Seville was a very walkable city. The best way to see it was to get slightly lost in the annals of its streets and sights. In the Santa Maria Luisa park, heavy foliage was draped with birds of varying types, colors, and chirps. The Plaza de Espana wrapped around in a semi-circle with beautiful arches and a long man-made pond. Small rowboats dotted the pond available to rent for $6 for a half hour. The naval capabilities of the tourists were less than impressive but rather amusing, with many “rowing” clumsily or altogether backward. Hannah and I marked the park to come back for a day of outdoor reading…and maybe even some rowing.
Alongside the riverfront, there stands an ovular, two tiered building, the Plaza de Toros which still holds bullfights. While bullfighting decreased in recent years for its violent nature and animal barbarism, it is nonetheless an important aspect of Spanish history and culture. The ring was one of the largest in the world. Our audio-guide explained the history of bullfighting, which originally included horse mounted bullfights as a method of training soldiers. It evolved, and with it, the preparation ceremony of bullfighting did, too. We saw the fighters’ staging area where their assistant somberly dressed them in their uniform, the “traje de luces”, or suit of lights. As the anxiety and trepidation set in, the fighters proceeded to the chapel to ask for the Virgin Mary’s protection. On the wall lie 4 tiles with pre-written prayers and poems, in case the bullfighters’ minds were too distracted to put one together themselves. Finally, they stepped out onto the mustard yellow sands to a roaring crowd and the bull. Along the edges of the ring stood several small square outposts that the fighters hid behind in the event of an emergency or enraged bull. The walls bore dozens of deep gorges and cuts into the wood from decades of horns piercings.
The best part of Seville was the Alcazar. It has been used in several major shows and films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones. The Alcazar served as the palace for royalty, and is still in use in 2019. It was inhabited by both Christian and Muslim rulers alike. The architecture and design of the palace is quite eclectic and unique. Centuries of Muslim rule can be seen throughout its beautifully intricate tiles and archways. Later Christian influence is seen in the depiction of saints or slightly simpler designs in various rooms. As you pass from one room to the next, it is as if you are transported across cultures and centuries. From the floors, to walls, and ceiling it was beautiful and timeless.
In short, architecture such as that of the Alcazar and Alhambra in Granada were why I wanted to come to southern Spain. The details of the scrawlings in the wall tiles, the tiled patterns of the door mantles, honeycombed ceilings, and rich wooden panels are just simply unlike anything I had encountered in western culture or art in my short 30 years of life. I could not help but reflect on the political climate of the United States as I toured these wonders.
One revelation for me on this trip is this: The blatant Islamophobia in western society is ignorant and ill informed, to put it bluntly. Islam is an Abrahimic religion, meaning it traces its routes back to the same person both Jews and Christians do in the Bible: Abraham. Islam also recognizes Jesus Christ as a major prophet in their religion (just not THE prophet, that is Muhammad for them). Historically, the conquest of Islam through the Middle East and eastern European basin was actually abundant with both tolerance and generosity. Muslim conquerors not only allowed Christians and Jews to practice their religion, but actually repaired and built churches on their behalf. It was easier to respect and placate the newly conquered than forcibly convert them. Spain decided to do things a different way when they conquered the Nasrid dynasty (the Moorish inhabitants of southern Spain). History can teach us lessons, but it is nice to know both sides of the story. A good read on this is The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. It turns western “written by the victors” history on its head and tells some of the lesser taught, but vital, history of the world. Acknowledging another parallel narrative to our own does not mean forcible change of views, but it can sure makes us better empathizers with those of different beliefs and histories than our own.
On a personal footnote, I understand referring to “Islamic conquerors” is similar to saying “Christian conquerors”, grouping several differing cultures under one religious umbrella. Spain, France, and Germany are all Christian but have VERY widely different cultures and practices. Islam has this as well, not just with Shia and Sunni interpretations, but also regional. Islam in Northern Africa is different from Syria, which is different from Saudi Arabia, which is different from Uzbekistan, which is different from Malaysia. I am a firm believer that the more we learn through history, discussion, and empathy, the better humans we can be.
The Cathedral of Seville was also stunning. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Inside, one of the main sights was the purported tomb of Christopher Columbus. His tomb was flanked by 4 sailors holding it high upon their shoulders, representing the then 4 united Spanish regions. There is actually hot debate over whether his body is actually entombed in Seville or not. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic also claims to hold his body. My research shows that some experts believe it is likely split between the two cities.
The Giralda rises from the confines of the cathedral courtyard into the Sevillan sky. It is a former Islamic minaret that was converted into a Catholic bell-tower. Once inside, we walked up several dozen floors along a steady sloped ramp. In the tower’s original use, the mu’azzin (person announcing the call to prayer) rode up the slopes on a donkey several times per day to make the regular announcement to the city that it was time for prayer. On the journey to the top, several small inlets displayed old pulley systems, the original Moorish styled door to the tower, and examples of original decor that once graced the inner walls.
Spaniards were boisterous and full of a lust for life. They also take the lottery very seriously. Several times during our time in Spain, I witnessed queues of people waiting to purchase a lottery ticket. On one street, locals took the newly purchased tickets and rubbed them on a wall image of a black cat, seemingly for good luck.
My wife and favorite travel companion turned 30 while in Seville. As we had been travelling for 8 months, still in a foreign country, and constantly together, surprises were difficult to plan. We shared an early dinner at Casa Manolo Leon, a nice Andalusian restaurant. Appetizers consisted of a salmon avocado tarter as well as fried artichoke with tomato and Iberian ham. My main courses were steak with a cheesy mustard, potatoes, and eggplants. Hannah’s was a mushroom risotto. Crispy bread and oil and cheese were also placed on the table. It was delicious. On a funny note, Hannah and I often travel about town looking very ragged. Our clothes are too big and we have worn every outfit dozens of times. Recently, we picked up some new pants, a jacket, and sweater. We both felt pretty good getting a little dressed up for the restaurant.