This is a fairly unashamed picture gallery. Circumstances allowed us to take a week in Seville recently, a welcome escape from an increasingly nasty Yorkshire winter and an opportunity to catch up with old friends who live there. Seville is delightful, not just for its historic core of buildings but for simple things such as decent public transport and residential neighbourhoods that feel like villages.
January is orange season: Seville allegedly has over 32,000 orange trees lining its streets, and they all bear fruit. It was decidedly odd to be woken up by the sounds of a skip arriving in the street outside our friend’s house, to collect the municipal orange crop. Confession time – several kilos of oranges found their way into our luggage and are even now being turned into marmalade.
The old town, particularly the Santa Cruz district, is a maze of narrow streets off which the older houses are often arranged around patios. Traditionally, these are paved, often have tiled walls, and should have a central fountain or other water feature. They are a relic of the city’s Moorish past, and make a wonderful place to sit quietly, even on a cool January day.
Seville has its headline sites, of course, with the Alcázar top of the list and one of Europe’s most dramatically gaudy and over-decorated cathedrals. We visited neither. There is only so much gilt and so many putti that a chap can take, and my tolerance of both is fairly low. But the tiles, the azulejos! They are another matter.
The use of gleaming tin-glazed colour and geometric patterns to cover walls or to pick out architectural details is endlessly fascinating, whether seen en masse in some grand building, or studied one by one to pick out the axes of symmetry and modularity in the pattern. And the flamenco tradition is alive and well, even out of the tourist season. There are the naff manifestations, of course, but also small clubs and bars where the real thing is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
One unexpected surprise, new to Seville since our last visit, was the
‘mushroom’, an extraordinary wooden structure that gives remarkable views of the city from its meandering walkway, quite apart from being eye-catching in itself.
Underground, where any self-respecting fungus would have a mycelium, this mushroom has exposed Roman remains, a rare reminder that Seville was a major Roman and Visigothic city before its Moorish efflorescence. Counter-intuitively, it is necessary to descend into the dark basement in order to take the lift to the airy walkway. Something symbolic, no doubt.
Cordoba – the Mezquita seen from the ‘Roman’ bridge
We took a day in Córdoba, conveyed there on an Avant high-speed train that was affordable, clean, on-time and had copious leg-room. I’m not making comparisons, Virgin Cross-Country, just saying. Córdoba is a little smaller than Seville, and the historic core of the city is unexpectedly compact, given that this city was the heart of the Caliphate of Al-Andalus. And with almost painful contemporary resonance, this Muslim city housed Christian and Jewish communities too. A few minutes’ walk takes you from a medieval synagogue to the magnificent Mezquita, begun in the 10th century and currently the world’s third-largest mosque.
At the centre of the mosque, there sits a Baroque cathedral, and Renaissance chapels line the outer walls. Fortunately, Roman Catholicism has enough saints to go round. The Mezquita shows all too clearly what an extraordinary creative tradition was interrupted when Islamic Andalusia was retaken for Christianity.
That was our week of R&R in Seville, plus, of course, the evening tapas with friends, catching up with news of respective families, taking some quiet time to read and generally decompressing. Now, can we capture something of the Sevillan patio in our Yorkshire garden?