Fiery Flamenco & Seville Sightseeing
Seville is the largest of the Andalusian cities so I had expectations for the city to be filled with rich culture and history. I certainly wasn´t disappointed. The city was en fuego, both from the scorching summer heat and the flurry of movements from the fiery flamenco dancers.
I had spent over a month in Spain and hadn´t seen a professional flamenco performance yet. It would have been a capital crime to leave before seeing something so deeply rooted in spanish culture. A group of us from the hostel headed to the Museo de las Memorias to create some great memories of our own.
Flamenco is all about rhythm and passion, there´s no timidity in flamenco dancing. The guitarist´s nimble fingers danced across the nylon strings, plucking and strumming gorgeous melodies and intricate rhythms. A man with feathery long hair dressed all in black sat next to him, clapping his hands and stomping his feet to the beat, singing with emotion both etched on his face and laced in his voice. The female dancer twirled her wrists, hiked up her skirts, tapped her feet and twirled about. The male dancer busted out some incredible tap dancing, smacking different parts of his body to add to the already frenzied rhythm. The performance stirred something in my drummer´s soul, my heart was racing and I had goosebumps for half the performance. Everyone was transfixed by the energy and raw passion emanating from the singer, guitarist, and dancers. I´m getting goosebumps right now just recalling the intimacy of the experience, the foot stomps booming from the small stage, the perfomance stimulating my eyes and ears.
The infamous spanish passion is not just evident in the flamenco clubs, it permeates out onto the streets. Those streets are incredibly impressive to walk through due to some incredible buildings with rich history.
The Catedral de Santa Maria looms large in the Plaza del Triunfo. How large? It is the largest Gothic Cathedral and the third largest church in the entire world. Adorning its infamous bell tower, called the Giralada, is a statue that is actually a 1,300kg weather vane. With the wind it unceasingly keeps lookout for enemies of Sevilla and Christianity in general. Which is a bit ironic considering that the bell tower was originally the minaret of an older Muslim mosque. It´s a good thing the old Spanish kings decided to build on top of the existing architecture (as a way of trying to show Christianity ruled supreme), preserving history and creating an impressive mixture of architectural styles.
Across from the cathedral stands the Archives of the Indies. Over 60million pages dedicated solely to the relationship between Spain and the Indies are contained here, making it the largest archive in the world dedicated to one subject. After all there is a rich history between Christopher Colombus, Sevilla, and the discovery and early colonization of the Indies. Christopher Colombus is declared to be buried next door in the Catedral de Santa Maria, at least 1/10th of him. (He was originally buried in Spain although his will asked for him to be buried in the Indies. His body has been moved around many countries as Spain was thrown out as their colonies gained independence. DNA tests prove that around 1/10th of the body remains in the cathedral, I guess he never lost the travel bug even after his death.)
Nowadays there are a few bridges that cross the Guadalquivar river, one of which was constructed by Gustave Eiffel (who constructed another famous building which I´m sure you can guess). In ancient times the river flooded severely around ten times a year, sweeping any attempts at bridges downriver. The Muslims had a clever solution tying thirteen boats together and placing wooden planks across them, resourcefully creating a floating bridge.
Another very interesting building in Seville is the Royal Tobacco Factory. At the time it was the only tabacco factory in all of Europe, making it insanely lucrative. Huge bundles of tabacco were transported from America and could sometimes ferment during the journey. This made the tabacco combustible so having walls made of stone helped to contain any surprise fires that broke out. Over 6,000 people lived and worked in the factory, many of them women. This is groundbreaking because women were expected to stay in the house in those days.
That´s a whole lot of strippers in one place! (Strippers is actually the word for a person who strips tobacco. Coincidentally the women worked topless because the humidity of Seville added to the humidity required to work the tabacco caused them to sweat constantly.) On top of the entrance is a statue with only one trumpet, unique in that the figures usually have two trumpets to signify both the truth and lies. The King of Spain declared that Spain is so great it doesn´t need to lie, so hence only one trumpet. This gave birth to the legend that if a virgin walks underneath the statue the trumpet will sound. (This never happens nowadays because the factory has been converted into a building used by the University of Seville!)
No visit to Seville would be complete without stopping by the Plaza de España. The plaza was built in 1928 in preperation for the Ibero-American exposition of 1929. The half circle structure resembles arms open in an embrace. It´s the physical manifestation of Spain saying sorry for any wrongdoings during the times of colonization, but we accept you wholeheartedly now. The plaza has beautiful canals, a fountain, and ornate towers. It is certainly the most beautiful plaza that I have seen so far as it faces a park, rather than being enclosed by apartments or businesses. Unfortunately for the city of Seville, the Ibero-American exposition came at the onset of the Great Depression so hardly any merchants came overseas for the exposition. However I think everyone can agree that Sevilla won in the long run by having this impressive plaza become a part of its soul.
Another infamous part of Seville´s soul is the Alcazar. The Alcazar is the oldest royal palace still in use Europe. Inside the palace walls are a famous garden and old moorish architecture that served as the scenery for some shots in Game of Thrones. I didn´t enter the palace as the line was two hours long, but the gardens that extend beyond the palace walls are nice in their own right. One strip of park served as the royal fruit and vegetable garden. When the Muslims were under seige for three years they used their resources wisely, gaining their nutrition from this small plot of land.
Seville marks my last stop in Andalusia and the end of my Europe tour. It´s a fitting last stop as I start to head to Morocco, where I´m sure I´ll see more mosques. The blending of cultures in Andalusia has been beautiful to behold. It makes you consider what if the rest of the world were to become more tolerant of one another´s culture and beliefs? What if we combined forces to create something unprecedented? That would certainly be something worth seeing.