A LITTLE MORE OF SUNNY SEVILLE, THEN ON TO GRUMPY GRANADA…
With half a day in Seville left, and having seen the old town, cathedral and Alcazar already, we decided to spend our morning visiting some of the best plazas around town, including Plaza de la Encarnación, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Toros, and Plaza de España. Our afternoon was spent riding the bus across Andalusia to Granada, the region’s most popular tourist destination. As the last Moorish stronghold in Europe, Granada has some great Islamic sites to explore – which is why we’re here! As we’ve already discovered, however, the city also has a reputation for being the grumpiest place in Spain, with surly service being the norm. Not that that stopped us from enjoying an afternoon’s sightseeing around town, with our focus being Granada’s 17th century Baroque sites, such as the magnificent Cathedral of Granada and Capilla Real.
After our usual Spanish-style breakfast of cortado coffees with jamon, tomato, and olive oil on toast, off we went to stroll the streets and see some of the best plazas in sunny Seville – starting with Plaza de la Encarnación. Once Seville’s central market square and today an entertainment and social hub for the city. There was some children’s sports event happening there today and the place was teeming with fraggles* so we didn’t stop for long. Just long enough to take a few photos of the Metropol Parasol and move on. Nicknamed Las Setas de la Encarnación (i.e. Encarnación’s Mushroom), this wooden structure was built as a covering over the square and is certainly a curiosity!
*Our word for anyone between the ages of 6 and 12 – a reference to that awesome ‘80s show with those funny, little furry muppets in it.
Strolling along Seville’s main pedestrianised shopping streets on our way to the riverfront, we passed through Plaza de San Francisco. Surrounded by 17th century buildings and the magnificent Ayuntamiento de Sevilla (i.e. Town Hall of Seville), this is one of Seville’s most popular public squares and a good photo stop.
The Plaza de Toros de Sevilla wasn’t too far from there. This 18th century arena accommodates 14,000 people and is one of Spain’s premier bull-fighting arenas. We’re not into bull fighting, but still stopped to admire the arena’s Baroque façade and take a photo of the resident matador.
By the river we stopped to admire the Torre del Oro (i.e. “Tower of Gold”). Made of golden-hued stone the tower was built in the 13th century by the Moors to control access to the Guadalquivir River. It was one of 2 anchor points for a large chain that once stretched across the river to block access and protect cities upstream – including Córdoba, the capital of the Caliphate. (The other anchor point has since disappeared, collapsing during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.)
Finally, our wanderings took us to Plaza de España, one of Seville’s most iconic squares. This huge plaza was built in the 1920s for the World Expo of 1929 and combines a mixture of Art Deco and mudejar styles.
Along one side of the plaza is an imposing semi-circular structure made up of pavilions and galleries. Decorated in bold colours and the typical geometric patterns of mudejar, but serving no real discernible purpose, the entire structure was equal parts beautiful and tacky. As were the canals, bridges, and towers that made up the rest of the square.
By the time we’d finished strolling around the immense Plaza de España, our time in Seville had come to an end. So we quickly headed back to the hotel, packed our bags, and made our way to the bus station to catch our coach to Granada (no trains running today AGAIN). The scenery along the way was exactly what we’d expected from this dry, arid part of Spain: mile after mile of olive groves, interspersed with small villages of white-washed houses. We knew we were getting closer to Granada, however, when the mountains of the Sierra Nevada loomed on the horizon.
Granada sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and is the most “Moorish” city in modern Spain. After the Spanish Reconquista reclaimed Córdoba, Seville, and the rest of the Iberian peninsula, Islamic refugees fled to Granada, the last remaining Muslim stronghold in Europe. The Nasrid dynasty had established a separate state for themselves in Granada and ruled their tiny Emirate for more than 250 years before finally succumbing to the Christian armies of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1492. The city’s Islamic heritage is writ large in its architecture, customs, and people.
We’re in Granada for a couple of days and are really looking forward to exploring as much of its Moorish heritage as possible. With just a couple of hours of daylight left this afternoon, however, we chose to focus our attentions on post-Reconquista Granda and its Baroque, Christian architecture.
First port of call was the Cathedral of Granada, a grand temple built on top of the ruins of the city’s great mosque* shortly after the city was reclaimed by Christian forces in 1492. As with many churches in Spain we couldn’t take any photos inside, but trust us when we say it was grand and immense! (The photos of the inside included for reference below are form the cathedral’s website.)
*In every city the Spanish armies reclaimed the mosques were destroyed and churches built instead. The only exception was the Mezquita of Córdoba.
Next door was the Capilla Royal (i.e. Royal Chapel) of Granada, where King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella are buried. The Catholic monarchs of Spain chose the city of Granada as their burial site as a final testament to the supremacy of Christianity over the Moorish Islamic empire. (Again – no photos allowed inside; the photos included for reference are form their website.) It was fascinating to see how the Spanish tourists visiting the site filed past the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella – in many ways it was like watching people file reverently past Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow, or Mao Zedong’s tomb in Beijing.
Strolling through the 17th century part of Granada, we made our way to the final Christian site we wanted to visit today: the Monastery of Saint Jerome. The monastery was founded by the Catholic monarchs in 1504 and consists of a magnificently decorated Baroque church, 2 cloisters with gardens decorated with fountains and orange trees, and several rooms that today stand empty but once housed a community of monks.
And so ends our first day in the city of pomegranates*. Tomorrow we’ll venture up the hill to see Granada’s famous Moorish fortress: the Alhambra. Join us then for more from beautiful Southern Spain…
*“Granada” means pomegranate in Spanish – the city was named by the Moors after the fruit trees they found growing here and to this day pomegranates are the city’s emblem.