The Secret of Seville Part 1 - Days 587-591
We have never been to Seville. And now we are here; we cannot understand why we’ve never visited. It is an amazing city. But it’s a secret. Please don’t tell anyone. We don’t want it spoilt by even more tourists or travellers.
Our accommodation in Seville on Airbnb was described as “A Peaceful Oasis in the Heart of Seville". We had won the jackpot. It was perfectly situated on the edge of Santa Cruz’s beautiful Plaza Alfara. A balcony nearby overlooking Murillo Gardens was an inspiration for the Barber of Seville, no less.
Entering a gate then through an arched tunnel, we walked into a beautiful, peaceful courtyard with a fountain in the centre surrounded by trees bountiful with oranges. Through another gate, we discovered a secret garden with a 17th-century alberca (swimming pool) with our ground floor apartment nestled in the corner.
Our next few days was with our youngest son John. We'd met him at the airport with our handmade sign "John Reed". Isn’t our aim, as parents, to embarrass our beloved children? It was a joy to see him and our other son George and girlfriend Laura were coming out in a few days times.
Our time was spent sightseeing, including a walking tour around the Old Jewish Quarter, where we learnt some fascinating facts. Apparently, during the 14th-century black plague, which killed 60% of the European population, the Catholics noticed that the Jews did not suffer so many fatalities. They surmised that either the Jews were in league with the devil or that they were poisoning the Catholics. These beliefs resulted in the Jews being severely persecuted for centuries and even banned from Spain from 1492 until 1978!
What Catholics didn’t appreciate or understand was that due to the religious customs and rituals, the Jews were hygienic, so didn’t spread the plague. They would clean their hands before eating; bathe and change their clothes before each Sabbath; buried their dead immediately and eat using silver cutlery and crockery which could be cleaned thoroughly, eradicating the disease.
The Catholics, however, rarely bathed, perhaps once a year; only changed their clothes when they were threadbare; shared cups at daily communion; left dead bodies for days before being buried and ate from wood which harboured disease — all behaviours which helped to spread the deadly illness.
Unfortunately, our hop-on-hop-off bus tour wasn’t so informative, but at least it gave us an overview of the fabulous city. We visited the Triana market, which was built on the remains of San Jorge Castle and renovated in 2001. Even in the early afternoon, this undercover market was bustling, with stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and meats, oysters, snails, spices and various specialities of craft beers, wine and spirits — a foodie’s dream.
We wandered around another old quarter of Seville and came across the weird, wooden Metropol Parasol installation, otherwise known as Las setas (mushrooms). The architect Jürgen Mayer was inspired by the Seville Cathedral's vaults; the idea was good, but sadly the finer details are non-existent. The timber is literally stuck with glue, and overall it looks poorly constructed — what a shame.
One day, we visited the two iconic buildings in Seville, both 5 minutes from our apartment. The first was Real Alcázar, the oldest palace in Europe which is still in use. I don’t think I have ever seen such an exquisite building. It was built for King Peter of Castile on a former Muslim fortress and is a stunning example of Mudéjar architecture. The intricate plasterwork, lavish reception rooms, sunken gardens with pools and fountains. No wonder this palace has been used as the set to several films and TV productions, including Game of Thrones. I am not going to describe this place and its gorgeous gardens too much. It’s part of the secret, and I hope this entices you to go and visit for yourself. You need at least half a day here.
In the afternoon, we visited Seville Cathedral and the Giralda bell tower. The latter was originally built as a minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, used as a call to prayer for the Muslims during the Moorish Almohad dynasty. Rather than stairs, it has 35 sloping segments, big enough for a person to ride on horseback to the top of the Moorish tower. Seventeen steps were added when the Christians took over the Mosque and converted it into the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world.
We wandered around like tiny ants in the vastness of this colossal building. The highlight for me was the tomb allegedly of Christopher Columbus, held up by four symbolic statues representing the kingdoms of Spain at the time of his death: Castille, Aragon, Navara, and Leon. But is it really Christopher Columbus in this tomb? Or did his remains remain in the Dominican Republic? The secret of this has been taken to someone else’s grave.
As well as sightseeing, there was plenty of food being consumed, not just Tapas, but also Sushi and Moroccan. After one meal, we were strolling back to our pied-à-terre when I tripped over a tram line. Suddenly, time slowed down. My body flew across; I reached down to break my fall, the thud of my left hand crunching at an acute angle on the pavement jarred my shoulder. As I lay there in agony, a crowd of ladies rushed up, with Tim and John not far behind. Luckily, with John on hand, who is a professional soft tissue therapist, he checked for broken bones. Have I sprained my wrist? Have I fractured a bone? No idea, but over a week later I am still in pain. Don’t tell anyone, though; it’s our secret. I don’t want any fuss. I make enough fuss myself!
Unfortunately, due to being armless, I refrained from joining Tim and John one day at the Isla and Agua Mágica. From the smiles on their faces when they returned, they had lots of fun on the Anaconda, Barbarossa Ship, Jaguar and finally The Challenge, with a thrill of falling 68m high. And it was special for Tim spending quality bonding time with John.