 16th century.

I’ve heard the view from the top is breathtaking. I wonder if I’ll have any breath left to take by the time I reach the top of the 35 gently-inclining ramps that take the foot-sore traveller to the bell-tower?


Emerging from the bottom of the tower, I am whisked from a mediaeval setting and plunged into the hustle and bustle of a truly modern city. Walking down a narrow street, crammed full of serious-looking Spaniards intermixed with slow-moving tourists, I sometimes hear the cry of (what sounds like to me) “weeeeeen stone….weeeeeeen stone”. Following this strange cry to its source I find an old man sitting cross-legged at the bottom of a flight of stairs, surrounded by boxes and boxes of cigarettes and cigars.

Chatting with him for a few minutes in my halting Spanish I learn that he frequently makes the trip by boat to Morocco where he buys his stock (“Moroccan tobacco is better than Spanish”, he confides) before returning to Spain to sell his goods. All very shady and exciting! The cry of “weeeeenstone” is, of course, “Winston” (the American brand of cigarettes) and gives these cigarette-vendors their local name – Winstoneros.


Walking along s little alley between Plaza Alfalfa and Plaza de San Pedro I come upon a burnt-orange house, bearing a small bronze plaque. The plaque informs me that in this house, in the year 1599, the baroque-era painter Diego Velazquez was born. I'm too tired and hungry now to take much in, other than to notice that the building now seems to house a business of some sort so I move off in seach of somewhere to rest and refuel.

Continuing to walk the streets, I decide to enter one of the many bars that are seemingly infinite in number in some areas of Seville. Upon the bar-top I find, as expected, lots of different varieties of tapas. The word tapas comes from the Spanish word for 'cover' and refers to the card that used to be put on top of a drink to protect it from flies. Nowadays that usage is almost forgotten and the word refers more commonly to those tasty snacks that in many parts of Spain are included in the price of a drink. Tapas are usually strongly-flavoured and examples of these include olives, cheeses, mackerel or anchovies, often in a garlic, olive oil and pepper sauce.

I have to admit that I simply adore tapas - especially when accompanied by a nice cold Spanish beer such as Estrella Damm - and could quite happily sit here all day. Does anyone know if there is a football match on tonight?


Very reluctantly I drag myself out of the tapas bar and into the street. Time is passing and there are still a couple of things I want to see.

The first of these lies close to the University and the Plaza de Espana(you may recognise this latter location as the location for the planet 'Naboo' in the Star Wars films). The place to which I'm going, however, is the Parque de Maria Luisa.

The park itself is a half-mile paradise of palms and orange trees, elms and Mediterranean pines, covered with flower beds and dotted with hidden glades, ponds and pavilions. It was designed in the 1920's by the architect Anibal Gonzalez in the Art Deco style for the Iberoamericana fair of 1929. I could, and would love to, spend all afternoon here exploring the many paths of the park, either on foot or in one of the horse-drawn carriages that are for hire, but alas, time is now desperately short... I can feel a shimmer approach... so I press on.


Up ahead is my final destination for the day, the Museo Arqueológico but it's too late! Even as I approach it, it begins to shimmer before my will have to wait.....the world shimmers.......