On Sunday, we got up relatively early to catch a train from Madrid to Seville. The train ride was about 3 hours, but quite frankly it was nice to have an excuse to sit and relax for a while after the previous three days of intense sightseeing! Even Madrid’s Atocha Station was worth seeing, however, due to its lush tropical interior.
The train ride was excellent! The seats were comfortable and roomy, and had convenient power outlets. Perhaps the most remarkable thing: at one of the stops, technical difficulties caused a 15 minute delay in the train. When we got underway again, it was announced that all passengers would receive a full refund because of that delay! An airline that adopted such a policy would be out of business within an hour.
Seville is an old city with a rich history stretching back almost three thousand years. Perhaps the most notable events were the conquest of the city by the Moors in 712 C.E., which brought Muslim art and culture into the region, and the Catholic reconquest of the area by King Fernando III of Castille in 1248 C.E. The city maintains an interesting mix of Muslim and Christian cultural styles, especially in its old landmarks, as we will see.
On the way into town, we caught a glimpse of a very unusual sight that would have been unsettling if we hadn’t been prepared for it.
The figure is not what it appears to be, at least to Americans! We had arrived in Seville on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Holy Week called Semana Santa in Spain. The Andalusian region of Spain has the most extravagant observances, with a large number of processions featuring pasos and participants wearing nazareno (“penitential robes”). As Wikipedia notes, “ The robes were widely used in the medieval period for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity.”
We were tentatively planning to get tickets to see one of the processions, but the weather was not cooperating: it rained on and off during our stay in Seville. Because the processions feature very old and delicate wooden sculptures, they were highly weather-dependent and we never managed to arrange for an extended view. I did snap a view blurry photos during our stay, which I’ll share momentarily.
We stayed at the Hotel Inglaterra, a lovely old 4-star hotel that lies in the heart of the historic section of the city. The taxi ride to the hotel involved the negotiation of very narrow avenues that were never intended for automobile use.
The Hotel Inglaterra was a lovely old hotel, and the concierge Enrique treated us very well, helping us find food and set up a reservation for a Flamenco show for the next evening.
The Hotel Inglaterra lies at one end of the Plaza Nueva, a lively open square, and at the other end is the Seville Town Hall, which is a curiously two-faced building. The side facing the Plaza was built in a Neoclassical style in the 19th century:
Though this facade is quite new, the town hall itself is quite old, dating to the 16th century; the side of the hall opposite the plaza retains its original design in the Plateresque style:
There are two things worth noting about this picture of the city hall; if you look closely at the crimson banners displayed across the building’s face, you will see the curious phrase “no8do” emblazoned upon many of them.
This “no8do” is the motto of the city, and is centuries old. The “eight” represents a skein of yarn, which would be called “madeja” in Spanish. Putting the word into the slogan, it sounds like “No me ha dejado”, which literally means “It [meaning Seville] has not abandoned me”.
The legend of this motto dates back to the reconquest of Seville from Moorish rule back in 1248 by King Ferdinand III of Castille, mentioned above. When Ferdinand died, his son Alfonso X assumed the throne, but Alfonso’s son Sancho IV attempted to seize the throne from his father. The people of Seville stood by the embattled Alfonso, and the slogan is supposedly his statement to the loyal Sevillanos.
The other noteworthy thing about my photograph of the old town hall is that the bottom is chopped off! I wasn’t able to get a complete shot of the building due to the extensive parade stands set up for the Semana Santa processions. The entire procession route was lined with rows of seats, as the next photo demonstrates.
After eating a nice lunch near our hotel, we attempted to go out and explore the city for a while. However, the crowds and the procession barricades hindered our progress significantly, and I managed to get us lost on top of it all, thanks to the maze-like twists and turns of the old town streets. We finally decided to get dinner and relax for a bit, and had a meal at the Hotel Inglaterra. The Palm Sunday crowds did not even disperse at darkness fell, and in fact we could hear people celebrating from our hotel room well into the night.
After dinner, the in-laws opted to call it a night. Beth and I decided to brave the crowds for a few more minutes and explore a bit more of the city. While we were out, we crossed in front of one of the processions, which was likely set up at the spur of the moment when the weather cleared.
Our wanderings didn’t last long, however; I suggested that we head towards the Seville Cathedral to see it at nighttime, but the crowds grew increasingly massive as we got closer. In hindsight, I realize that people were probably going to the cathedral for a midnight mass! I did manage to snap one photograph of the cathedral’s tower, the Giralda, of which I will have more to say in the next post.
So our first day in Seville was a little bewildering, thanks to the crowds and chaos in the city during the holy day! However, any regrets we might have had about our planning would dissipate the next day, when we hit the Seville Cathedral, the Alcazar, and the magnificent Plaza de España. I’ll share images from those places in the next couple of posts.
Let me share one image out of chronological order, however, as I don’t have a really great place to fit it into the upcoming posts! On our way out of Seville, we drove past the Torre del Oro (the golden tower), and I snapped a couple of pictures of it.
The Torre del Oro was built in the 13th century by the Muslim rulers of Seville. It originally had a twin across the river, and a massive chain was strung across the river to block unauthorized ships from advancing. In the 1248 Christian reconquest, however, the invaders easily broke the chain. The second tower has disappeared, though it is unknown if it was dismantled or collapsed. It is also unclear why, exactly, it was given the name “Tower of Gold”.
In my next two posts I’ll blog about our visits to the biggest historical landmarks in Seville — stay tuned!