Surprising Seville

We didn’t expect to like Seville—being tired of the noise and dust and crowds of cities—and we very nearly skipped it. That would have been a great mistake. Seville (pronounced Seh-vee-ya), the urban heart of Andalucia, is wonderful. The impressions you get on a balmy March day are of an open, airy, bright city, with pastel-colored buildings, large public gardens, interesting architecture, and the heavenly smell of orange blossoms wafting everywhere.

The exuberant Baroque front of the old archbishop’s palace next to the cathedral

It’s a great city for walking or biking, with wide, flat streets and special bike lanes. There’s a public bike-rental scheme that lets you get a bicycle in one part of town and return it in another. Unfortunately, we didn’t come across that until we were about to leave the city.

A church from 1696. Ceramic finials on roofs are a typically Sevillian feature.

One of the great, unexpected things about downtown Seville is that parts of it are full of whimsical architecture. In 1929, the city hosted a grand exposition of the Spanish-speaking world, and Spain and other countries built fantastical, ornate buildings to house their displays. A profusion of pavilions, towers, domes, arches, colorful tiles, and carvings. Some of the expo buildings have been turned into embassies, restaurants, theaters, or museums. They make a stroll through the Parque de Maria Luisa or a bus ride around the city that much more fun.

So many things here are pretty. For example, horses and fancy open carriages ply the streets around the cathedral. Unlike in some other tourist spots (old Cordoba or Ronda), where the carriage horses are run-down old nags, the horses in Seville are as beautiful as their polished carriages, posing for passersby or stepping proudly in the sunshine.

The Moorish-style door knocker on Seville’s cathedral

Seville is also a smorgasbord of history. You can sample Roman artifacts, Moorish-style design, grand 15th- and 16th-century church architecture (funded by the riches of the New World), classical Spanish painting, and 20th-century patriotic lavishness—all within strolling distance of each other.

I’m sorry we don’t have many pictures to show you of the city. After our first day of intensive sightseeing, we spent several luxurious days just wandering without a camera, not feeling the pressure that comes with trying to record a place. Besides, it would take a photographer a year to do justice to the architecture of Seville. And even then, she couldn’t capture the wonderful scent of the orange blossoms.

[Editors’ note: We took many more photos when we returned to the city in 2017.]

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