Watch out San Francisco, I may have left my heart in Seville, Spain! There are a million reasons to fall in love here. Winding labrynths with small ornate cafes and shops that lead to adorable central squares filled with hundreds of orange trees. The overly friendly Spanish people who are constantly smoking their cigars, sipping their vino, and offering to walk you to your next destination are infectious.
A stop in Seville would not be complete without visiting the Alcazar (royal palace) and the Seville Cathedral. Similar to Lisbon’s history, when the Catholics invaded Spain they crumbled much of the Moore (Islamic) architectural influences. These new Catholic edifices are literally built on top of the Moore ruins after the battle had been won.
Weirdly enough, the new Catholic King decided to build almost an exact replica of the Moore castle and even hired a Muslim architect to construct the Alcazar. According to tradition and beliefs, Muslims cannot use faces, symbols, or figures of any kind of animal in their architectural plans. Hence, to show dominance the King ordered tile to be put in the main square that depicts pictures of lions and the castle. Interestingly, he also included the Star of David in the doors leading out to the gardens, symbolizing that all of these religions (Muslim, Catholic, and Judaism) could be accepted all under one roof. I found this fascinating on many levels. He demolished the original castle, defied Muslim architectural traditions, but yet put up the appearance of harmony with all religions. Very backward and forward-thinking at the same time. Similar to modern-day American culture? We all pretend to live in a beautiful melting pot of diverse cultures, but really in the end just shit on one another. We pretend to respect people that are different than us but then curse them behind their backs (putting lion and castle tiles for them to never find). You cannot have both and be truly authentic…assertion of your dominance and open-mindedness towards cultures that are different from your own. I choose the latter.
Across from the Alcazar, huge gothic towers soar into the sky. Upon walking into the Seville Cathedral, you are immediately awestruck with its vastness, tall ceilings, stain class windows highlighting the arches, the massive organs (literally impressive!), and the floor to ceiling gold alter which is the largest in the world. Something unique to this Cathedral is that the choir is located in the middle of the building. When it was built the architect wanted the sound of the organs and the voices in the choir to radiate throughout the mass. The Cathedral’s acoustics are supposedly out of this world.
Having the choir in the middle was also an easy way to separate the classes, with royalty in the front pews and the lower class behind the choir. To this day, it is a common phrase for locals to say “I’m going to go hear mass” because most people were commoners at that time and their view was blocked by the floor to ceiling organs. While there was no denying that this Cathedral was impressive, I could not help but think how much money was tied up into this place. The floor to ceiling alter alone could probably abolish poverty in several countries!
Christopher Columbus is buried within the Seville Cathedral and his tomb is held by four nobleman statues. Apparently, Columbus’ remains were shipped many, many times after his death for a variety of reasons. Some of the places his remains travelled to were Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Madrid to name just a few. The joke is that he crossed the ocean blue more when he was dead than when he was alive.
For years and years the Dominican Republic argued that they still held the corpse of Christopher Columbus and they had returned the remains of his son in his place. Due to modern day science, they were able to conduct a DNA test and have confirmed that Seville owns 15% of Columbus’ remains which is approximately four fingers. No one is quite sure where the rest of him went!
To the naked eye, Christopher Columbus seems like a highly revered figure throughout Seville. Statues are resurrected in his honor throughout the city. However, if you ask several locals (or at least the ones I spoke to) their perception has changed over the years. Just like American history books, they are realizing that the whole truth was not presented to them and that in fact Christopher Columbus was a savage man.
It was time to leave the Cathedral and head for a bite to eat. I meandered to a local spot that’s well known in Seville for their braised bull meat. This restaurant is right around the corner from the infamous bullring where fights still take place to this day. The dead carcasses are brought here to be butchered, prepared, and then sold to local patrons after the fights…today, myself included!
In all honesty, I am very against bullfights and find them extremely inhumane. Several years ago I attended a fight in Madrid and was horrified. The shrieking of the bull as he is being stabbed multiple times, dying a slow death, is unbearable. What was most surprising were the little children with handkerchiefs waiving them in the air yelling with glee for the bull to be killed. Different cultures completely.
Part of my tour was to stop at the bullring around the corner where we would be able to actually go into the ring and see it from the commodore’s perspective. Our guide brought us to the main gate that the commodore and the bull come out to greet the audience. In this corridor, there is a small chapel where the bullfighter spends an hour praying to the Virgin Mary before he meets his match.
Coming home from a long day of exploring I was exhausted! However, I had promised myself that I would see a traditional Flamenco show while in Seville (the birthplace of Flamenco -a type of Spanish dance). I mustered up the energy and walked to a nearby plaza that offered an intimate show called Los Gallos. I was incredibly touched by this show, enabling me to experience the Spanish culture through expressive dance. Each movement was filled with so much passion, force, power, and elegance. The way that they maneuver their flowing skirts across the stage is a wonder to witness.
My favorite Flamenco ended up being the only man in the show. Something about his composure and energy on stage actually brought me to tears. He was beautiful. Suddenly I had such a beautifully intimate moment with myself. I realized I was on a date by myself and what amazing company I was. There was no need to check in with anyone else to see if they were enjoying the show. I could just focus on my own experience. So incredibly freeing.
After the show, I walked back towards my hotel and was really happy…really content. I popped into an adorable cafe and ordered a glass of wine and a cheese plate. The owner of the restaurant could see that I was cold and he brought over a little heater to put under my table to warm my legs. What a kind gesture. A record played in the background that sounded exactly like my father’s voice when he used to sing. It made me reminiscent of the olden days and also made me realize how opposite I turned out compared to what my parents thought I would. Not married, no children, and sitting at a bar all alone in the middle of Spain (and loving every moment of it!). I sat there with no wifi, no one to call, and with no one who spoke English. No distractions, just me. I actually really enjoyed it and grinned to myself making a promise that when I return back to San Francisco, I’d take myself out on a date once a month. I don’t need to travel halfway across the world in order to make time for myself.
Halfway through my meal, I signaled the owner for my check. Even in my blissful, self-love moment, I’m an American and want things done at a fast pace. He shook his head no and with his eyes, told me to relax and enjoy. I was so thankful that he did. When the check did come he looked at me and in his first words in English, uttered: “you are so beautiful.” It was such a sweet moment and I replied: “gracias…your heart is beautiful” (as I pointed to my heart and to his). With that, I got up from the table, walked through the winding alleyways, and rest my tired head on my pillow after an amazing day. Life can be so beautiful.