Seville Travel Guide


The fascinating, unmissable Alcázar dates back to 913. Entrenched within the beautiful palace complex are the remarkable stories behind the ruling forces that shaped the history of Seville and Spain.

Its most extraordinary ruler was Pedro I, known as either El Cruel or as El Justiciero (the Justice-Dispenser) depending on which side you were on. It was Pedro I who between 1364-6 created the Alcázar's crown jewel, the sumptuous Mudejar Palacio de Don Pedro.

Antigua Fabrica de Tabacos
It may be part of the Universidad de Sevilla (Seville University) now, but the massive old tobacco factory used to be the cornerstone of the city's economy. The workplace of Bizet's operatic heroine Carmen was built in the 18th century and fed the nation's nicotine addiction right up until the mid-20th century.

The neoclassical-styled building is impressive, if a little gloomy. It occupies the largest area of any building in Spain except El Escorial, the great palace-monastery near Madrid. At one stage the tobacco factory had stables for 400 mules, its own jail and even a nursery (most of the workers were women).

Archivo de Indias
The Archive of the Indies has since 1785 been the main archive of Spain's American empire. Its 8km of shelves hold 80 million pages of documents dating from 1492 through to the end of the empire in the 19th century.

The 16th-century building designed by Juan de Herrera, was orginially Seville's Lonja (Exchange) for commerce with the Americas. It's opening hours remain reduced due to restoration works, but researchers can gain better access with prior permission.

Barrio de Santa Cruz
The Barrio de Santa Cruz dates back almost 800 years, and is now one of the most interesting and pleasant parts of Seville.

The area east of the cathedral and Alcázar was Seville's medieval Jewish quarter juderia). Today it's a tangle of quaint, winding streets and lovely squares with flowers and orange trees.

The juderia came into existence after the Christian Reconquista (re-conquest) of Seville in 1248 and was brutally emptied by a pogrom in 1391.

Basílica de la Macarena
If you're not in Seville for Semana Santa, you can get an inkling of what it's all about at this 1940s church, which is home to the most adored religious image in all of Andalucía, the 17th-century Virgen de la Esperanza (Hope) sculpture. Commonly known simply as La Macarena, she is the patron saint of bullfighters and the city's supreme representation of the grieving yet sanguine mother of Christ. The church's museum displays the holy lady's rich vestments and other lavish Semana Santa accoutrements.

Catedral and Giralda
Seville's immense cathedral stands on the site of the main Almohad mosque, with the mosque's minaret, La Giralda, still towering beside it. Within the cathedral lies a bounty of treasured art and artisanry as rich as in any of Spain's great churches.

The main building is one of the world's largest cathedrals, at 126m long and 83m wide. Inside the cathedral's southern door, the Puerta de los Principes, stands the tomb of Seville's greatest sailor, the Italian-born Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón).

Then there is La Giralda, a superbly proportioned and decorated minaret whose colour changes with the light, a near perfect example of Islamic building. The easy climb up affords great views of the buttresses and pinnacles surrounding the cathedral and the city beyond. Just beyond the Giralda access, and planted with over 60 orange trees is the Patio de los Naranjos, originally the courtyard of the mosque.

El Centro
Seville's true center stretches north of the Catedral. It's a densely packed zone of narrow, crooked streets, broken up here and there by plazas around which the life of the city has revolved for eons. Highlights include the Plaza de San Francisco & Calle Sierpes, the city's principal public square since the 16th century; the Plaza Salvador, dominated by the huge red baroque Parroquia del Salvador church; the animated though traffic-infested Plaza de la Alfalfa; and the noble Casa de Pilatos mansion, an intriguing mix of mudéjar, Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

Museo Arqueológico
Dazzling highlights of the huge Museo Arqueológico include a room chock full of gold finery from the mysterious Tartessos culture and fine caches of Iberian animal sculptures and Roman mosaics.

Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares
In a 1929 mudéjar pavilion that appeared in the film Lawrence of Arabia, theMuseo de Artes y Costumbres Populares collection includes mock-up workshops of several local crafts, and some beautiful old bullfight and feria costumes.

Plaza de toros de la real Maestranza
This may be your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the grand theatre of bullfighting at its highest level. Seville's bullring is among Spain's best, oldest and most elegant. If you decide to go, aim for the high-season (late July-early June) when the best matadors are working their craft.

Seville's bullring is one of the most handsome and important in Spain, and probably the oldest (building began in 1758). Take a tour of the ring, get a feel for the battleground and peep into its minihospital for bullfighters who got the wrong end of the bull's horn.

Andalucia established most of the basics of bullfighting on foot. If you can handle the grim prospect of seeing matador and bull go head to head, the Plaza de Toros has regular corridas (bullfighting days) between Easter Sunday and October.

Off the Beaten Track

In the rolling hills 38km (23.6mi) east of Seville in the fertile La Campiña region, Carmona has a long, well-fortified history. As early as the 8th century BC, the gravity of its strategic position was understood all too well by both the irrepressible Romans and those cagey Carthaginians. The Muslims further fortified the town in the first half of the 13th century, but ultimately fell to a fellow named Fernando, who in turn turned Carmona's main alcázar (fortress) into his personal pad. The remaining mudéjar and Christian places of worship were added frosting on the cake, well after the fighting had simmered down.

The typical tour of old Carmona takes in the eerie Necrópolis Romana (Roman Cemetery); the impressive old town gate, the Puerta de Sevilla, and the adjacent Alcázar with impressive upstairs views; a quick look-see of the ancient Muslim walls; and a roundabout wander up Calle Prim toward the colorful 16th-century Plaza de San Francisco (aka Plaza Mayor).

Itálica, about 8km (5mi) northwest of Seville, on the northwest edge of the small town of Santiponce, was the first Roman town in Spain. Most of the Roman vetus urbs (old town) is now buried beneath Santiponce, but visitors can wander partly reconstructed ruins in the nova urbs (new town), which was added by emperor Hadrian, successor to Trajan. The ruins include one of the biggest Roman amphitheaters, the Termas Mayores public bathhouse and some excellent mosaics. To the west, in the vetus urbs, you might also check out a restored Roman theater.

Monasterio de San Isidoro del Campo
At the south end of Santiponce, on Avenida de San Isidoro, this monastery was once one of the most cosmopolitan centers of learning during Spain's golden era. Monks here finished the first translation of the Bible into Spanish, but the community was dissolved by the Inquisition after the cunning linguists developed Lutheran ideas while reading too many dangerous foreign books. The Claustro de los Muertos (Cloister of the Dead), in Renaissance style, is one of the finest repositories in all of Andalucía, and the chruch's main retablo (altarpiece) is one of the masterpieces of Juan Martínez Montañés, who also carved the effigies on the tomb of the founder, Guzmán El Bueno, and his wife.

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