I have never been very attracted to Spain. I couldn’t find any connection with its culture, habits and language. When my sister moved to Seville for one year, however, we decided to visit and I discovered fascinating and unexpected places. I watched the landscape, dawns and sunsets, hills and fields, as we drove west through Liguria, France, Barcelona, all the way to Seville, in the heart of Andalusia. I was bewitched by its white villages, elegant buildings and hidden courtyard. I found lavish gardens and narrow streets climbing up the hills. And some of those places are seared in my memory, like old-time postcards.
ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA
One of those white villages is called Arcos de la Frontera, in the province of Cadiz, an architectural treasure nestled on top of a rocky hill. Surrounded by the Arabic fortress named Castillo, the town is formed by a maze of alleys. You walk between white houses with hanging flower pots and wrought-iron decorations, heading up to the belvedere. From here, you get an amazing view of the rolling hills, the fields and the rocks, the roads and the faraway towns. We are standing in Plaza de Cabildo, the heart of the village. Nearby are the Church of Santa Maria and the Dukes’ Castle. When you start to be distracted by the alluring thought and smell of food, take Callejón de las Monjas for a traditional lunch in one of the many tapas bars hidden in the doorways, or find a bakery selling sugary donuts and crunchy almond cookies.
SEVILLE AND ITS WONDERS
When we finally reached Seville, we were immediately caught up in the processions of the Semana Santa. Yes, we were in the middle of the Holy Week and we’ve been lucky to see a festival so popular in Andalusia. The participants, the nazarenos, wore tunics and a hoods to conceal their faces, carried processional candles and walked behind wooden statues mounted in carrozas, and the atmosphere was both fascinating and disturbing, especially at night. But during the day we had to run around, in a desperate attempt to avoid the parade routes. Our main concern was to find a way to reach the places we wanted to reach, so I couldn’t really understand where I was going. I was just following my sister, who luckily knew every corner of the city.
THE AMAZING ALCÁZAR
Despite the Semana Santa, I managed to see beautiful places such as the Alcázar, an UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally the caliphs’ residence, the Alcázar is a charming mixture of architectures which date back to the 10th century. Once crossed the threshold, you enter a world of wonders. Plants, flowers, statues, arcs, stones, pools and decorations are everywhere. From the Sala de Justicia with its mudéjar style plasters and through the Puerta del Leon (Lion’s Door) you reach the Patio del Yeso, one of the many courtyards. You’re getting closer to the heart of the building, Don Pedro’s palace, built in 1360 by the same artists that designed the renowned Alhambra, Granada’s jewel. The palace itself and its quiet gardens will make you feel like you’ve jumped right into one of the Arabian Nights’ tales.
HOUSES, TOWERS AND LEGENDS
And there’s so much to see in Seville. The Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral, is also one of the UNESCO Word Heritage sites. Built in the Moorish period as a minaret, the tower is now the very symbol of the city. Somewhere between processions, we managed to see the House of Pilatos, a picturesque building built in the 15th century with an impressive colonnade and classic style sculptures. According to the legend, the Marquis who owned it noticed that the distance between the house and the church outside the walls was identical to the distance between Pontius Pilate’s dwelling and the place where Jesus was crucified – hence the name.
ARCHIVIO GENERAL DE INDIAS
We walked to the Plaza Nueva, the beautiful, relaxing square where the Town Hall stands, and we sat in a café listening to some street musicians. The Archivo General de Indias is another place that is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re fascinated by history. In the rooms built around a large patio are kept the documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire, when merchants, sailors and missionaries crossed the Atlantic ocean to the New World.
A RELAXING LIFESTYLE
Instead of visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, we took a walk along the river and in the lush gardens. And suddenly, while sitting on a bench with some polvorones – pastries made with sugar, milk and nuts – I understood why people love this city so much. Seville has such a relaxing atmosphere, such a slow pace, that you feel like nothing could bother you here. The warm weather of Andalusia, the tapas bars, the open-air cafés, the flamenco shows; everything makes you want to take it slowly. You want to enjoy every moment, to breathe in beauty. Nobody seems to be stressed or in a hurry in Seville, not even those who live and work here. And that’s its magic.
5 DELICIOUS FOODS IN ANDALUSIA
1. Alfajor, a sort of cookie made with almonds, honey and nuts
2. Polvorones, traditional pastries
3. Gazpacho, the famous cold tomato soup
4. Prawn, codfish or potato tortillas
5. Homemade jam from the Monasterio de Santa Paula, (Calle Santa-Paula 1, Seville)