July 16th - July 19th, 1999
Leaving Lisboa turned out to be an all day ordeal for us, as we had to rise with the dawn to catch a ferry to take us to the city's train station -- it's not in the city proper. From there, we caught a very slow train (as most are in Portugal) that cut catty-corner through the hot, dry interior to the border town of Vila Real de Santo António, where we walked a kilometer to board yet another ferry across the river that separates Portugal from Spain. Once on the Spanish side, we walked two kilometers to the bus station to catch a bus that took us to the bus that eventually took us to Sevilla. Of course, the Sevilla bus station isn't all that terribly close to the town center, so we negotiated the bus system with our backpacks and finally arrived in El Centro -- the medieval section of town.
By this time, it's getting late on a Friday evening -- not ideal circumstances
for finding a room. After scouting around for an hour we finally found one,
and we were very pleased to find that here in Sevilla even affordable rooms
had amenities for the hot weather. All our other accommodations in Spain
and Portugal, when the weather outside got hot, you got hot. Even in non-bargain
basement hotels -- guess they expect you to be tough about it. In Sevilla
they were prepared for the sun with shade, shutters and (ahhhh!) air conditioning.
El Centro revolves around Sevilla's large and old Cathedral. In 1401, Christians razed a giant Mosque on the site to build the cathedral, retaining only the giant minaret which they eventually converted into the cathedrals tower. It took over a century to build the world's fourth largest cathedral, and it's Sevilla's pride today.
Below left: the minaret; center, a grove of orange trees one passes through to the church's main entrance; and right, a photo of only part of the cathedral's grand interior and ceiling.
The wealth of culture captured here is astounding. Below left we have the tomb of Christopher Columbus (although there is serious controversy about who is buried within it); center, the baptismal pool underneath a stunning painting of a heavenly visitation; and right some large relics -- a mere sample from the cathedral's extensive museum.
Near the Alcazar in Barrio de Santa Cruz a sad love story took place that Sevilla remembers to this day. Toward the end of the 15th century, the Spanish Inquisition took place, and Jews in Spain were given a choice: convert to Christianity or die. Many fled south into Africa, but some stayed and fought. The beautiful Susona of Sevilla had fallen in love with a Christian knight, and learning that her father and several of his friends intended to kill several inquisitors, told her lover of the plot. The Christians responded with a bloody massacre of the Jewish ghetto, wiping out Susona's entire family. For atonement she requested that her skull be placed above the doorway of her home, and there it hung well into the 18th century. Now days, the spot is marked with a glazed tile.
Built in the 9th century, the Alcazar is Europe's oldest fortress still serving royalty. It's Moorish design stands as quite a contrast to other castles we've seen, and made for a fascinating place to wander and linger. The halls of the Alcazar were filled with antiques and tapestries, and surrounded by a huge garden -- unusually large for being in the center of a big city. Spain's royal family still use the Alcazar for special occasions.
New Bar Record
We're pleased to report that in Sevilla we both set a new bar-related record, breaking the old one by almost two hundred years. The oldest tavern either of us had been in dated around the mid-19th century, but in Sevilla we had drinks and tapas at a bar that's been in continuous operation since 1670! To have that kind of staying power, the tapas have to be good and the beer cold and cheap, and we're pleased to report that both are indeed the case at El Rinconcillo. Here's to the next 329 years!
In general, we really liked Sevilla. El Centro makes for lovely medieval wanderings, the people were friendly, the food good ,and the police actually enforce the traffic laws.
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