Some like it hot, especially after a long, cold North American winter, and so the idea of spending a summer vacation in Andalusia, Spain, was an easy sell to me. Seville, the region’s capital, was high on my bucket list though nothing had prepared me for the beauty of the city—or the scorching heat. Seville is the hottest major metropolitan area in Europe.
On arrival, the thermostat showed a daunting 42ºC (107.6ºF), but I quickly realized that the city fathers throughout its 2,200-year history had created many places to make the heat more bearable. These include the famous Seville Cathedral, the gardens of Alcazar palace, and the alcoves of Plaza de España.
One of the greatest sights in Seville is the Plaza de España, although the word ‘plaza’ doesn’t do justice to this enormous structure.
So with a sun hat, lotion, and plenty of water, I discovered this historic city under the Andalusian sun.
One of the Seville’s most visited sites is the Seville Cathedral. After its completion in the early 16th century, just after Christopher Columbus returned from America, it supplanted the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as the largest cathedral in the world. It is currently ranked third-largest worldwide.
The cathedral seemed the place to be, with a couple of young girls filming their own dance performance in front of it, a group of Native Americans playing folk songs, and horse-drawn carriage operators waiting for business. A long lineup to get in was not very appealing in the baking sun, but I decided to take my chances and luckily, after about 25 minutes, I entered the dark, cool interior.
The sheer size of the building is overwhelming—no doubt a feeling its founders intended to evoke. The cathedral was mainly built to signify the importance of the city, and to replace the old mosque that stood on the site under Muslim rule, part of which was destroyed in an earthquake. It is built in the Gothic style, but the old minaret survived as La Giralda, the bell tower, a beloved landmark of Seville with an impressive height of 343 feet.
Other notable aspects include the huge central nave and four side aisles, the gilded altarpiece—the largest in the world—with more than 1,000 carved figures, and the tomb of Columbus, which may or may not contain his remains.
Roman, Moorish, Christian Influences
Directly opposite the entrance to the cathedral is the General Archive of the Indies containing extremely valuable documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. It is said to house 5.5 miles of shelving holding 43,000 volumes, amounting to about 80 million pages.
The building is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the heart of the city, along with the cathedral and the Alcázar palace complex.
In many ways, the Alcázar is similar to the more famous Alhambra in Granada for they share a similar architectural history: originally a Moorish fort adapted later by Christian rulers. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, with the upper levels used by the Spanish royal family as its official Seville residence. After passing through the red Lion’s Gate, it was tempting to get lost in the staterooms, lavish courtyards, and uniquely styled gardens.
It’s easy to get around the Old Town on foot and I marveled at the many impressive buildings that remind visitors of the city’s vibrant Roman, Moorish, and Christian past. The many small lanes felt like a maze and it was hopeless trying to find them on the map. So I just kept on drifting aimlessly past the thick defensive walls of the Alcazar, small parks with welcome shade on colorful mosaic benches, and immaculate domestic courtyards.
Gardens and Waterways
One of the greatest sights in Seville is the Plaza de España, although the word “plaza” doesn’t do justice to this enormous structure. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 (Expo 29), it is a semi-circular continuous complex of buildings with a tower at either end. Following the curve is a canal crossed by four bridges, and in the center of it all is the plaza itself.
The beauty is in the detail, such as the ceramic-tiled alcoves displaying scenes and maps of the various provinces. I would have loved to look at all the mosaics in more detail, but sights are abundant in this city and so I wandered further into Maria Luisa Park, in which Plaza de España is located.
Stretching along the Guadalquivir River, Maria Luisa Park is Seville’s principal green area. An array of gardens and grand boulevards, the park features tiled fountains and benches, palms and orange trees, stylized flower beds, and white statues. I rested for a while at the water-lily pool, reading the city guide and taking in the soothing atmosphere, then continued down to the riverbed where the next striking structure was unmistakably visible from afar: El Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold).
The tower is a dodecagonal military watchtower and also served as a prison in the Middle Ages. Although the name implies that the top is coated in gold, it is actually derived from the golden reflection the tower projects on the river due to the building materials of mortar, lime, and hay. Inside, El Torre del Oro is a museum which showcases the naval history of Seville and the importance of its river.
To me, Seville will always be a city of colors: the red Lion’s Gate, the earth-colored city walls, the multi-colored tiles of Plaza de España, the golden El Torre del Oro, the green gardens of Alcázar, and the blue, sun-kissed sky of Andalusia.
Wibke Carter is a travel writer who hails from Germany, has lived in New Zealand and New York, and now enjoys life in London. Her website is WibkeCarter.com