Seville travelogue: This Andalusian city is happy and shiny, and all things Spanish
Strolls in sunny days, wine and tapas at night against a backdrop of Islamic-Christian architecture. Seville and Cordoba are wonderfully unique.Updated: Feb 03, 2018 15:38 IST
Hmm, strange, I thought. It was 5:30am on a December morning and the doors of Hostel Art Kitsch were locked. No hostel had ever denied entry to its guests. The only life on the dark street, which seemed to hold its secrets close, were inebriated souls retiring after a pulsating night. A little too late to go back home too, I thought. It turned out tarde was fashionable in Seville. Mornings, it appeared, were booked for snoozes and siestas.
Gruelling hours of wait paved the way for sunlight to bounce on orange and palm trees, like companions basking in each other’s presence. Seville was unlike any European city. Its Andalusian architecture -- inspired from the region’s Islamic and Castalian rule – was a confluence of the East and West. I walked from the city centre to Plaza de Espana, Seville’s most iconic landmark where Spain’s dual histories shone. Floral patterns identical to designs on Persian carpets were studded on tiles on the renaissance structure. In front, a clueless mother-daughter couple rowed their boat on a narrow lake as slimy green water swirled, unsure of its direction. Others stood on Venetian bridges, looking over their shoulders for the perfect photo while horse-driven carriages, which ought to be only in fairytales, were towed noisily on cobblestones. I simple gawped at a Flamenco dancer who gracefully tapped on a wooden board to the tunes of acoustic guitar in the middle of the colonnade. With every move, her black waistcoat and ruffled skirt -- a striking crimson -- flowed in unison, as though they were following her every command. On a cue of nature, lights began fading and the sun setting by the time their performance ended.
Eyes averted, I strolled a short distance to Puente de Isabel II, a steel bridge that is elegantly arched over Guadalquivir river. Under the cover of night, I walked across the bridge into the neighbourhood of Triana where life suddenly burst forth. A boisterous crowd occupied streets and families sat outside cafes, singing together like an orchestra while the grandmother tinkled a spoon in rhythm over a bottle of wine. It wasn’t the least unusual for the family to be stared at abashedly by people like me. Or may be, it was just the free-flowing sangria that kept all traces of formality at bay.
Walking away from Triana, the bridge made a perfect oval reflection, its tensile lines wavering ever so slightly on calm waters. In that moment, Guadalquivir appeared to be far from the mighty force that had nearly destroyed Seville several times in the city’s history.
The next day, I sauntered through sleepy bylanes of Seville’s historic city centre, where the hostel was and where most tourists converged. I crossed shops that hadn’t opened their shutters till 10am, even fewer cars seemed to glide past me in slimming yellow streets, as if in a reverie. I meandered at a leisurely pace in and out of calles until I jumped up, shaken from my slumber, by the sight of two mannequins -- a Flamenco dancer and a musician caked in makeup – peeping from a balcony above.
My aimless wandering landed me at the courtyard where travellers stood in serpentine lines to enter the Seville Cathedral and the adjoining Alcazar Palace (tickets for both 10 euros each). Trees ripe with oranges I could smell but not taste were my only allies in the queue that would shame even the Taj Mahal. Someone behind me muttered expletives to ‘Game of Thrones’ because a Season 5 episode of the fantasy series had been filmed in Alcazar’s verdant gardens and magnificent rooms.
Getting inside the gothic church that makes for a major chunk of Seville’s olden landscape was easier on the heels. Carvings on its Hogwarts-sized doors, bolted with ornate knobs, and columns holding up the structure dwarfed all its occupants, like ants in servitude. Walking through the aisle, the cathedral played tricks and gave an impression of warm colours deepening in intensity with every step towards the house of God.
A day in Cordoba
Centuries ago, a small church was built in the heart of Cordoba, a southern Andalusian city in south Spain where land turns arid and European flavours fall behind. It fell in the hands of Islamic rulers in the 8th century and the nondescript church was expanded and converted to a mosque. In this game of thrones, Christian monarchs finally claimed Cordoba and the mosque became, yet again, a Roman Catholic church.
I didn’t know any of this until I reached Cordoba after a two-hour bus journey (ticket: 7-12 euro) from Seville. Standing at mezquita-catedral de Cordoba, I was amazed at the layers of history the structure had collected on its dark walls. Rows of arches with red and white stripes ran until my vision blurred. Symmetrical Columns caved into a cathedral as an embellished roof soared to let light in. Moving on, I discovered the part that had once hosted a mosque. Horseshoe and trefoil (three-overlapping rings) arches with iridescent floral engravings reminded me of the many Mughal monuments in Delhi. It was truly humbling to witness the rise and fall of empires charted so eloquently on this survivor.
I got out of the mosque-church hours later and wandered till the Puente Romano (Roman bridge). The Roman temple and the Calahorra Tower guarded the opposite ends of the bridge, one vying for sweeping views of Cordoba and the other a single-row replica of the iconic Parthenon. The bridge lay between them, its aqueducts radiating in fierce sunlight as tourists devoured the city’s ancient skyline.
Before lights went out, I went back to the city centre in search of the famed Calleja de Los Flores, an alley painted in white and covered in azure pots. I strolled through hanging flowers in shades of pink, yellow and red as the path opened into a circle where tiny souvenir shops called out to travellers for a token of remembrance.
My last stop in Cordoba was Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos, a medieval castle near Guadalquivir river that was once home to monarchs, and now cultivated divine gardens and courtyards. Before leaving, I tucked into a fulfilling three-course meal -- Gazpacho, pan (bread), Ratatouille-sautéed spinach with chick peas and flan for desert – for just 20 euros at a tiny restaurant in Cordoba’s city centre.
Back in Sevilla’s chaotic airport, a montage of all things Spanish played inside my mind. My favourite memory, I chuckled, was the middle-aged waiter softly saying “gracias” every time I asked for anything.