Seville has a reputation as a sleepy town, as being a little more old fashioned than other Spanish cities. The city is not known for the open exuberance of a city like Madrid, but Seville has an atmosphere that is special and worth experiencing. As simple as it sounds, it is true that it is difficult to surpass the experience of walking aimlessly through Seville’s streets.
These avenues are tight and twisting, sometimes turning on a dime, sometimes expanding and then contracting, and then endlessly and surprisingly opening up to new plaza. Some plazas are open and spacious, while others offer little more than a few benches, a fountain and a handful of orange trees providing a welcome canopy beneath the Spanish sun.
Seville’s orange trees are well-known among travellers. They fill the air with the scent of their blossoms in all areas of the town’s center, providing an unexpected sensuous pleasure to everything you do outdoors.
The orange trees of Seville are also well-known for their unique taste. Calling the oranges “tart” doesn’t do them justice- as the taste is closer to lemons than to anything squeezed into a Florida orange juice carton. The locals sweeten their sour fruit by turning them into jam but that shouldn’t stop you from plucking one from a tree and getting a taste for yourself. This is an experience that may not be especially pleasant but which satisfies the curiosity enough as to be a necessary moment during a first trip to this city.
Some may find the cramped and winding streets of Seville overly confusing and frustratingly closed off at first, but it doesn’t take more than an hour or two of wandering before you’ll develop a certain meditative sense of calm- a unique feeling of peace difficult to cultivate when navigating a North American city whose wide-open grid-like rues were designed with the needs of cars.
An ancient city like Seville was designed for people and with no regard to the demands of modern urban life. Overall Seville is a city crafted in a manner that keeps human proportions upfront. At least, most of the Seville has been constructed keeping in mind the needs of the individual or neighborhood.
The Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, Cathedral of St. Mary of the See, or the Seville Cathedral, is the third-largest cathedral in the world, so its size makes an impact even by today’s standards. This is made all the more impressive compared to the rest of the city’s miniaturized stature. The Cathedral replaced a masque and was expanded in such a manner as to display the city’s wealth and to appear so massive “that those who see it built will think we were mad.”
The famous Reales Alcázares de Sevilla or the Alcázar of Seville, is a similarly old and expansive building that was originally a Moorish fort that was repurposed into a royal palace. Seville’s local royal family still lives in the Alcazar’s upper levels (making the structure the oldest European palace still in use) while its lower levels and extensive gardens are open to the public for a modest admission fee.
Large garden parks are common in Seville, as its near-tropical climate makes year-round weather conditions optimal for the sort of exotic palms and other flora you’d expect to find in nearby North Africa.
Parque de María Luisa, the Maria Luisa Park, is the grandest park in Seville and has many monuments, numerous ponds and fountains. Overflowing with all manner of greenery broken up by walkways, pavilions, sun-drenched clearings and the occasional museum, spending the afternoon in the Maria Luisa Park feels like walking through a fairy tale. The park’s northern edge opens up into the sprawling Plaza de España.
Plaza de España, Spain Plaza, is almost overpoweringly beautiful with ornate architecture, languid canals, and brightly painted façades that inevitably remind you just how close to the northern tip of Africa, the Spanish city of Seville really sits. Plaza de España was constructed in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of that year. The plaza complex was built in a huge half-circle with buildings running around the edge with each building accessible by numerous beautiful bridges over a moat. In the center is a fountain. The walls of the plaza have many tiled alcoves, each alcove dedicated to a Spanish province. The buildings of the plaza were featured prominently in two of the three films in the Star Wars trilogy.
Of more recent construction, the Metropol Parasol is in the old quarter of Seville and was completed in 2011. The Parasol is a strikingly beautiful building whose warping curves stand tall and spread forming the world’s largest wooden structure. The observation decks offer an incredible view of the city yet it’s only when lit up at night that the Parasol really proves modern Seville offers more than old-fashioned charm. On the street level is the Central Market, while an Antiquarium, a museum of antiquities discovered during construction, is located on the underground level. The building is locally known as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Encarnación’s mushrooms).
However, aside from admiring the ultra-modern turns of the Parasol you will be forgiven if you fail to see Seville’s youth culture. Sitting by the banks of the river munching on tapas with an old friend of mine who has made Seville a second home, I voiced my impression that Seville could never match the manic pleasures of an international hub like Madrid. My friend argued against my blanket statement, arguing Seville offered the same youth culture as Madrid. She said you just needed to know the right people- the sort of folks who would help you dig beneath Seville’s old-school façade in search of its ravers.
I trust my friend and believe her when she says Seville has a blistering youth culture buried below its orange-blossomed streets but “needing to know the right people” won’t offer much encouragement to the city’s average visitor looking for a dangerous night.
Now, granted, this is true of any foreign city you visit. No matter where you travel to, even to international party hubs like Berlin or London, you will enjoy the nightlife far more if you have at least one local to show you around. Yet the bigger, younger, and wilder cities make it easy to meet fellow revelers, and none of them require insider knowledge to the degree I seemed to find in Seville.
Don’t get me wrong- I loved my time in Seville and found plenty to enjoy. I ate a tremendous amount of great food and watched heart-pounding flamenco shows, I enjoyed hanging out in the alameda (public walkway shaded with trees) and I heard many good things about the Triana district, but ultimately when I think of my visit, I think of wonderful afternoons strolling through Seville, I think about Skyping with my 2-year old niece and hearing her ask over and over again to see the orange trees in the plaza I sat in, I think about relaxing nights filled with long dinners with friends… all of which have at least as much to offer as an endless night among Madrid’s party-set.