“He who has not seen Seville has not seen a marvel.” – Spanish proverb
We arrived in the historic port of Cadiz some 36 hours after sailing from Barcelona along the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Located on the southwest coast of Spain, Cadiz is the Western world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and was once its richest and most important port. In fact, during Spain’s Golden Age, thousands of ships sailed from here for the New World (including those on the second and third voyages of Christopher Columbus), and many returned laden with gold and silver that helped enrich the King’s coffers and temporarily build the region’s prosperity.
Today, while Cadiz is still a busy port, its beaches, stone walls, old churches and narrow streets make the city an inviting place to visit. It’s also the gateway to the spectacular cities of Spain’s Andalusia region, including the glorious city of Seville to the north.
The capital of Andalusia, Seville is an intoxicating mixture of cultures and architecture that date back 2,000 years and include Roman, Greek, Moorish and Christian influences. The North African Moors conquered Spain in 711 A.D., and began blending Roman architectural techniques with their own to build great cities like Cordoba, Granada and Seville in the southern region of Andalusia. When the Spanish recaptured Andalusia between the 13th and 15th centuries, they began blending the existing Moorish style with more classical European designs to create an architectural combination known as “Mudejar” that is uniquely beautiful and distinctly Andalusian.
Since we had visited Cadiz before, we decided to take the ship’s two-hour bus transfer to Seville and spend the day touring the city on our own. The bus dropped us off at the Plaza de Jerez, and armed with rain jackets and umbrellas to deal with the light rain, we set off on foot up the Avenida Constitucion to the magnificent Cathedral of Seville.
The immense Cathedral is the largest Gothic-style building in the world, and the third largest Christian church after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Built in the 15th century, the cathedral sits on the site of the former 12th-century Grand Mosque of Seville, most of which was torn down to accommodate the new church.
All that remains of the original mosque is the beautiful minaret, which along with its twins in Marrakesh and Ragat, are the oldest surviving Almohad minarets in the world. When the cathedral was finished, a Renaissance- style belfry, a stone crowning and a weather vane were added to the top of minaret to give it the look of a bell tower. Since the Spanish word for a weather vane with a figure on it is giralda, the people of Seville started to refer to the 103-metre high (322 feet) tower as “La Giralda.”
After touring the Cathedral, we walked across the Plaza Triunfo to the imposing walls of the Reales Alcazares and into the main grounds of the fortress through the “Door of the Lion.” Built by the Arabs as the city’s main fortification, the Alcazares are a collection of buildings and structures from over the centuries. They include the original 9th century walls and several patios from the Moorish period, and later additions like the 14th century façade of King Don Pedro’s Palace from the Christian era, and represent the best example of the Mudejar style in Seville.
We then took a stroll through the picturesque Barrio de Santa Cruz, originally the Jewish district dating back to the 15th century and today one of Seville’s most charming quarters. With its delightful twisting narrow alleyways, shady palm and orange trees, period lamps, tiled street signs, and delicate wrought-iron balconies, gates and flower boxes, the Barrio de Santa Cruz is a genuine feast for the eyes. It’s also home to a number of pretty squares, gated patios and old landmarks, including the Convent of San Jose, the House of Murillo and the Hospital of the Venerable Priests.
After touring the barrio, we stopped for lunch at one of its many delightful restaurants that are tucked away on small alleys just a few blocks from the Cathedral. We were among the first to arrive, but the tiny tapas bar was soon filled with the sound of local
residents chatting away in Spanish, and the aroma of home-made Andalusian tapas including prawns with garlic, chorizo sausage, grilled octopus, ham croquettes, sardines and potato tortilla. In our fractured Spanish, we ordered several platefuls of tapas and a nice bottle of house red to wash it down with.
It was now time to leave Seville for our return trip to Cadiz. Perhaps the wine with lunch had helped, but we had certainly become intoxicated with the beautiful architecture, art and culture of this majestic city on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. As some great Spanish artist once said back in the 16th century, “Qui non ha visto Sevilla non ha visto maravilla.” Or as we now understood even without the translation, “He who has not seen Seville has not seen a marvel.”