6:00 is too early for any human being to wake up, especially a Spaniard. Believing that 3 months in the country makes me a true Spaniard, I was appalled when my alarm went off and I was dragged kicking and screaming from my bed. But, Sevilla called and I boarded my train with less hassle than my last experience at the Madrid station (perhaps you recall a blog post about a frantic rush without a ticket holding two heavy bags with 8 minutes until take off). Not knowing what to expect, we placed our feet for the first time on Sevilla soil. Heading to the antique city center, we decided to conquer the cathedral– go big or go home. A magnificent building, the cathedral is actually the largest Gothic structure in the world. Why I had never heard of it before is beyond me. Obviously a world heritage site (as is everything I’ve seen thus far) it is the largest church in Spain. Originally built as a mosque, the structure was mostly destroyed, rebuilt, or modified by the Christians later in the 8th century. It was generally completed to what it is today in 1517. Inside reside many ornate alters, an incredible organ, and an exhibition of antique, royal treasures. Feeling like Quasimodo, we climbed the bell tower and were rewarded with the greatest view of Sevilla.
Intrigued by a building the previous day, we decided to explore the Alcazar of Sevilla. We had no idea what it was, just that there was a long line to get in, which meant it had to be great… right? Great doesn’t even begin to explain the Alcazar. Created by the Caliphate of Cordova in the 10th century, the moors held the palace until the Christian king Ferdinand III captured and modified it. With the construction of the Alhambra in neighboring Granada, the Alcazar also later took on new Muslim/Christian art, and later renovated again in the renaissance era. This palace is a unique fusion of Christian and Muslim design that is indescribable. Walls are all lined with detailed tiles and ceilings with intricate carvings. The Alcazar also houses beautiful gardens full of labyrinths and fig trees. The cohesion of the Muslim and Christian art makes the Alcazar of Sevilla one of the most beautiful and interesting buildings I’ve ever seen.
Still in awe from our discoveries at the Alcazar, we wandered the streets of Sevilla and found an incredible tapas restaurant where we dined on stuffed mushrooms and zucchini, tortilla, eggplant and spinach. I think that my parents and Martha have warmed up to the idea of tapas, and have really enjoyed the Spanish food, and eating slowly on the terraces. We also happened upon the Plaza de España, which is actually much, more interesting than it sounds. It housed the 1929 Latin American Expo and was a showcase of Spanish pride. It was used as the Spanish pavilion and features maps and historical paintings from each of Spain’s states. Today the building is still used as many governmental headquarters.
Realizing that I could not actually be a real Spaniard without experiencing Flamenco, I harassed my parents until they gave in to buying tickets to a show. Beginning as gypsy music, Flamenco has blossomed into a cultural tradition in Spain. Including difficult guitar picking, wailing vocals, clapping and dance, I truly enjoyed the show.
Hardly stopping to rest, we booked a tour to Granada on Thursday. The city is a 2 ½ hour bus ride from Sevilla and home of the famous Alhambra. As luck would have it, we were the only people on the tour so we got the bus and guide to ourselves. We drove through mountains and farms and my parents were able to see some of the diversity of Spain’s countryside. Stemming from the Arabic word for “red”, the Alhambra was a fortress, city and palace. Having some of the same history as the Alcazar of Sevilla, Alhambra also changed Muslim/ Christian hands and each left a distinct print on the building. Abandoned later and pillaged by Napoleon, much of the palace remains unopened to the public as it is being preserved. All of the gardens and nearly all of the rooms contain small fountains. The fountains were there to create movement in the water which is central to Arab life of cleanliness before prayer. It also provided a very tranquil noise, as the fountains made very light noise. The water is built into the palace and gardens as architecture. The shrubbery is also all very low so that the Sultan could sit and still be aware of all of his surroundings. Since it is forbidden to depict humans in Islam, the palace contains the most detailed, colorful tiles and walls and ceilings with carvings so intricate it’s impossible to describe. Now, it is all the color of the wall but back in its height the wall carvings were all painted gold, bright blue, red, green, purple. We walked in the footsteps of Sultans and kings, a thousand years after the fact and enjoyed the intricacy of Arabic art which we were previously unfamiliar with. Finishing the day we had a leisurely lunch outside the impressive cathedral and boarded our private bus to Sevilla.
Realizing that it was our vacation and vacation means relaxation, we took Friday to sleep in and lazily meander along the streets of Sevilla. Leaving any notion of animal cruelty behind we toured the bull-fighting ring in the Plaza de Toros. Bullfighting has been a tenet of Spanish culture and tradition since the 16th century. It began with the Spanish royalty training for battle with lances and games, and evolved into the nations pastime. The stadium in Sevilla holds 14,000 and fights take place Saturdays and festivals during the season. In a fight, there are 6 bulls and 3 matadors. It occurs in phases—one distracts the bull, one puts the knife-like objects into the bulls spine, and the last one kills it with a lance. Depicted in Spanish art everywhere, bullfighting has long defined Spanish culture, however with “animal rights” movements in modern times, the new generation of Spaniards is less likely to support and enjoy this tradition, which in my opinion is too bad. I’ve learned in the past two months the richness and deepness of Spanish culture that has persevered through war and time. I’m jealous that America has no tradition half as long as bullfighting in Spain. It is pride, art, romance and tradition.
We left the ring because the last fight of the season was to occur in a few hours. We wandered around the riverfront area where Magellan set sail and gazed upon the Tower of Gold, which was built to protect the port from invasion. We continued our explorations by getting wonderfully lost in the Barrio de Santa Cruz with it’s extremely narrow and lovely diagonal streets. In fact, we spent the majority of the day looking for a souvenir for my baby sister Kathryn MacDermid Bollman because we missed her so much. Hopping on a train in the evening, we headed back to Madrid, finishing an incredible week of showing my parents the world that I’ve adopted as my own for the next few months.
Finding myself with a day to myself in Madrid after I declined the request to come back to Michigan, I was faced with a difficult decision. Madrid has so much to offer and I had previously only been given the smallest taste of it. Given the fact that I’m taking an introduction to Spanish art class this semester, I consider myself somewhat of an expert of Spanish art. Okay, that’s not true. We’ve studied cave paintings and Roman baths. But still. Spanish art is intriguing! With such a deep, rich history, Spain has probably had more phases of art than elsewhere in the world! Hopping on the bandwagon I went to the most visited museum in Spain: the Prado. Inside it’s historic walls holds some of the most precious paintings and sculptures of all time. Behind the Louvre, Madrid’s Prado is the second most reputable art museum in the world. it holds masterpieces from Velasquez, El Greco, Rembrandt, Goya, Titian, Rubens, Bosche and so many more. Not actually understanding that much about art, I was still able to appreciate the small amount I knew with the beauty of the works. The Prado is a magical place where history and beauty collide to form works incredible on the eyes and mind.
Finding myself more cultured than a few hours previously, I hopped on another train to take me to home sweet Valencia, energized to begin the second half of my holiday in Spain.