Seville: A Study in Pretty

Back in elementary school when my life’s goal was to be a princess, I envisioned Seville to be my kingdom.  At the time though, I didn’t know it was Seville.  Only now I can put a name to the place.  It was Seville I saw because the city embodies such opulence and splendor, extravagance and lavishness, as only a fairy tale land could call its own.  (I’ll let the wildly roaming peacocks back me up on that)

In the last six days prior to our arrival in the city, Carl and I had journeyed from Barcelona → Madrid → Cordoba → Seville.  In general when my body tires and exhaustion sets in I’m exponentially more likely to dislike a place but Seville proved an exception.  True, my feet were tiring of traipsing around in Jeffrey Campbell sandals and my body felt ravaged by a never-ending combination of caffeine, booze and seafood, but thumbs up emojis all around.

Obligatory first stops in the city:  The Cathedral and the Alcazar.

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In the early 16th century Seville’s cathedral dethroned the Hagia Sophia as the largest cathedral in the world (Saint Peter’s Basilica now wears that crown), but I cannot imagine a larger holy space.

Christopher Columbus is buried here.  The walk up the Giralda, the cathedral’s bell tower, has 35 segments; there’s an “oldest person to climb this” record.  You’ll be winded by the journey up, but you’ll be rewarded with the view.  From above, the city looks like a colorful and palm-treed Paris.  A view of the surrounding cathedral sprawls out below, creating a Quasi Modo vibe.  Here I envision The Hunchback of Notre Dame being directed by Baz Luhrmann, and like the country itself it would be passionate and vibrant and buzzing with life.

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Every other cathedral I’ve visited in Spain would be swallowed whole by this place.  Mere appetizers, even.  In places like these it’s not impossible to believe that God would speak to you.  The light hums as it lands on you hundreds of feet below, folding and waving across ceilings and naves.  The same light is yellow, gold, rust, and white simultaneously.  It’s the same light yet alters itself depending on where you’re viewing it from, which, in my opinion, is what religion has always been.

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The Alcazar.  The word itself translates to many things — palace, castle, fortress, citadel, but it doesn’t matter what you call it or who you worship; this place will bring you to your knees.

Clocking in at a little over a millennium old, the Alcázar began construction in 913, as a home for the Moslem governor.  In the 11 centuries since its foundation was laid, it’s been expanded and developed over and over, and is now one of the most renowned examples of Moorish architecture in the world.

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During my Alcazar afternoon I felt the Disney heroin come alive in me once more; blissfully unaware of man’s follies, only comprehending of the splendor of my surroundings and the majesty of what man is capable of artistically.

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Here, the not so savory history is quieted by the ooo’s and ahh’s that inevitably tumble out.  This is especially helpful as you’re walking through the lavish “Courtyard of the Maidens”, whose name comes from the legendary rumor the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year from the nearby Christian kingdoms, or the ever-so-serene  “Baths of Lady María de Padilla”, named after the eponymous Maria de Padilla, mistress to Peter the cruel.

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The crusades are quelled by intricately carved engravings, and the tiling that I can only imagine would take a lifetime to implement on a single wall, stretches across entire halls.  It’s like when you leaf through an issue of Metropolitan Home and oogle that $900.00/sq foot wallpaper.  Except here it’s thousands of feet worth of hand carved stone and clay.

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I get wide eyed taking in the peacocks that roam wild in the gardens, I salivate looking at the bathing chambers.  I want it all.  And I don’t want to be princess any more.  I want to be queen dammit.

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Not all Moorish architecture survived the crusades.  Seville’s Alcazar is an exception.  And sometimes you have to imagine the pillagers stopping, staring, and passing on by, because the beautiful can be unconquerable.  A testament to man is a testament to man’s ability to create beauty, it need not be a testament to his God alone.

The 90 degree midday heat breaks into dusk as we leave the Alcazar.  A quick change from our sweaty clothes and we arrive at La Azotea for dinner.  It’s a fancy-ass tapas restaurant in the city, and arriving at 8:10 after an opening time of 8:00 means we can watch all of the gorgeous Spaniards waiting outside for tables.  I saw some beautiful people in the country, but an overwhelming amount of them were in Seville.

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In Barcelona everyone is a bit more laid back in their dress, with espadrilles, denim and racerback tanks, while Madrid was a bit more severe and office chic; navy Prada trenches and clicking heels.  Seville was all about women in high waisted wide legged pants, or stovepipe trousers, paired with knee length vests, backless halters and flimsy silk tops.  I’d describe it all as “boudoir menswear”.   It was sexy as hell.  If Jean Seberg were alive and in Spain, she’d be here.

All this I witnessed while noshing on a menu of andalusian tomatoes with sea salt, pork cheek with red wine sauce and goat cheese gratin, cod topped with sherry cream, ginger and toasted almonds, octopus and potato puree, and giant langoustines — which are basically a prawn/lobster hybrid that requires a knife and fork to eat.

I have no images to display, and if I were to try and draw any dish it would look something like a crimson colored blob with a smaller, beige-y-er blob next to it and a few green dots on top.  Aside from cold gazpacho on a hot day in Cordoba and my first octopus in the country, this meal takes top honors in Spain.

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Post dinner we headed to Metropol Parasol in the city’s old quarter.  Now the largest wooden structure in the world, its construction caused a deal of local controversy, which isn’t unimaginable given that you’re building a 100 million euro modern art structure that resembles melting mushrooms blocks away from 1000 year old architectural marvels.

I love it though.  Especially at night when you can see the massive Cathedral of Seville illuminated and peeking out underneath the parasol’s canopy.  Even more when you see thirty-something friends chatting at the coffeeshop under its neon lights, more when you watch tweens skateboard between pillars, and more yet catching college students make out on its stairs.  I’m sure many-a-text begin with “meet me at the parasol…”  Sure it looks like one big waffle cone, but it lures people in.  And for the Sevilleans that don’t love it, there’s little that brings people together more than an intense hatred for something. I’d consider the parasol a win for all.

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Truly, I’d have difficulty saying what isn’t beautiful in Seville, and I am not one who has a hard time knocking places. (have you ever been to Louisville, Kentucky?)  Sometime around midnight we sat on the water under centuries old fortresses, watching the youth of the city eat picnic dinners, uncork wine and smoke cigarettes.

For as foreign of a place we were in, the scene was comforting and nostalgic.  We were all 16 once, and bored.  All trying to be cool in a crowd, even if the crowd was just your best friend.  And even in a place as old as Seville, as steeped as it is in history and stained by war, the high school sophomores just want to chainsmoke and stay up late.  They want really good pairs of jeans and a proper feeling of rebellion.  From New York to L.A. and in between in Farmington, New Mexico and Fort Bragg, California, it’s the same as well.
That’s why there’s a genre for “coming of age” stories.  It crosses borders.  It spans generations.  Seville is old.  Europe is older.  Religion itself is fucking ancient.  But to have been young, and to remember what feels like to have been young, that’s the oldest.

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