The ALCÁZAR is the brilliant Mudéjar Palace first begun by Spanish King, Pedro the Cruel, in 1361. For almost 7 centuries it has been the dream house of Spanish Kings. Mudéjar means Christian Spanish architecture strongly influenced by Islamic motifs and culture.
Who was “Pedro the Cruel”? He started out as a nice enough guy . He secretly married for love (Maria de Padilla), but was forced to deny it (even though they had four children) and embark on a series of distasteful royal matches made by his mother. Maybe that’s where the trouble started. The last unsuccessful match found Queen Blanche (granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II – if you remember them from The Lion in Winter) either poisoned or knocked off by a crossbow, or both, in 1361. After that, he became known as a bit of a serial killer, first ordering the assassination of his half brother, Fadrique. Then (at least legend says), murdering a dinner guest, Abu Said of Granada, to steal one of his jewels, a huge ruby. Later, he presented that ruby to another guest, the Black Prince (son of English Edward III) in 1367. This jewel was worn by Henry V at Agincourt and is now part of the Crown Jewels of England. There must be two sides to this story as Pedro the Cruel’s supporters always said he only killed people who deserved it, and they called him “Pedro the Just.”
Starting here at Casa de Contratacion in the Alcázar Palace, Isabella’s headquarters for controlling trade, the “Virgin of the Seafarers” blessed all the ships on their way to plunder the New World. In 1518 under King Charles I, Magellan’s 5 ships set sail from the river port of Sevilla to circumnavigate the globe and bring back as much nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, gold and silver as their ships could carry. Poor Magellan suffered a gruesome murder during a battle in the Philippines, and only one of his ships made it home, proving the theory the earth was round.
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Near the Alcázar is the grand Cathedral, Santa Maria de la Sede. It was consecrated after the reconquest of the Moors by the Christians in 1248. The Cathedral is built on the former site of a mosque (built in 1171). The present construction started in 1401, but contractors, masons, painters, plasterers, and stone carvers didn’t leave the job site until 1506!
The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in the world in overall plan and the third largest church in the world after the Vatican Basilica and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil which was built in 1960.
This wacky, clunky monument devoted to Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón-Zarco 1448-1506) was designed by Arturo Mélida in 1891. It was hauled back from its original home in Cuba and installed here in 1897 when Spain lost that possession. There is a long, noisy, inconclusive dispute about whether this monument actually contains any authentic remains of Christopher Columbus or if they belong to his son by mistake. I will spare you the intricate details and encourage you to read all about it on the internet.
The Cathedral’s treasury is a reminder that Sevilla was granted a monopoly on trade with the New World. That means all ships going to the New World left from the river port of Sevilla and returned to the river port of Sevilla. Sevilla dominated Spain’s colonial commerce for two hundred years, and was the center for the mint.
San Fernando (King Ferdinando III of Castille, Spain, 1199-1252) is known for organizing the Reconquista of al-Andulus, i.e., driving out the Moors and the Jews from southern Spain, thus turning all the former mosques and synagogues into churches and now, thriving tourist attractions.
Trade with the New World is still strong as tourists spend money on carriage rides around town.
Tourists swarm Sevilla to experience Holy Week’s solemn processions, masses, repenting, flogging, etc. A few weeks later, Sevilla goes crazy and stages La Feria de Avril, an all night every night rave for a week where everyone dresses up in loud Flamenco outfits, drinks and eats like mad in little Casetas (temporary huts) built in empty lots. Don’t rush into town for this, because you’re prohibited from attending unless you’ve been invited in by a local.
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Since Sevilla is a party town, start the festivities in the hands of the brilliant young chef, Juan Gómez, at LA AZOTEA, Calle Zaragoza 5, 41001 Sevilla 671 496 57 www.laazoteasevilla.es/
LA ARENERO – Taller de Tapas, featured another chef with miraculous skills. Pasaje de Vila, 6, 41001 Sevilla, Spain. 954 211 713 www.arenero.es