A DAY IN REGAL SEVILLE
Leaving Cadiz aboard a motor coach with fellow shipmates, guide Maria confirms our keen interest in exploring Spain's fourth largest city. "Seville best represents Iberian culture and sophistication. It's a pleasure to share a slice of its rich history with you!"
"We're now passing through Europe's most ancient city," she notes. "Phoenicians founded Cadiz in 1100 BC, then producing highly prized royal purple dye extracted from sea snails. Hannibal later made it his headquarters when conquering Iberia. The Romans ultimately defeated him, making Cadiz their naval base." Over a thousand years later, Christopher Columbus launched his second and third voyages to the New World from Cadiz, which became homeport for Spanish treasure fleets.
The countryside outside Cadiz proves to be a golden, blue-skied province dotted with red-roofed farmhouses. Its dry terrain supports flocks of sheep grazing on barren hillsides and unexpected cotton fields blooming amid olive groves and vineyards.
Crossing a new bridge over Seville's famed Guadalquivir River, our coach crawls through modern traffic into the historic heart of the city. Here, Maria leads us through narrow winding streets to the first of two palaces. Casa de Pilatos is said to be a copy of Pontius Pilate's Palace in Jerusalem. Completed in 1540 by the Marquees of Tarifa, it features walled gardens and lovely tile-floored courtyards typical of many Mediterranean homes. Surrounded by jasmine and orange trees, their blossoms infuse adjoining rooms with sweet perfume and natural light. This royal mansion reflects the Mudejar style found in the Alhambra: lavish molded stucco borders and arched Arabic doorways and windows. Lustrous, floral-inspired ceramic tiles, 'azulejos' embellish the walls.
Our walk resumes toward Lebrija Palace. Its distinguished history began only a century ago when the Countess of Lebrija restored this family mansion in an extraordinary fashion. Greatly interested in archaeology, this learned Sevillian lady became involved in fortuitous discoveries in a nearby grove of olive trees adjacent to the Roman ruins of Itálica. She moved these treasured pieces to her Palace and rebuilt rooms to accommodate these mosaics, statuary and other archaeological artifacts. We feel like we've been transported to a Roman villa!
Outside, our group gathers around an hombre roasting hazelnuts. We snack on these aromatic treats from small paper cones and proceed further into the old city. In a refurbished shopping area, a heritage bakery presents cornucopias of tasty looking pastries. As the center of Spain's Flamenco dancing, many shops display brightly colored, ruffled, bodacious and bodily curvaceous dresses.
Entering a rustic Tapas Bar, we relax around small wooden tables covered with red-checkered clothes. Setting small dishes before us, waiters begin serving traditional tapas: platters of regional cheese, sausage, slices of baguettes, olives, sautéed potatoes, roast bull's tail, famed paella and creamy flan. Sipping Spain's robust red Rioja wines, we savour every bite!
Our tour proceeds through the huge plaza of the world's largest gothic church. Initially a mosque constructed upon an existing Roman foundation, builders used its columns and other elements to construct Seville Cathedral, converting its former minaret into the iconic Giralda bellower. Today we simply take in its soaring beauty and enjoy the haunting arpeggios of the classic 'Spanish Romance' played exquisitely by a guitarist seated in the shade of a flying buttress. On a former trip we'd entered this venerable Cathedral and admired its lavishly decorated interior, that included a vast carved retablo depicting scenes from Christ's life and the sculpted tomb of Christopher Columbus.
On that same past venture, we'd visited the nearby Alcazar. With King Carlos IV in residence, today this famed royal Andalusian palace is closed to the public. Yet we recall its extraordinary Mudejar artisanship and Navigators' Chapel where La Virgen de los Mareantes hangs. This memorable painting depicts the Virgin Mary blessing a golden caped Columbus and his brother Pinzon.
Strolling onward through Santa Cruz Quarter, the old Jewish sector, Maria points out two monuments in this labyrinth of alleyways: the ancient comedy playhouse and splendid ironwork cross standing above buried ashes of famed 17th century baroque painter Murillo.
Many of us remember Seville's 1992 EXPO, celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus's first voyage. After a short bus ride, our day in regal splendor concludes ambling through its monumental Plaza de España, where we delight in the modernista architecture of the Spanish Pavilion. Designed in early 20th-century style, this immense public palace displays each region's past glories with arrays of tile work.
Filled with intriguing history and sensuality, Seville is well worth a day of exploration!
IF YOU GO
Holland America offers several summer European cruise itineraries: www.hollandamerica.com
PHOTOS: (Rick & Chris Millikan)
1. Sevilla Casa de Pilatos: Chris points out one array of 'azulejos' depicting a religious theme.
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