(Translated from Russian, originally published in Marie Claire Ukraine June 2013 issue, which can be found here)
Visiting the land of “Carmen” and “The Barber of Seville”, I found out: in Spain, passion takes place not only on stage
I dreamt of visiting Seville for many years and now, finally, after a short flight from London, I find myself in this picturesque town. Already off the plane I feel the hot breath of air and accept it with gratitude after London’s cool. The taxi driver, realizing that the conversation in Spanish won’t take us anywhere, gets quiet and I admire evening landscape of the city and reflection of its lights in the river. My hotel is located in the romantic and not so touristy district of San Lorenzo, not far from the Guadalquivir River. Here one can see daily life of Sevillians: from the early morning chirping of gossiping neighbours and voices of playing children can be heard. In a meantime, tables are set at the cosy square of San Lorenzo, men are lazily reading newspapers, while waiters at the cafes are running around preparing next portion of tapas.
Each neighbourhood has its own Catholic church and Spaniards, being pious, go to the church service at least once a day. This religiosity also becomes evident in the fact that building walls on many streets are decorated with the images of various saints, including Virgin Mary. There is such a myriad of churches in Seville that soon you get confused and forget which ones you’ve already visited. However, I really liked neighbourhood La Macarena, which my friend Alberto advised to visit before noon, while the mass was still going on and such churches, as La Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena (Virgin of Hope) and Basilico de la Macarena, were open to visitors.
As other old cities, Seville is divided by the river Guadalquivir into the two parts. The east coast host all of town’s attractions, but the opposite side, especially Triana district, should be visited in the evening, when traditional and trendy bars and restaurants open. Here you can eat and dance, and afterwards take a walk along the river. Seville’s historical center is very compact and without much effort you can visit in a coupe of days Royal Palace Alcázar with its gardens, built in the 10th century by the Moorish ruler and which served as a residence of the royal family; largest in Europe, the Cathedral of Seville with the Giralda tower, built on the site of a 12th century mosque, and site of the tomb containing the remains of Christopher Columbus (although scientists still dispute their belonging to the great discoverer); and watchtower Torre del Oro (“Gold Tower”), which, according to tales, stored gold from the New World and which allegedly used to be overlaid with gold; and famous for its luxury and wealth Casa de Pilates Palace of the Dukes of Medinaceli. And, of course, you should watch the national sport, the bullfight, at the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza – the oldest bullring in Spain, where country’s most famous matadors perform.
Among other attractions and many churches, every visitor must see Maria Luisa Park and its jewel – Plaza de Espana! All sights of Seville have faded away after I got to the square, hidden in the green foliage of the park. Here, in one place you can get to know all provinces of Spain through the landscapes laid out with tiles and mosaics along the palace, built in the baroque style in the form of a crescent.
You don’t really need a map and clearly defined route in Seville: simply wander around its narrow streets and the city itself will tell you its amazing history. While the heat outside gets unbearable, each house entrance tempts with its cool breeze. Out of curiosity I enter one of them and find a cosy inner court, patio, full of tall vases made of Seville’s famous blue and white porcelain and green plants in pots. It should be noted that the tiles that decorate entrances of houses, walls and facades, strike with their diversity and presence of oriental motifs. Arab theme can be seen not only in the design of ceramic tiles, but also in the architecture of Seville. Yet, if you know its history – Mauritanians ruled in Spain for eight centuries – this becomes less surprising.
A word about sleep, food and dancing!
Siesta is sacred to the Spaniards. With the temperatures of +42, locals find relief in air conditioners and water sprays that are built in the edges of many cafes and restaurants’ roofs. My friend Alberto tells me that in the afternoon his apartment in seconds turns into a dark lair – all windows and shutters are closed, the air conditioning turns on, and from 2 to 4-5 pm it is better not to disturb him. He sleeps! Like many other Sevillians. “What about work?” I ask. “Everyone just goes home for siesta and as temperatures drop, they go back to their offices and work till late!” That’s why dinner in Seville begins late – at 10-11 pm, when you can enjoy cool air and evening scenery of the historic city.
In this heat it is particularly nice to enjoy light salads, cold gazpacho soup (which can be easily purchased in paper boxes, like milk, in any supermarket) and salmorejo (a mixture of tomatoes, bread, oil, vinegar and garlic, which is served with slices of ham and boiled eggs), and small portions of different vegetarian, fish and meat appetizers – tapas.
Wherever you look, you can find small cafes, bars and restaurants with a wide selection of tapas – about 1,000 types! Tapas are not only a culinary pride of Sevillians, but are also a way of life. For the locals, going for tapas is to order few tapas to share with friends over a glass of wine and heated conversation, and then move to another restaurant and repeat all over again!
Cheese and thinly sliced Iberian ham, jamon, is almost always present on Sevillians’ dinner tables. They display a particular affection towards it. Those, who saw film “Jamon, Jamon,” will remember the scene in which the main character of Javier Bardem caresses the body of his lover (by Penelope Cruz) and compares its smell with a tantalizing smell of jamon. One of the days Alberto takes me to a local restaurant, where only Sevillians eat and you can truly enjoy the taste of Andalusian cuisine.
In the menu I see local delicacy “cola de toro” or oxtail. As a person accustomed to the dishes made of the tails, hooves and other body parts of the livestock, I want to try this dish, to which Alberto responds with a pucker face. It turns out even being a true Sevillian, Alberto is prejudiced towards the “cola de toro” and another delicacy, “criadillas” or bull’s testicles, which, according to the local beliefs, grant men courage and increase their sexual potency. The second dish I left for the next time, but tasted oxtail stew with vegetables and liked it a lot!
Seville is also a fiery flamenco with a clatter of heels, colourful skirts, and the striking grace of dancers, reflecting passionate nature of Spaniards. Although flamenco in the minds of the ordinary people associates with dancing, it is, first of all, about singing and guitar playing, which find their continuation in the dance moves. There are places in Seville, where flamenco is performed for tourists for much and not so much money and places, where Sevillians dance for themselves.
In Triana, one of the most popular areas of Seville, close to midnight Casa Anselma, a place that doesn’t need any advertising, opens its doors. At dusk, bar regulars gather in a small room and take their seats arranged in a circle. While guitarists warm up playing something in the style of Gipsy Kings, the hostess Anselma, an energetic old woman, takes drink orders from every visitor in a demanding manner. She becomes particularly annoyed when my companions and I order Sprite and tonic. It turns out that Anselma is the most famous flamenco singer in Seville, which becomes evident from the tenderness she is treated with by her guests. After a while, she calms down, takes a seat in the middle of the circle and begins to sing a sad song, probably about an undivided love. An older man and a woman (clearly unprepared for the performance) come out of the audience and start dancing ‘corrida’. Each of the four dance parts is accompanied with the clapping of hands and clatter of heels to the rhythm of the guitar. The eyes of a man and woman exude so much passion that you don’t know how this match will end. Those who prefer something more professional, I recommend heading to the bar “La Carbonería” in the old Jewish quarter of Santa Cruz. This place with its daily concerts is popular not only among the tourists, but also among the locals.
Afterall, the charm of this town is that wherever you wander in and whatever you see, it leaves a lasting impression and welcomes you back with its hospitality again and again. So I don’t say goodbye to the fabulous Seville, but only whisper “Hasta luego” (See you soon)!
Although it is hard to call Seville an opera capital, it was she that inspired such famous composers as Mozart, Bizet, Beethoven, Verdi and Rossini. When you think of Seville, famous operas “The Barber of Seville,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Carmen” immediately come to mind. Walking on its streets, don’t miss the grandiose building of the University of Seville, which until 1950 was home to a tobacco factory. Many women worked at this factory and, according to the legend, gypsy beauty Carmen, whose image inspired Prosper Merimee during his trip to Spain in 1830, used to work here. Novella “Carmen” was first published in 1845 and later this tragic love story served as a foundation to the Bizet’s opera. And though Carmen is a fictional character, today her image in Seville is immortalized in the statue, which can be found on Paseo Alcalde Marqués de Contadero.
Calle Antonia Díaz, 19
This family-ran restaurant near the bullring is very popular among the Sevillians. Here it’s worth trying delicious jamon and traditional sausages chorizo.
Calle Pagés del Corro, 49
Thanks to its owner, all locals know this establishment, but rarely share this best-kept secret with the tourists, who want to enjoy warm and family-like atmosphere and spontaneous amateur performances by guitarists, singers and flamenco dancers themselves.
Calle Betis, 20
The bar is located in the heart of the nightlife Seville – Triana district on the west bank of the river. Here not only you can enjoy a good selection of drinks, but also free flamenco shows on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Plaza Cristo de Burgos, 19
This traditional tavern was opened in 1933 and is famous for its selection of delicious tapas. Your mouth will salivate from one look at such tapas, as quail eggs with ham, cheese and anchovies and chicken breast with sauce and almonds!
Calle Calatrava, 16
Fans of fine dining and local wines should visiting this restaurant, famous for the fusion of dishes, flavours and ingredients from all over the world. Here, why not taste kangaroo meat with mushrooms, Vietnamese rolls, samosas with chicken curry, gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese and salmorejo with beetroot?