What better place to begin exploring one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, than in the morning shade of its incredible parkland and pleasure ground – the Plaza de Espana in Seville.
This enormous complex in the Parque de María Luisa looks like an eccentric brick and ceramic palace set out in a semi-circle, around a parade ground networked by waterways and linked by Venetian style bridges.
At 10am it was already thronged with people meandering through its arcades, rowing small boats along the canals or like us, simply gazing in wonder at the vision and audacity of it.
Ceramic tiled booths featured each Spanish region and depicted a historical scene. They added gaudy colour to the brick work.
Originally conceived for an international exposition of Spanish culture in 1929 the complex is now home to offices of government.
It felt strange walking past the queue of people waiting outside the equivalent of the DSS, whilst enjoying the over-the-top grandeur of the building. At its gates, gypsy women were hustling visitors to buy sprigs of rosemary “for luck”.
We meandered to the city centre through exotic gardens planted with palm trees, fruit trees, roses and cascading bougainvillea.
At a towering stone column topped by a sculpture of Christopher Columbus’ boat we learned that in Spanish his name is Cristobal Colon. The discoverer of the New World is buried in the city’s Cathedral.
Outside the Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, a young busking violinist was playing a stirring ‘Shallow’ whilst a bride was being photographed bizarrely just as a tram flew past her obliterating the backdrop of the massive Gothic building.
The cathedral is a gigantic confection of flying buttresses, minarets, grand porticoes, spires, and lacy stonework. Its 104-meter-high bell tower, the Giralda, was the minaret of the original Moorish mosque which fell to the Christians, along with city, in 1248.
Much of Seville’s architectural beauty dates from the time of the Moors. Winding our way through the historical centre we found quiet corners of bubbling fountains, stone houses with arched windows and Mudejar decoration.
Passageways that we entered through had horseshoe gates and courtyards of columned patios, planted with bright flowers. We found a section of the old Roman walls and the aqueduct that had watered the classical city.
At the curve of the wide River Guadalquivir Josh and Simon climbed up the spiral staircase of the Torre del Oro for views.
A 13th century watchtower, it was the last of the great buildings constructed by the Muslims as part of a larger defensive complex.
The wide Plaza Banditos was surprisingly without a barber shop given its refuted setting in Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville. We thought several salons would have cashed-in on the connection. Instead it’s used as a thoroughfare between the Alcazar and Cathedral.
After a treat of lunch in the foodie quarter – Spanish fayre of spicy seasoned chicken nuggets and chips, meatballs and stuffed peppers with a bright orange apricot and sherry sauce – we walked west to the Alameda de Hercules district.
Its large central plaza is fronted by two tall Roman columns with statues and lined with avenues of trees under which lively bars and restaurants serve up good cheap eats. We had the found the student quarter and it was noisy and good fun!
As the green lights at the city’s pharmacies told us that the temperature was 37 degrees and our phones informed us the real feel was 42 degrees, we headed out to find the highlight of our day, the Alcazar.
Built by the Castillian Christians on the site of a Muslim residential fortress this astonishing palace is renowned as the most beautiful example of Mudejar architecture on the Iberian Peninsula. It is also the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, as King Felipe and his family stay here when in Seville.
We wandered amongst the many rooms and open air courtyards craning our necks to see the intricate patterns and Arabic inscriptions carved into the horseshoe arches and ceilings.
Game of Thrones fans, including Josh, immediately spotted the setting of Dorne’s watergardens and home to sunny islanders and sand snakes. Apparently, the sunny and snaky ones were rather violent, and it didn’t end well for them.
People were queuing and getting in each other’s way to photograph the exquisite Patio de las Doncellas, referring to the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from the Christian kingdoms in Iberia.
We waited patiently for a split-second opportunity to photograph the view without anyone in it. It was worth it!
The palace’s exotic gardens were bursting with springtime colour as Jacaranda and fruit trees blossomed.
We enjoyed the views above the garden from the Galeria de Grutesco – a raised gallery which we walked along looking out through porticoes fashioned in the 1500s out of an earlier Moorish era wall.
Our ticket gave free entry into the subterranean Antiquarium for a glimpse of Roman Seville. The site was discovered when the city authorities began excavating foundations for its bizarrely enormous viewing platform, La Setas de Seville.
We could clearly see the remains of the walls of private houses, a salting factory and a church. The houses had classic shallow and square pools in their reception areas and deep wells.
Some mosaic flooring was still intact, and designs featured love birds and a Medusa head. Elegant stone columns were still standing, others were strewn where they fell on the ground. I desperately wanted one!
Up above the Romans is the long and winding walkway of La Setas de Seville offering the strange experience of wandering on top of a large group of wooden ‘mushrooms’. It was still hot with a warm breeze as the sun began its slow evening descent. Josh loved the far-reaching views of the old and new cityscapes.
Having clocked up 11 miles of foot it was time to cash in our free drinks at a busy central bar. Refreshed by a cheeky but very small beer each, we set out to find the bus back to our campsite. Little did we know that the information we had was to send us an extra three miles out of our way!
It was only by trip luck that we eventually spotted the bus parked on the opposite side of the road to where we had expected to catch it, one minute before it left.
We raced across four lanes of traffic, piled on and very nearly passed out. It had been a tremendous day. We had seen Seville. What a place!