Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Seville - blue sky revenge.

We have visited Seville before. In early Spring 2015 we stayed for a couple of days, visiting the beautiful Moorish Alcazar followed by a lunch of gazpacho in a nice little restaurant in the heart of Barrio de Santa Cruz. Even though preparations for Seville's famous Feria were almost compete, in early Spring there were few tourists about, and I don't recall having to queue for tickets for the Alcazar. 

Quite different today. The city centre was busy and the queue for tickets to visit the cathedral off-putting, so we simply mooched about without much of a plan and in the process clocked up about a 15km walk in temperatures which reached 34° by late afternoon. We've been waiting for warm sun for weeks. Today it arrived with a vengeance.

So, what did we get up to? We are staying, as before, at Autocaravanas Sevillia. The upside, it's secure, only a 2km walk to the centre and relatively cheap at €12 per night. The downsides are considerable. The place doubles-up as a busy car delivery centre. Car transporters roll up every few minutes to unload or collect vehicles. It can be entertaining to watch how deft the drivers are at rocketing shiny new vehicles up the transporters' steep ramps onto the trailers without once falling off the side or shooting off the far end. It's a noisy and diesel fume laden business. This goes on from 8.00am until about 6.30pm, and if you are hoping for a peaceful evening and a good night's sleep, then the container port across the river seems to operate 24hrs. If we return to Seville in the future, I think we will find an alternative place to stay.

Note dockside cranes in background - not a quiet place to stay.
Back to our tour of the city. It's a bit of a hike to the centre of the city centre which is situated on the opposite bank of the the river. It involves a trek up a muddy, potholed avenue of ragged eucalyptus, through an old industrial park then over the long Puentes de las Delicias. If you turn left as soon as you get to the far side there is a short cut to the centre through a small park called Jardines de las Delicias. In fact the gardens are not quite as delicious as their name suggests, being somewhat unkempt, and provide a shady haven for Seville's bewildered to have a kip, or local adolescent couples to find a quiet spot to test how passionate they can become without actually being arrested for public indecency. 

 Jardines de las Delicias has some fine statuary, the human activity takes place off screen, in the bushes.
Once through the park we reached a busy highway, the Paseo de las Delicias. We were next to an impressive building which turned out to be Seville's Conservatoire of Dance. Its students were taking a mid-morning break. As they chatted or checked their phones, as students do, someone would bend forward, lock hands behind back, and, standing on one leg raise the other slowly with perfect poise until it was in perfect parallel with their back, or mid sentence, perform a graceful arc with an outstretched arm, achieving the kind of 'beautiful extension' that attracts approving nods from Darcy on 'Strictly'. It was fascinating to watch. They were a seriously well honed, handsome bunch, young, talented and full of themselves - which is delightful I think. 

The magnificent Conservatoire of Dance
Its handsome students who stopped bending and stretching as soon as I pointed the camera - call yourselves performers...

We crossed the road. Beside a big equestrian statue stands the impressive gates of Parque de Maria Luisa. Nothing unkempt here. The well tended wooded pathways are full of little surprises, gaggles of noisy parakeets hide in the palm trees, statues of wood nymphs decorate shady groves, and pretty little pavilions shimmer in dark pools. The sight and sound of the many fountains bring a welcome relief on a hot day. 


Carriages and hidden parakeets!

Beyond here is the enormous Plaza de España. The huge pavilion is built in an arc around an ornamental lake featuring two tall towers linked by a sweeping, semi-circular arcade. It cannot fail to impress. Built on a monumental scale in an overblown, somewhat garish neo-mujadar style, the building is hardly beautiful, but it's sheer scale and the invention and colour of the tiled decoration makes you smile. It is grand architecture as popular entertainment, and I suspect it is regarded with real affection by the people of Seville. 

Plaza de España. - overblown, exuberant, irreristable...

Gill asked, "When do you think it was built?" I took a guess, "Maybe 1880, a bit later perhaps?." Somewhat to my chagrin, I missed the mark by almost half a century; Plaza de España was built in 1928, as the centrepiece of an Hispano-American exhibition held in Seville that year. In a sense, my error was understandable. In terms of style, the building has more in common with the ornate ebullience of Parisian Belle Epoqu or High Victorian extravaganzas than contemporary buildings from the 1920s. In 1928, Le Corbusier's Villa Savoy was already five years old, Walter Gropius had just completed the Bauhaus, and building workers in New York were racing to construct the tallest skyscrapers in the world. All these buildings looked to the future. 

Difficult to believe the date - 1928

Conversely, Plaza de España deliberately looks back, evoking past glories, both in its reactionary style and overtly nationalist decoration. This is most apparent in the decorative panels which adorn the tiled seats and niches in the arched loggia. Each is dedicated to a city in Spain and the painted tiles commemorate a significant event from the place's past. These range from defeating the Moors, bringing back booty from South American colonies, battles with the French, Portuguese and British, a range of saintly miracles and the odd fiesta or technical triumph, such as the first flight to the Canary Islands. The whole thing presents Spain as a European Catholic power with an significant imperialist history, which, of course it was. What saves these scenes from being dry as dust is the wide variety of different styles among the pictures and sprinkled among events of historical import a few more lively scenes, like the picture of Don Quixote and revellers at Seville's Feria.

Each niche provides a shady seat - and takes as its theme a Spanish city.

Themes include -  defeated Moors

Christian knights spurred on by a semi clad woman...

More supplicant Moors
Bare chested  natives bow before Spanish overlords...

It's not all imperialist hokum - a more gentle scene of peasant life

The first flight to the Canaries commemorated
A scene from Don Quixote

Sevillia's Feria depicted in a more modern style.

A more gentle scene

and a genre piece that reminds me of a Goya etching.
Plaza de España's conscious anachronism becomes significant is when you compare it to the pavilion designed by Mies Van de Rohe in the same year for a rival international exhibition hosted by the Catalan authorities in Barcelona. It is scarcely believable that two such public monuments, in radically different styles could be produced in the same country simultaneously. 

Seville, 1928
Barcelona, 1928

I suppose this could be dismissed as a minor, if slightly intriguing footnote in the architectural history of the 20th century, except it reveals how divided Spain was at the time -, between people allied to an autocratic Catholic conservatism that celebrated the country's militaristic, imperialist past, in conflict with radical modernisers with left leaning sympathies found mainly in Catalunya and the Basque region. Only six years later these tensions erupted into civil war. 

Plaza de España's exuberance, epic scale and overt popularism is infectious. 

It is impossible not to be enamoured by the beautiful, arabic inspired spaces

Here's a fan!
The plaza is an engaging public space, but there is a shadowy aspect to what it represents. The monument  is charming, seductive even, but not entirely benign. Maybe that's where it wins over the Mies Van de Rohe pavillion, because great buildings, like great art, present challenges; they are contradictory.

Beyond Plaza de España the city centre is a short stroll. On the way you pass the long neo-classical facade of the Royal Tobacco Factory made famous by the opera Carmen. These days it houses the Philology department of the University of Seville. There did not seem to be any security on the door, so we wandered in. It's a very impressive building, unlike any disused factory I have seen. 

The staircase reminded me of an Escher print.
Nearby, the area around the Cathedral and la Constitución is pedestrianised, or more accurately, a car free zone. You share the space with trams, bikes, horse drawn carriages and prowling Segway tours. It does not create a relaxed atmosphere. 

If the carriage drivers don't get you, the segway victims will.

The area around the cathedral is beautiful

and the queue - enormous
We checked out the ticket queue to visit to the cathedral. It stretched out into the street, so we decided to give it a miss. Instead we headed to a nearby restaurant, Cervecería Giralda, which had been given the thumbs-up in our guidebook as somewhere that served tasty, inexpensive tapas in an interesting setting - an old Arabic bath house. Given that the place is only a few metres from the Cathedral and Alcazar the place certainly does not hike up its prices, and the food was excellent.

Cervecería Giralda, - nice place, cheap tapas...

Afterwards we managed to become completely lost in the tangle of alleys beneath the walls of the Alcazar. We were trying to navigate towards Seville's famous bullring, but popped out in the square beside the cathedral, which was diametrically opposite to where we were meant to be. 

Barrio Santa Cruz - a very confusing place

Instead we headed down to the river and walked to the bullring that way. It was less atmospheric, but more straightforward. Out of the shade of the narrow alleys of Barrio de Santa Cruz we began to realise that it was warming up. After taking some pictures of the bullring we were pleased to reach the shady streets to the north of it. 

Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

I had in my head the image of a small square with a church raised on steps.I was sure we had a really great coffee at a cafe there the last time we were here. I was equally certain it was in this area, but became increasingly frustrated as no amount of wandering up and down, consulting streetview, staring at our map and muttering helped find the place. We did come across lots of other interesting streets, less overtly touristy than Barrio de Santa Cruz.and in the end sense prevailed; we settled for a different cafe.

Quieter streets north of the bullring

Now it was getting uncomfortably hot and we were footsore. Out of curiosity, as we sat waiting to be served, I consulted Google maps to find out how far it was to Autocaravanas Sevillia. The answer, a tad under 5km, a long walk on a very warm afternoon. We decided, even though there was little shade the quickest way back to the bridge was to follow the promenade by the river. An information sign gave the temperature as 34 degrees. From time to time we founded shady benches and rested. That way we made good progress and soon the Puentes de las Delicias appeared in the distance.

A small cruise ship was anchored near it. As we passed the vessel gave a long hoot on its siren and cast off. We had noticed the ship moored upstream when we crossed the bridge this morning. Given the somewhat ramshackle mechanism I had assumed that the lifting gear on the bridge must be obsolete. However, this could not be the case as the cruise boat was far to tall to navigate past the bridge. I don't think this happens regularly as a few people, like ourselves, were hurrying to a viewpoint to take photos of the raised bridge and MV. Star Pride sailing slowly towards it. Clearly the cruise company liked to create a bit of atmosphere  and music was wafting across the water from the ship's sound system. The choral ensemble sounded a bit Russian, like something the Red Army Choir might have performed in the 1970s. I think it was intended to give the occasion gravitas, whereas in fact it seemed to me to sound slightly sinister,

The excitement over we found ourselves back at Jardines de las Delicias, the path by the river is even scruffier than the route we took in the morning. There had been a shift change. The elevenses bewildered had been supplanted by the tea-time dishevelled and a different couple of adolescents were entwined on a park bench busy proving that teenage hormones are an effective analgesic against agony caused by protruding wrought iron.

The final couple of kilometres were brutal, over the bridge, back through the industrial wasteland and down the cratered eucalyptus avenue, searing heat, sore feet, zombie walk legs. Being sixty something is a pain in the arse, and that ached too.


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