Spain, May 2016: Sevilla

alcazar wall & cathedral towerAs we leave Sevilla on the bus for our next destination, I read the tourist brochures and study the map and make a list of all the important sites we did not visit. This is an essential part of the Backside Guide to Spain – marking the famous sites you don’t see and dividing them into those you regret and those you don’t. (Maybe our tagline should be The Backside of Spain Means No Regrets?)crowds alcazar 2In our case, among the famous sites we did not (see the inside of) in Sevilla was the Alcázar (long lines and large tour groups waiting hours in the hot sun; and we’d already seen the Alhambra); the Cathedral and Giraldo Tower (ditto, plus it’s so huge we couldn’t find the main door – so I made a drawing instead).P1140034

Our grand problem with Sevilla was never getting our bearings. In five days, every time we left or returned to our hotel in the labyrinthian streets of the old quarter, we had to consult the map, and we still got lost. (The image below captures perfectly our confusion.) Or rather maps, plural, as Michael and I each had our favorites, which we guarded jealously and argued over endlessly, Michael complaining bitterly that none were oriented to North. By the last days he was carrying his compass (we still argued). We were not alone – comically, the streets in the old town were full of tourists like us with heads down over maps, gesturing and arguing and walking off in different directions. Sevilla 2

One night we got so helplessly lost that even the maps didn’t help – plus the minuscule type was impossible to read in the dim light. It was after midnight, but we’d been to the opera and were in excellent spirits, so we argued just a little as we spun around in the Plaza de Museo, and then asked for help. A passing señor pulled out his phone and quickly showed us our mistake and how to retrace our steps. (BTW: I will never come to Spain again without a smart phone.)

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Seville is so full of old art and architecture that no matter where we went in our head-spinning wanderings we were surrounded by ancient history. First came the Romans (we saw Roman ruins and mosaics circa 200 BC, discovered by an underground parking construction project in 1990); then the Visigoths invaded from Germany (we never found their style). Christians took over in the first century, but then the Moors invaded from northern Africa in the 7th century and settled in for several centuries to build marvels, still in evidence because when the Christians came back with a vengeance in the 10th century (the re-conquest) they converted the mosques and palaces and towers into churches and palaces. This preserved Moorish art and architecture and the juxtaposition of the two culture has been the most interesting part of our trip.

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So what else did we enjoy of the backside of Sevilla? For me, the highlight was visiting the Archivo General de Indias, right between the Alcazar and Cathedral but with very few visitors. I’d heard about it before we came – it’s where all the documents of the conquest of South America are kept – but I’d been told that to gain access I would need special documents, authentication, recommendations and so on. So my only hope was to simply see the place.

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me archiveThe first day we waltzed right into the old archive, housed in one of those Spanish palaces, built by Queen Isabela for the merchants to keep all the records of the plundering of the New World, and saw a great exhibit, La Frigata de la Mercedes, about a Spanish Armada ship loaded with gold and silver coming from South America and sunk by the British in 1804 as it approached Cadiz, Spain. Two hundred years later, American treasure hunters found the ruins, hauled a half million silver and gold coins and other treasure back to Florida. Spain brought a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court and was settled in its favor. Spain hauled everything back here (my guess is not everything, given the American guys got there first) and the Archivo de Indias exhibited the story in all its splendor, including a mirrored room with the gold and silver coin.silver:gold coinWhen I asked about the present-day archive, I was told to come back the next day to another building around the corner with (1) identification (2) a graphic pencil and (3) A4 sheets of plain white paper, folded in half. That was all I could take into the archive. Thrilled, I showed up as instructed and was vetted, photographed, given and ID and password and shown by a very patient archivist how to use the digital archive.

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The Museum of Science was another off-the-tourist-trail find. It was in the Peru Pavillion from the 1929 Expo, Spain’s extravagant effort to join the 20th century, filled with stone alpacas and mosaics of Inca designs. The entire building was covered in black netting, giving it a macabre feeling, countered by ecstatic school kids screaming with delight at the exhibit of “Excreta y pedos” (shit and farts). Although M. enjoyed that one too, we were there to see Inventos de Leonardo Da Vinci, twelve genius designs realized in wooden models, including the bicycle, helicopter, flying machine (with nod to the Wright Brothers, centuries ahead),  parachute, military tank with spiky wheels and iron balls on chains that whirl around to take off heads, paddlewheel boat, and a prototype of the portable Bailey Bridge, which we’ve seen used in emergencies several times in Latin America.Da Vinci bicycleEvery government building in Sevilla seems to be in a 15th-18th-century palacio, hospital, convent, tower or pavilion, with the exception of the bus station, where we approached from the back side yesterday to buy our tickets for our next trip. And this morning, having a quick coffee in the station, we saw a news crawl on the TV saying Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Hurrah! This will give our eventual winner, Hillary, something to chew on as she polishes her platform.back side bus station

A last word for two friends we were delighted to meet up with in Sevilla: Pedro Cantaro and Javier Andrade. Both first known four years ago in Cañar, where we crossed paths one day when I was documenting the opening of a community tourism project, and they were working on a book of photographs, Los Ecuatorianos. At lunch near our hotel, Pedro introduced us to some of the best food we’ve had in our four days of wandering the streets of Sevilla, and that evening Michael and I passed by the gallery where Pedro and Javier were teaching a photography class and they gave me a copy of their book. I hope we meet again one day.lunch 1

14 thoughts on “Spain, May 2016: Sevilla

  1. Visité Sevilla hace más de veinte años, con mapa, camara y rollos para papel y diapositivas. Es posible que con menos turistas, pero igual, no pude entrar al Archivo General de Indias. Lo bueno, es que han digitalizado gran parte del Archivo. He recuperado, para una exposición, los primeros mapas de las Islas de Providencia y Santa Catalina en Colombia por ese medio.
    Pero, turistas con mapas, en la época de los “teléfonos inteligentes” y las cámaras digitales. Todavía venden postales o alguien las envía?
    No dejo de seguir las Crónicas de Cañar, con sus amenos relatos y estupendas fotografías.
    Un abrazo para ambos,Y buen viaje.

    Santiago y Clara

  2. Queridos Judy y Michael, he leído paso a paso vuestra crónica sevillana y he disfrutado mucho, me parece estar viéndoles en cada una de las situaciones y caminatas por Sevilla, tu interés por el archivo de Indias, el disfrute de la comida andaluza, en fin me alegra mucho todo, yo me encuentro desde hace tres dias en Lima, después de haber hecho un largo vuelo desde Madrid.
    Espero sigan disfrutando de España y sus maravillas, un tanto raras en algunas circunstancias para vosotros, un abrazo y deseos de bienestar .
    Manuel

    • Querido Manuel – ¿Ya estás ubicado en Peru? Tenemos algunas días más en Madrid y marchamos para el ecuador el 30 de mayo. Ha sido un viaje maravilloso…. Un abrazo

  3. I can really relate to getting lost in Sevilla. I never get lost, but I got lost there trying to find where I’d parked our car. Had all the the issues you experienced. Contrary to my American male conditioning, I finally asked for directions and found my car before it got a parking ticket.

    As you did, we found Sevilla beautiful but stupefying. Never enough time to see everything. It seemed that every plaza boasted a gaudy sarcophagus to the brutal venality and greed of the Catholic Church. Clearly, the glory of Spain’s past had been bankrolled by stolen goods. Sure, Sevilla had stupendous cultural chops, but its well-preserved monuments too often memorialized in spectacular fashion the heartless rape and plunder policies of Spain’s savage conquistador empire. Many of the city’s cultural treasures enshrined crimes against humanity. Our own failing empire should take note. For me, Spain’s stunning pastoral beauty is its most authentic gift to human posterity–and the genuine friendliness, humor, and intelligence of its populace. More than monuments to inbred killer kings and psychopathic popes, I commend Spain for its world-class cuisine, its compassionate sadder-but-wiser civil society, and its springtime hillsides ablaze with the purple fire of lavender.

    • Thanks Bruce for adding great comments to the blog. It was impossible to cover all we saw and thought – you’ve added immensely.

  4. Judy and Michael hugs from Boulder. the Alcázar has lovely spaces inside, for the most, large and spare, the rich furnishings and tapestries having been taken elsewhere. Regina and I were there in early November when the line early in the day was small to get in.
    But there is one room with a shield on the wall bearing the coat of arms of Ferdinand and Isabella, that bears this haunting statement: “A Castilla y a Leon, Nuevo Mundo dio Colon.”

    A terrific book that covers the period of time you mention between the coming of the Moors in the 7th c. and the reconquista complete in 1492 is “The Ornament of the World,” by Maria Rosa Menocal. The subtitle of the book is “How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain,” an apt description (at least from 700 to 1100 CE) for the caliphate whose cities you are visiting. The Ornament of the World is a fascinating book about this époque in Iberia. An added pleasure is the idiosyncratic Introduction to the book by Harold Bloom.

    Finally, on that of getting lost in the medieval streets of these cities: Yes, smartphones take you with precision through the maze. But the truth is, you do miss a lot along the way–or so we found–to the extent your gaze is restricted by that marvelous piece of technology that you hold in your hand.

    I must say, the underground dumpsters of Sevilla are a marvel. We saw restaurant employees pushing small sacks of basura or rciclaje into small receptacles, which looked like the curbside mail receptacles (only smaller) where you can mail small boxes outside the post office. I kept wondering: how can there me an endless stream of garbage please into these small boxes. The secret was revealed in the early morning hours. Garbage trucks stopped by the receptacles and used a remote which caused the under ground dumpsters to push up from the ground in which they were hidden. The workers rolled out the dumpsters to tip into the trucks, then moved the dumpsters back into position. And with a click of a remote, they disappeared into the ground again.

    • Oh oh, now you’re making me have regrets. No fair! But thanks for recommending the book, which I”ll track down when back in Portland. I wanted to mention the Jewish population as we have stayed in many ancient Jewish quarters – such as in Sevilla – but felt I didn’t know enough.

    • Hey that’s a great idea Susan. Sorry I didn’t think to mention it on the blog. Yesterday, however, touring a gold-gilded palace in Aranjuez, I thought to say something to the guide. He was a bit defensive – said many other European countries were also out there plundering back then – but Spain gets the bad rap.

  5. Hi, Judy! Though I got lost in Sevilla with Bruce, I must admit that I was totally awed by the Cathedral and the Alcazar. For some reason we were able to beat the crowds and only stood in a short line. Seeing the tomb of old Cristobal Colon was truly impressive. Bruce, as you know, is allergic to Catholic idolatry, so he stayed away. Look forward to your next stop! Nancy.

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