“Seville was dazzling, a creamy crustation of flower banked houses fanning out from each bank of the river…. A thousand miniature patios set with inexhaustible fountains which fell trickling upon ferns and leaves, each a nest of green repeated in endless variations around the theme of domestic oasis” Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning”
It rained very heavily in the night and the hotel’s internal courtyard was awash with water that made the floor tiles shine brilliantly through the puddles but by breakfast time the sky had cleared and the sky was blue so it looked as though we may be in for a better day.
The Goya was closed this morning so we had exactly the same breakfast at the Bar Plaza instead and debated our itinerary for the day and agreed that on account of the unpredictable weather that we should drive to the capital of Andalusia – Seville.
The city of Seville is the fourth largest in Spain after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia and is the city of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro with a reputation for drama, flair and theatricality, castanets and flamenco, gypsies and horses and we set out therefore with very high expectations.
It was only a short drive along the Autovia and as this was Saturday the traffic on the streets was quite light. And this surprised me but the Spanish drivers were generally well behaved, patient and polite which made motoring a very pleasant experience.
Whilst driving was fine parking wasn’t nearly so easy and all of the on-street spaces were taken and we really struggled to find signs to a visitors car park. This seemed ridiculous, big city, lots of visitors, nowhere to park the car and after fifteen minutes I was beginning to run out of patience. I had almost reached the point of saying that if I have gone to all this trouble to visit Seville but Seville couldn’t bother to organise a parking space for me then I’ll just drive straight back out again, when we spotted a sign for an underground car park and we pulled in and finally we had our car parking spot.
It was quite a long walk to the old town but at least the sun was shining, lighting up the buildings and casting long shadows in the narrow streets and we knew it would be a warm day as people rearranged the shade of the canopies on their balconies.
We walked along a couple of busy main roads and then following a route to the centre of the city we turned off into a tangled web of narrow streets and alleys that criss-crossed and dog legged in a most confusing way and made following the street map with any degree of certainty almost impossible. And you certainly had to keep your wits about you because these streets were not designed for vehicles and pedestrians to use concurrently and the narrow pavements were dangerously close to the traffic.
We were in the city district of Santa Cruz, which is a maze of whitewashed buildings and alleyways all leading eventually to the centre and La Giralda and the Cathedral that is built on the site of a former Moorish mosque. The Cathedral is the largest in Spain and the third largest in the world, after Saint Peter’s in Rome and Saint Paul’s in London.
Some uninvited grey cloud had swept in rather quickly so we were tempted to go inside but there was a long queue so we investigated the Palace Real Alcázar opposite but there was a long queue for that as well so we abandoned both options for the time being and walked down to the river through the district of El Arenal. The Guadalquivir is the only great navigable river in Spain and currently it is possible to go from the sea up as far as Seville, but in Roman times it was navigable to Córdoba. We walked along the embankment and as quickly as it had arrived the grey cloud disappeared again.
After Madrid, Seville is the second most important centre for the national sport of bullfighting and after a few hundred metres we left the river and came up outside the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, which is the oldest bull ring in Spain.
The origin of modern day bullfighting on foot (rather than horseback) can be traced back to here and to the town of Ronda, also in Andalusia. It is one of the most charming bullrings in the country and although its capacity is only fourteen thousand spectators, which makes it rather small (the bullring in Madrid has a capacity of twenty-five thousand), it attracts all of the country’s finest bullfighters.
All of us except Christine, because she loves animals and can’t bear to think of them suffering, paid for and joined an informative and entertaining thirty-minute tour of the arena and the museum. We learned that bulls from an ancient bloodline are specially bred to fight and Spain is now the only country in the world to preserve this particular species of “toro bravo”.
There is a lobby to stop bull fighting in Spain but although it has been stopped in Catalonia for now it continues in the south. It is certainly cruel and each fight will end in certain death but the sport is more regulated now. Not so long ago the Picador’s horses were unprotected and suffered terrible injuries from gouging and this I think is the cruellest thing, their vocal chords were cut to prevent them screaming and upsetting the spectators. These days they wear protective armour.
Normally six of these fighting bulls are slain in an afternoon or evening fight and the fight involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes. The final act of the three-part corrida involves a series of intricate moves and daredevil passes by the matador before he makes his final lethal thrust between the bull’s shoulder blades and into its heart. If the kill is quick and clean and the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the fight’s president that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail.
It is called a fight but it is far from fair and the statistics show that in two hundred and fifty years only three matadors have died at the Seville bullring but they have dispatched almost two hundred and fifty bulls a year, so I can’t imagine that a lot of money changes hands betting on the outcome of the competition.
After the fighting and the killing a long queue of housewives begins to form to buy small quantities of the butchered meat – as a token rather than a meal because the meat is not best quality for eating since it is flushed with blood and lactic acid from the exertions of battle and comes from a beast that has been fed on a diet specially prepared to quicken its temper.
There was no fighting or butchering today so after we had completed our tour we made our way back to the Cathedral.