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Fin de Semana Decima: Sevillano Suitors Serenade My Sweetheart (Bastards)

30 May 2008

This one’s a little late in coming, mostly because I was busy writing my magnum opus about the Iberian Invasion (which, according to Pete’s count, is 7,456 words long…move over Tolstoy), studying for my surprise third and final exam and looking for jobs while halfway around the world. No matter; we’ll try and make it interesting.

Last weekend we took the train down to Sevilla, Spain’s fourth largest city and, historically, a key economic, cultural and artistic hub for the country and Europe as a whole. Located on the Guadalquivir river, it is a major oceanic port, despite being fairly far inland and has a rich maritime legacy, including being the departure point for both Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. Not bad, eh?

We arrived late on Friday night, checked in, and passed out, rising about 12 on Saturday morning. After skimming the guidebooks, we realized that basically everything worth seeing closed between 2 and 7 pm, so we streaked out of there and made a bee-line for the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold), a turret of the Moorish curtain wall that formerly surrounded the city, as it was the first thing to close. As part of the Moorish defenses of the city, the Torre worked in concert with an identical tower situated directly across the river, between which was strung a heavy chain that could be raised out of the river to prevent enemy ships from sailing past that point. After the Reconquista, the Torre was used variously as a prison, watchtower, and ultimately as a repository for all the plunder of the New World—hence the name. It’s design is unique among Moorish construction as it is a dodecagon (or a 12-sided polygon…I just wanted to say “dodecagon” because it sounds intelligent and pompous), and this indicated its importance in the overall scheme of Sevillano city defenses: each tower that was successively closer to the river had more sides; 12 is the max. We learned all these interesting facts from the audio tour, which, in a desperate attempt to extend the interest of the tower tour (once you get to the top, it’s about 5 minutes of interesting views, and that’s about it…), presented the facts in an anecdotal format, complete with characters pretending to be Moorish kings and queens, American tourists and a British guy who fell in love with a girl he met one night outside the tower:
“Theah she was, a beautiful shadow cast upon the golden aura of the Torre. A piece of papah fell out of her portfolio and floated to the ground. I bent down to retrieve it and upon rising, was captivated by her beauty. It was then she began to tell me all about the majesty of the tower and its history.”
“A triumph of engineering, the Tower is 20 metres tall…”

A little ridiculous and over the top, but you gotta give them credit for trying.

After another Long Leisurely Lunch, which ended about 3pm, we hit the maaaaasssssiiiivvvveeee cathedral, which, although advertised to be open till 5pm, actually decided to close at 4, giving us about 30 minutes to streak up the bell tower and do a sprint circuit around the interior. Overall, it was pretty impressive, as it’s the largest Catholic cathedral in the world, with the largest altar and the longest nave in Spain. According to the guidebook, it was built over the site of the old mosque, its sponsors hoping to build “a cathedral so large that all those who look on it will think us mad.” The interior was lavishly decorated (a lot of gold) and the tomb of Columbus is in one niche (though its veracity is in question as he’s supposedly buried in about 5 different places). The bell tower, a former Moorish minaret (as was the bell tower of the Valencia cathedral), is named Giralda, or weathervane, in tribute to the huge statue of Faith at the top holding a sail to indicate wind direction, and is visible across the entire city.

We then took in the Real Alcazar, yet another royal palace, which was formerly a Moorish palace / fortress. It was a huge complex, complete with gardens and interesting geometric spaces, with construction spanning nearly all of the post-Roman history of Spain. After the Reconquista, it was expanded and converted for regal Christian use, though the building still retains a surprising amount of Moorish / Islamic content, beyond tiling and horseshoe arches to actual Islamic inscriptions, which seemed odd, given the Christian kings’ ferocity in destroying all things Moorish. The only clear Spanish changes were the addition of the symbols of the castle and the lion to the various patterns where Moorish symbols once were. We wandered among the corridors for about 3 hours, taking a ton of photos (very few with people in them, cause let’s face it, archaic architecture is SEXY and people just ruin it), and found a cool exhibit on Islamic calligraphy in one of the other buildings of the complex.

As we left the Alcazar to stroll the back streets, we stumbled upon a little cultural center holding flamenco performances that night and bought the last two tickets. Oddly enough, this was the same place in which my folks had seen a performance almost exactly a year earlier, and the male flamenco dancer at the show was the same one that we saw perform in Columbus when we went with Al’s mom back in March. Ain’t it weird how everything comes together? The show was really cool; a little more interpretive than classic flamenco, but of outstanding quality. It started with the singer and guitarist getting everyone warmed up, then the girl danced, then a guitar interlude, followed by the male dancer, then a duet, capped off by a sing-a-long. It all took place in this small inner courtyard (it held maybe 100 people in chairs surrounding an 8×8 platform) lit by candlelight and featuring a wall covered in a rose thicket that grew downwards from the top. It was hot.

That night at about 3 in the morning, a trio of retardedly drunk Tuna players—a band of Spanish university students playing traditional songs on guitars, lutes and tambourines—went stumbling down the narrow alley outside our hotel window, singing and playing with remarkable skill and clarity considering their state. Al was rousted by their serenade, convinced they were swooning her and complaining that I never do anything romantic. I figured it wasn’t the time to defend myself and rolled over and went back to sleep. In retrospect, it was almost too cliché, but given that the guys were just playing for themselves and not for tourists, the event somehow maintained its distinct romanticism. Ahhh, Sevilla. (They were NOT playing for themselves, they were serenading me! -Al)

Sunday morning, we rose late and barely made it to the museum before it closed. Though not stellar, it did have a nice Byzantine / Early Christian collection and a ton of Murillos, to the point that it seemed that some anonymous donor threw the Murillos at the city and they scrambled to put a museum together around them. But art is art and we enjoyed ourselves. After lunch, we decided we needed to relax, so we hopped a tourist boat going up and down the Guadalquivir, which was scenic and calming. Ya know, cause we were so…uh…harried from doing nothing. After disembarking, we strolled the riverside and chatted it up for a couple hours (nothing like doing nothing next to a body of water) before getting some dinner at the little bodega near the hotel where we served by a very animated waiter who spent the majority of his time at our table making fun of me, much to Al’s glee. Oh, and he started getting us into Sherry, which is more or less Spain’s version of Port. We’ll be getting into more of it when we get back and get jobs to fund our explorations. Keep you posted.

After dinner (and its requisite bottle of wine) we decided it would be a good idea to go to the Plaza de España (it was about midnight, mind you, and we had no idea where said plaza was), site of the 1929 Ibero-American Fair. There was a grand brick and tile exposition pavilion featuring traditionally tiled benches showcasing all the major cities and regions of Spain. Even in the dark with the minimal security lighting it was impressive, and since we were the only ones there it was quiet and peaceful and we felt like it was ours. I of course ruined that feeling when, the next morning, I went back over to get some photos of it in daylight. Idiot.

Monday morning traffic barely allowed us to catch our train back, but we did finally make it and all was well. And they were playing the Stones over the loudspeaker in the train, which immediately calmed my rage.

This weekend, we’re heading to Barcelona, staying with a family friend. More posts to follow.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Countess of Cava permalink
    30 May 2008 12:23 pm

    I must say that you two have a real knack for finding just the right places to visit in a limited amount of time. You have discovered the most incredible way in which to hit the highlights, savor the food and drink in a leisurely manner and then accidently hit upon some real jewels. I am willing to bet that most of the people watching that Flamenco show were NOT tourists, but locals and purists. Lucky you!!!

  2. dan permalink
    30 May 2008 7:15 pm

    And who gave you guys the recommendation for the flamenco show? I agree with Countess’ comments that you have squeezed the fullest juice out of all your experiences and all the sights/vistas/places you have visited. You have not just visited, you have experienced each place. BRAVO!!

  3. Elizabeth permalink
    31 May 2008 7:52 am

    man I should start pouring myself a glass of red wine before reading these– it’s armchair travel at its best!

  4. 31 May 2008 7:13 pm

    I would just like to state, para el recuerdo, that standing in true sisterhood, I am of the belief that the men were singing explicitly for Al.

    Don’t hate.

    (And I am totally embarassed to admit that as I pictured the scenario, the men were singing “When the moon hits your eye, like a big piece of pie, that’s amore” when I suddenly recalled that was, indeed, italian and I am raging moron.)

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