December in Sevilla
We've just entered our eighth month living full time in Portugal! Up until last month we've spent most of our time the enjoying sites, countryside and activities that were mainly day trips in distance from us. There is a lot to take in and explore in the greater Algarve, and we've barely scratched the surface. We continue to explore whats near us but have expanded our travel circle from our home base in Alvor.
Last month we road tripped up to Porto and The Douro Valley which you can see here. This month we ventured east to Sevilla in the Southwest of Spain (Seville in english, Sevilla in Spanish), about a two hour drive from our home. The first hour is through the eastern Algarve in the south of Portugal then crossing the Guadiana river which serves as the border between the two countries. There is no border stop heading into Spain here, at times the Portugal side will conduct a border stop on the way into Portugal, mainly to ensure that taxes are collected on larger items being brought from Spain as they are usually cheaper there (TV's, computers, electronics, etc...). Most of the drive on the Spain side is vast fields of produce and olive trees until you get closer to Sevilla. On this trip we gained respect for the upkeep of roads in Portugal. While Portugal roads are not perfect the four lane divided highway in Spain from the border until about 20 minutes from Sevilla is scarred with significant potholes and other unmarked road surface hazards. This considering that the speed limit is 120 km (about 75 mph) is white knuckle driving eyes glaring at the road surface in front of you far enough out to plan your hazard avoidance route, shame on you Spain! Closer to Sevilla the road surface improves and a more industrial landscape begins until you reach urban and eventually the Historic center.
Spain's fourth largest city, Sevilla has a population of about 700,000 in it's metro area. Founded over 2,200 years ago still has recognizable remains of Roman, Muslim, and Christian influences. It's hard to believe that only three Unesco World Heritage Sites exist in the 4 sq kilometers (2 sq miles) of Old Town but man are they remarkable, The Alcazar palace complex, the Cathedral, and the General Archive of the Indies all located adjacent to each other. Aside from these sites, there is plenty more to explore and experience, walking through the small side streets and historic districts reveals many other treasures in the Old Town. When you visit, don't plan on driving in this area, it's very walkable, good public transportation is available, or at the very least Taxis' and uber are readily available. Not to mention traffic and small streets can be difficult, let the professionals do the driving if you need.
We love the small side streets throughout the city. Filled with small shops, restaurants and tapas bars that are usually bursting at the seams with people enjoying tapas and drinks popping into their favorite Tapas bar in the afternoon or early evening before dinner
Let's start with our Hotel. Since this was somewhat of a special occasion for us (my birthday) we splurged on a very nice hotel for the week. The Hotel Alfonso XIII, located within the Historic Santa Cruz quarter steps away from the main historic sites of the city. Commissioned by the King of Spain to play host to international dignitaries during the 1929 Exhibition. Feels like you are staying in a very special place both due to the grand architecture and its position within the city. We really enjoyed the stay.
The lights and festivities of Sevilla in December. The main streets were packed each night with Families and tourists enjoying the festivities and a little shopping.
You can easily imagine life in Sevilla over the years by simply walking through this historic city. Ruled by Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, and Spanish Christians. Sevilla became the centre of exploration (and exploitation), launching expeditions led by Magellan and others during the age of discovery. Established in 1503 as Spain's center to regulate commerce with the New World, it was the site of the chief mint for gold and silver from the Americas, in fact the richest and most populous city in Spain in the 16th century.
The Cathedral is a prime example of the riches brought to Sevilla and Spain. The fourth largest church in the world, and the largest Gothic Church. As with most conquests, the Cathedral was built over the existing Mosque built in the 12th century under Muslim rule.
Shortly after Seville's conquest by Ferdinand III, The mosque was "Christianized", converted into the city's cathedral. Seville Cathedral was built to demonstrate the city's wealth, as it had become a major trading center in the years after the Reconquista in 1248.
In 1401, city leaders decided to build a new cathedral to demonstrate the city's wealth, and to replace the grand mosque that served as the cathedral until then.
After its completion in the early 16th century, Seville Cathedral supplanted Hagia Sophia as the largest cathedral in the world. Christopher Columbus and his son Diego are also buried in the cathedral.
The builders did preserve some elements from the ancient mosque. The courtyard for ablutions for the faithful to conduct their ritual cleansing before entering the prayer hall is known today as the Patio de los Naranjos. It contains a fountain and orange trees. However, the most well known is its minaret, which was converted into a bell tower known as La Giralda, and is now the city's most well-known symbol.
Touring here we often asked ourselves, Why? The enormous size, dripping in gold, silver, jewels, and priceless antiquities it begs the question why is/was this all necessary, is this what God wants from the church? The countless riches and holdings of the church (applies to most religions!) could probably end poverty in the world if liquidated and put to good use. This opulence and grandeur repeats itself all over the world, especially in Europe, in multiple places of worship in each city, rivaling the number of starbucks in the US, practically on on every block.
Off the soap box for now, here are some photos of this world heritage site. These are from the interior of the main Cathedral and from the hike up the Belltower, Giralda.
These are from the roof top tour where a unique perspective of the differing architecture from additions and expansion over the centuries. Moorish, Renaissance, and Gothic
Palacio de Duenas - Late 1400s palace, the first floor and grounds are open to touring but the second floor is private and serves as the residence of the Duke of Alba.
Casa de Pilatos - late 15th century palace of the Governors of Andalusia, filled with Greek and Roman statues.
Plaza de Toros built in 1761 and still used for Bull fights today
We walked across the river through the Triana district which was the center for Ceramics in Sevilla. Now most factories are gone replaced with housing and a few shops and restaurants along the river. We stopped into a local church and found it filled with kids all dressed in Christmas costumes and presenting performances for their parents and onlookers.
On our last day we took a carriage ride through some of the parks and monuments, what a great way to see these sites
A few of the food highlights from the trip...
Tapas at Bar Casa de La Moneda. One of my favorite dishes huevos estrellados or huevos rotos (Fried egg with a runny yolk, over French fries, with Jamon.). Traditional Croquettas, Artichokes, and Chickpeas with spinach.
Dinner at Casa Robles and one of the best Spanish wines we have tasted!
Great Bagels for breakfast at BioMio Brunch Ecologico
Dinner at the Famous El Rinconcillo celebrating their 350th year in business.
Tapas at El Librero
We visited two of the mercados one more traditional Mercado Triano, and the modern Mercado Barranco which is more of a Tapas food court than a market.
On our way home we stopped at Costco, mostly out of curiosity. There are no Costcos in Portugal so this would be the closest one to us. Many Portuguese come here mainly for electronics and home appliances as they tend to be cheaper here due to lower taxes.
Gotta love Spain and their passion for Pork! Where else would you find a vendor promoting Jamon and people buying whole cured legs.
Until next time...