Seville was a new adventure for us and had just as much wow factor as Barcelona and Cordoba. We were quickly becoming immersed in the juxtaposition of Moorish architecture, middle ages Christian additions and adaptations, and the pomp and bling of Catholic Christianity. This can be epitomised by the Moorish entry into Seville Cathedral.
The cathedral was started in 1401 on the site of an earlier mosque and took a century to complete (Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is simply following the long building pattern). My guidebook says “… in sheer cubic vastness [this] is the largest Christian church in the world … the vast Gothic arches that line the nave inside the cathedral are so high that the space within the building is said to have its own independent climate”
The piece de resistance has to be the immense golden Retable Mayor built between 1482 – 1564 and now reputedly the largest altarpiece in the world. Again I was glad of my binoculars for closer inspection.
Attached to the cathedral is another piece of ‘recycled’ history – La Girelda, the symbol of Seville. This was originally a minaret of the mosque built in 1198. In the 14th century the bronze spheres on top were replaced with Christian symbols and the final ornate design we see today was completed in 1568. We climbed to the top to enjoy the amazing views over the old city. Intriguingly it wasn’t steps we had to negotiate but gently sloping ramps from floor to floor – much easier on the knees during the descent.
After the Cathedral we moved on to Seville’s most iconic building – the Reales Alcazares. Again I find it easiest to quote from my guidebook – saves me overloading on the word ‘awesome’. “This extensive complex embodies a series of palatial rooms and spaces from various ages. The front towers and walls are the oldest surviving section, dating from AD 913 and built by the Emir of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman III , most likely on the ruins of Roman barracks. A succession of caliphs added their dazzling architectural statements over the ensuing centuries. Then came the Christian kings, particularly Pedro I in the 14th century, and finally the rather perfunctory 16th century apartments of Carlos V.”
The mosaic tiling on the lower walls in places was very delicate and very beautiful. In the following photograph you can also see some of the intricately carved wooden doors.
Wandering through courtyards and rooms, everywhere we turned there were yet more stunningly beautiful things to see.
At times the beauty around us was almost overwhelming but away from the iconic tourist sights we found Seville to be a warm, friendly destination. When surrounded by such amazing architecture and decoration even our hotel got in the act – viz the lift doors in the main lobby.
The weather was mostly sunny and very hot – but you will know the phrase ‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain …’. Well it certainly did in Seville one afternoon when we had two 10 minute monsoons. This turned out to be a very friendly experience as the cafe pavement sunshades became refuges for every passerby including us.
Our last awesome Spanish city was Granada – where, of course, the Alhambra dominates. This is the best preserved mediaeval Arab palace in the world and had long been on my wish list for a visit, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Seen from across the valley the Alhambra looks a quite austere, regular, defensive palace but once you start to wander around the inside it is an almost overwhelming visual feast. There was not the layers of Muslim and Christian worship we had grown accustomed to in our other three Spanish cities – this was purely residential, luxurious and oozing power and wealth.
From the guidebook – “A magical use of space, light, water and decoration characterises this most sensual piece of architecture. It was built under Ismail I, Yusuf I and Muhammad V, caliphs when the Nasrid dynasty ruled Granada. Seeking to belie an image of waning power, they created their idea of paradise on earth. Modest materials were used (plaster, timber and tiles), but they were superbly worked. Although the Alhambra suffered pillage and decay, including an attempt by Napoleon’s troops to blow it up, in recent times it has undergone extensive restoration and its delicate craftsmanship still dazzles the eye.
This council chamber, completed in 1365, was where the reigning sultan listened to the petitions of his subjects and held meetings with his ministers.
The temperature in Granada was in the mid 30s – a wee bit hot for we fair skinned Scots so we found the exquisitely decorated surrounds of various pools and patios particularly welcoming.
The Islamic calligraphy and arabesques around this window were superb and the garden beyond looked very peaceful and inviting.
The Alhambra is rightly a huge tourist attraction and after a few hours of sharing space with our fellow gawpers and trying to absorb everything I was seeing it was very pleasant to head next door to the Generalife, the country estate of the Nasrid kings – ‘tranquility high above the city, a little closer to heaven.
Looks like we had the place to ourselves! I don’t know how I managed to take the above photograph with no other tourists in view – they were wandering about in their thousands – and I hope they enjoyed the Alhambra as much as we did.