Actually, I’m in Seville
“Madrid or Barcelona?”
This is the first question people ask me when I say I’m studying abroad in Spain.
But, “Actually, I’m in Seville.”
If you really want to know I think Seville is the most incredible city in all of Spain. It has cobblestone streets, traditional tapas bars, flamenco, and Renaissance architecture. It also hosts the glittering store fronts of Zara, sushi restaurants, respected universities, and successful entrepreneurial ventures. Essentially, it checks all the boxes that I dreamed about for my semester in Europe. Furthermore, it combines modernity with tradition in a way you’re hard pressed to find in another place. I’m confident I’ll convince you of that this semester.
Let me start by telling you about some of the places that have put Seville on the map for centuries. The Real Alcázar de Seville, La Girlada, and the Plaza de España.
the Real Alcázar de Seville
During my first weekend, I was able to visit the Real Alcázar de Seville. My eyes grew wide with apprehension as I approached the grounds and saw the long winding queue to gain access. To avoid a long wait it's best to book a guided tour. Fortunately for me, I was able to skip much of the wait under the strong beating Spanish sun by participating in a group tour coordinated by CIEE, my study abroad program.
You can buy your ticket in advance and miss the queue as well by booking your tour in advance here.
Our tour guide provided a wealth of information giving myself and my peers a more intimate understanding of the historic Spanish palace that has hosted its royalty for generations. Honestly, It was hard to believe that I was even allowed to walk its halls. Real Alcázar is one of the oldest European palaces still in use and the official Royal residence when kings and diplomats come to visit. In addition, the palace has been declared an UNESCO world heritage site.
The palace's architecture speaks to the city's overarching history as a diverse cultural melting pot. During Moorish rule in the 8th century popular muslim styles such as arabesques, calligraphy and geometric patterns dominated the architecture. However, during the Spanish Christian rule and Reconquista the palace underwent various structural changes to incorporate romanesque and gothic styles that one might see more of in Italy. During my visit I wandered the same halls and courtyards that Spanish royalty has for centuries.
A fun fact from our tour guide, was that former American president Barack Obama had nearly stayed in the palace during his European tour, however, due to security reasons, he ultimately stayed at another location.
My second weekend in Seville I visited another architectural jewel of the city, la Giralda. The cost of admission is only a few euros and while the line outside appears long it moves fairly quickly. If you are sensitive to the sun I suggest wearing sunscreen, carrying a parasol, and of course bringing water with you to stay hydrated while you wait.
Warning: do not stop for the women handing out rosemary sprigs. It’s a distraction tactic for petty theft.
La Giralda is one of the most spectacular sights in the Seville skyline. Construction took place over almost four centuries from 1568 to 1184 and is one of the most impressive architectural feats I have ever seen. First, the iconic cathedral stands almost 400 feet high; taller than both the Pisa Tower in Italy and the Big Ben Clock tower in London. It has 24 bells in its bell tower and it takes its name from its iconic weathername, the Giraldillo, at one time the largest bronze sculpture of the European Renaissance. Today, it remains the largest gothic cathedral in Europe.
Fun Fact: It was recently discovered that the Girlada, now white, was red for much of its history. Evidence of its former color can be seen in Renaissance paintings hanging in Seville’s Museo del Belles Artes.
As soon as I stepped foot inside the walls of the cathedral I was awestruck. Visitors snapped pictures of the space everywhere I looked, but to be honest photos don’t do the space justice. It’s one of those things you just have to see for yourself, and I highly suggest paying a visit if you ever find yourself in Seville. The massive interior has several alter spaces; each one spectacularly adorned. The Girlada is the epitome of extravagance. It was no wonder to me after visiting the Girlada that the Spanish are a god fearing people.
A nearby rooftop restaurant Pura Vida Terraza offers a great view of the Cathedral from a distance.
Plaza de España
If you’re looking for a photoshoot location the Plaza de España is the place to go. In 1929, Seville hosted a world fair of sorts. Long story short, the Ibero-American Expo was an opportunity for Seville to show off to the rest of the world, and wow did they accomplish their goal. Located in Maria Luisa Park, and just a stone throw away from my homestay. The massive pavilion is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
My golden hour visit to the Plaza de España was nothing short of a movie scene with the sun setting in the background and bubbles floating through the air near the sprawling central fountain. To give you a sense of just how large the pavillion is the canal that stretches across its length is almost 2000 feet long. The whole thing is decorated with beautifully painted tiles and elaborate mosaic designs. It has bridges, towers, balconies, and a great splashing fountain at its center. It’s gratis or free for admission and you could spend anywhere from an hour to an entire day enjoying the grounds.
These are just a few of the places that make Seville so special. If I haven’t convinced you to visit yet, keep reading next week.