Seville: Lost in Santa Cruz, Finding Columbus and the Amazing Azulejos

Narrow streets in barrio Santa Cruz. Photo by Richard Varr

I always thought it was easy to get “lost” on the curving alleyways of Venice – between centuries old walls and walking on footbridges over snaking canals – UNTIL I visited Seville for four days and stayed in a hotel within the narrow and cobbled streets in the Santa Cruz barrio. It’s pretty much the same scenario but without the canals. I made mental notes of storefronts at corners to find my way, and after four days there, I still got lost.

Giralda. Photo Richard Varr

It didn’t take long, however, to learn the best route to the landmark Cathedral and Moorish Giralda Tower which dominate the skyline, adjacent to the horse and carriage-lined Plaza Virgin de los Reyes. I took the trek up Giralda – no steps involved, but instead a brisk walk up about three dozen walkways or ramps lining each side of the square tower until you reach the top for great city views (much easier than climbing typical European towers with maybe 100-200 winding steps, usually up narrow stonewalled passageways).

Columbus’ Tomb. Photo by Richard Varr

Columbus’ Tomb. Photo by Richard Varr

The Gothic Cathedral with its expansive nave dates back to the 12th century. The must see is the grand tomb of Christopher Columbus carried by four figures representing the kingdoms that made up Spain at the time of his voyages. But is it really his tomb? As the story goes, his remains bounced around between Seville, Santo Domingo and Havana, with both Spain and the Dominican Republic claiming they have his real bones. Recent DNA testing, however, has suggested at least some of the remains in Seville are indeed those of the great explorer.

Azulejos on bar facade. Photo by Richard Varr

Azulejos. Photo by Richard Varr

Azulejos. Photo by Richard Varr

What catches my eye seemingly on every street are the beautiful and artistically painted Andalusian ceramic tiles call azulejos, used in particular for street signs, wall decorations and as storefront signs as well. The technique for creating the colorful tiles seen all over Seville and other parts of Andalusia was first brought to the region by the Moors. The tiles add gleaming color to the Gothic balustrades and walls of palaces. Many sport Mudéjar-style geometric designs, while others grouped together create murals and billboards of images. And in the bohemian Triana neighborhood, stores and craft shops sell tiles and pottery with such colorful azulejos.

Azulejos store in Triana neighborhood. Photo by Richard Varr

Torre del Oro along the Guadalquivir River. Photo by Richard Varr

Torre del Oro. Photo by Richard Varr

Other important sights include the Real Alcázar or Royal Palace with its Mudéjar patios and halls. I walked along the Guadalquivir River with the rounded, landmark 13th century Torre del Oro (Gold Tower), now housing a small maritime museum. A tour of the bullfighting ring and museum known as the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, dating back to 1761, is well worth the visit – even if you don’t agree with the tradition. The expansive and heavily treed Parque Maria Luisa with its semi-circular Plaza de España lures crowds in warmer months for events, and is also where the city’s archeological and folk art museums are located.

Bullfighting Ring. Photo by Richard Varr

Azulejos. Photo by Richard Varr

But some of my best memories were evenings spent in lively tapas bars in Santa Cruz or attending Flamenco music and dancing concerts. Flamenco reveals the soul of Andalusia with its forceful artistic expression through foot-stomping dance accompanied with strumming Spanish guitars, highlighting both the happy and sad moments in life. The music style consists of the rhythm tapped out by wooden castanets clicked together by the fingers, as well as dramatic guitar rhythms.

Flamenco dancers and guitarist. Photo by Richard Varr

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s