The Plaza de España features a pavilion built for the 1929 World's Fair and is surrounded by a moat crossed by picturesque bridges.

Soul of Spain

Thousands of years of influence
from various cultures result in
unique neighborhoods and landmarks

Try a taste of tapas
Travel information

More visitors flock to Spain than to any other nation in the world except France. Among its attractions, the golden city of Seville, in the heart of southern Spain, ranks as one of the country's top destinations for the sheer beauty and pleasure it offers. Three thousand years of civilization produced a rich concentration of historic landmarks and fascinating neighborhoods that can be easily explored on foot in the city center.

Greeks and Romans began the design of this marvelous city, followed by Goths and then Vandals, who gave their name to this region that is still called Andalusia, which includes the major cities of Cordoba, Granada and Cadiz. Muslims helped shape Seville during 500 years of occupation in the Middle Ages, creating spectacular palaces, lavish gardens and narrow lanes through residential neighborhoods that still exist. During the 16th-century Age of Discovery, huge amounts of gold brought back from the New World made Seville the world's richest city, adding final polish to this gem.

Much of this plundered wealth was spent to create the many churches and convents in this Catholic city of 700,000, making it the fourth largest in Spain.

Seville's historic center is quite large -- about a mile wide by 1.5 miles long, riddled with countless little alleys and important landmarks. We suggest an organized plan for seeing all that fit your interests, but it's sometimes better to push the plan aside and just wander: Certain neighborhoods, especially Santa Cruz, are perfect for an aimless stroll, and the downtown pedestrian zone of Seville is a shopper's paradise.

Day 1
Alcazar, Cathedral and Giralda, and the Santa Cruz walking tour

Day 2
Plaza de España and Maria Louisa Park

Day 3:
More exploration and an afternoon trip to Cordoba

Day 1

Alcazar, Cathedral and Giralda, and the Santa Cruz walking tour

Morning walk: Start your first walking tour between the Cathedral and Alcazar Palace in the Plaza del Triunfo. Many of the town's main attractions are accessible from this space. Your direction depends on your priorities and the time of day. Not much is happening in this notoriously late-night, sleep-in culture right after breakfast. The shops, monuments and most museums don't open until 10 a.m. You could start with a look at the Alcazar Gardens (open from 9 a.m.), then enter the palace when it opens at 9:30 a.m.

Alcazar: The lush gardens behind the Alcazar Palace offer a serene, green oasis of terraces, fountains, flowers and exotic trees connected by a series of long walkways, with benches for you to relax while enjoying the views. You could spend a couple of hours strolling through this verdant mix of Moorish, Renaissance and 19th-century landscape architecture, but it would be better to have a quick look, then line up at the entrance by 9:15 a.m. to beat the crowds. You can return to the gardens after the palace visit. An alternative time to visit is after 1:30 p.m., when most tourists are having lunch. (See tapas.)

At this point, you might want to take a horse and buggy ride for an overview of the sights, with the driver telling you about the highlights, or join a walking tour with a local escort. Seville's city center can be conveniently divided in five parts: Macarena in the north, parks in the south, El Arenal on the west side, Triana across the river and, most exciting of all, Santa Cruz in the center with the narrowest pedestrian streets and main shopping action.

The cathedral of Seville is the western world's largest church, if you include the patio cloister. It took 100 years to finish the structure and another 100 to complete the decor and side rooms.

Cathedral and Giralda: The cathedral of Seville is the western world's largest church if you include the patio cloister. There are so many tall columns holding up the lofty ceiling 130 feet above the floor that it seems like you are strolling through a vast, indoor stone forest. The cathedral is slightly bigger than St. Peter's in Rome, twice the size of London's St. Paul's and eight times wider than Westminster Abbey.

The cathedral has been Seville's main religious setting for millennia. Before it was built, the site was home to one of the most important mosques in the Muslim world, and 2,000 years ago it was the setting for a Roman temple. New occupiers demolished the main sanctuary and replaced it to impose their own religion on the holy ground. The mosque was preserved by the Christians but was consecrated as a Catholic church that stood until the early 15th century, when most of it was demolished and the new cathedral was erected.

The famous Giralda bell tower rises high above the church and is recognized as the symbol of Seville. It was originally built 400 years earlier than the cathedral as the minaret of a mosque that stood here. This minaret was built of brick to a height of 185 feet, then extended in the Renaissance style to 320 feet during the late 16th century.

Walking up the Giralda is one of the best things you can do while in Seville. You will gain great views over the vast cathedral and surrounding rooftops of the old town, and also have the unusual experience of walking up 35 ramps that wind around inside the square tower. More gentle than a staircase, the ramps offer the illusion of an easy climb and are especially effortless on the way back down. You will be encouraged onward with narrow views through small openings until you reach the top.

One of the cathedral's attractions is the alleged tomb of Christopher Columbus, whose voyages originated near Seville; but there is a dispute about the true whereabouts of his bones. Columbus was first buried in the Seville monastery of La Cartuja, where he lived in between voyages. Then his remains were moved to Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, again to Havana and finally returned to Seville in 1898 after Spain lost Cuba, resulting in some confusion about his resting place. At any rate, there is an impressive tomb and monument of the great explorer to remind us of the major role that Seville played in the conquest of the New World.

Santa Cruz walking tour: Most shops and churches close for siesta from about 1 to 4 p.m., so you might spend this time on a stroll in the quiet back streets of the most picturesque district in town, Santa Cruz, first created as the Jewish quarter nearly 2,000 years ago. This largely pedestrian "barrio" is a charming tangle of narrow, crooked lanes lined with beautiful 17th-century homes, enhanced with delicate iron balconies, potted flowers, wooden shutters and hidden courtyards. Among Europe's best neighborhoods for strolling, the main part of this warren is only about six blocks in each direction, enabling you to cover it in a few hours. Santa Cruz is so magical you should return in the warm atmosphere of early evening to appreciate the soft lighting, and settle into a quaint little tavern for dinner. Once is not enough for a special district like this, which also has several small hotels. (See listings.)

Farmers known as Tartesians had occupied the hillsides of Spain for thousands of years before the first settlement, by Phoenicians, in 1000 B.C.

Begin at one of Seville's most picturesque squares, Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes, surrounded by the Cathedral, Archbishop's Palace and Encarnacion Convent, with horse carriages patiently lined up along the edge and a monumental fountain in the center. The short lane of Santa Marta next to the convent has a delightful little plaza at the end easily overlooked but worth a glimpse: Small pleasures often await down out-of-the-way alleys if we only take the time to explore.

Shopping: To reach the main shopping zone, walk along Constitution Avenue to the impressive 16th-century Ayuntamiento (City Hall), located between Plaza San Francisco and larger Plaza Nueva, with its equestrian statue of Fernando III, who liberated Seville from the Moors. Just beyond is the city's busiest pedestrian street, Calle Sierpes, lined with the best shopping and liveliest ambience in town, especially in the late afternoon when locals are enjoying their traditional stroll.

This central zone is a big, automobile-free shopping mall and will be the most important part of town for certain visitors. Anchoring the north end of this retail network at Plaza Duque de la Victoria is the city's largest department store, El Corte Ingles, open throughout the afternoon. You will easily fill the remainder of the day here, perhaps finding a nice restaurant to begin your evening.

Flamenco: One of the most compelling reasons for visiting Seville is flamenco -- the fiery music and dance of Andalusia -- with its sexy, wild, foot-stomping Arabic rhythm, passionate gypsy soul and tender Spanish heart. Venues range from tourist glitz, which often includes a decent dinner, to absolutely authentic, which only gets going well after midnight.

Day 1

Plaza de España and Maria Louisa Park

Start your morning at Plaza de España, surrounded by a huge, well-preserved pavilion constructed for the 1929 World's Fair. One of the signature sites of Seville, it's unlike anything you've seen before, with its mix of Mudéjar and Renaissance styles anchored by high towers at each end. Rowboats glide in the 500-yard-long moat that curves in front, crossed by picturesque bridges. Colorful ceramic murals along the face of the pavilion depict the nation's provinces and include allegorical scenes from the past. In the film "Lawrence of Arabia," this pavilion was the setting for the Cairo headquarters of the British army.

The Museo Arqueológico: The museum offers two floors of exhibits in 27 galleries and covers 3,000 years of Seville's history with displays of statues, jewelry and artifacts from the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Islamic and Catholic cultures. Seafaring Phoenicians founded the first settlement as early as 1000 B.C., although farmers, known as Tartesians, had been living here thousands of years earlier and human ancestors go back nearly 1 million years. Carthaginians conquered the area around 500 B.C., followed by the Greeks and then the Romans, who established control in 200 B.C. Most of the Roman pieces in the museum come from the well-preserved nearby city of Italica, home to the emperors Hadrian and Trajan.

Seville's fortified walls were built by the Moors in 1135. At one time the massive wall extended four miles around the center, but it was mostly demolished in the 19th century as the city expanded, with only this section still standing.

A significant Jewish population moved in from Palestine in the late Roman period and continued to coexist peacefully with the Muslims and Christians for centuries. Vandals and then Visigoths took control after the fall of the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, until they were replaced by the invading Muslim armies in the year 711.

With the Muslim conquest of southern Spain in the eighth century, Cordoba and Seville were established as Andalusia's main urban centers. By the 10th century, Cordoba was Europe's largest city, and Seville, with 80,000 people, was next. In 1198 a huge mosque was constructed on the site of the current Seville cathedral, becoming one of the main centers of worship for the Muslim world. Nearly identical to the mosque in Marrakech, it was built for the same leaders by a similar group of artisans. During the Muslim Golden Age (ninth through 12th centuries), southern Spain became one of the world's most civilized places. As with any complex culture, factions of Muslims developed separate traditions in a historical succession of Caliphs, Almoravid, Almohad and Nasrid eras.

While the rest of Europe plunged into the Dark Ages, Andalusia developed graceful urban settings with amenities and comforts such as running water, sewage systems, public gardens, well-planned housing and regional governments that kept the peace. Scholars revived the scientific and philosophical wisdom of ancient Greece and Rome, translating old texts into Arabic while contributing important new insights, such as the invention of algebra. Their manuscripts were carried on the backs of donkeys throughout Europe and formed a major foundation of the Renaissance, which later swept the continent.

After its recapture by Christians in 1248, Seville served as capital of a kingdom covering western Andalusia and brought an end to 500 years of Muslim control. Granada and its surroundings continued under Muslim rule for another 200 years.

After Christians re-established control of the area, the Jewish population continued thriving while keeping their own identity and culture intact; but in the following century, anti-Semitic resentment developed as a result of complex domestic issues. In 1492 the Spanish monarchy, assisted by the Spanish Inquisition, ended this tolerance, and Jews and Muslims were forced to convert, which most chose to do, or leave the country.

The Age of Exploration ushered in another kind of Golden Era for Seville, which had a monopoly on all the gold and treasures flowing in from the New World throughout the 16th century. Many of the great explorers sailed from here and brought their riches back to the Spanish royal court, which often resided in Seville. By 1600 Seville became the western world's richest city, and one of the largest, with a population of 150,000. Some of the New World booty was spent to create the great buildings that still stand.

However, Spain gradually fell into a decline brought on by her unfortunate foreign policies and mismanagement of the royal treasury -- a familiar story. The Guadalquivir River silted up, driving trade away from Seville to the coastal town of Cadiz. Spain's center of power settled in Madrid, while Seville took on a lesser importance that left its historic neighborhoods undisturbed for the next four centuries, preserving them for us to enjoy today.

Although Spain managed to avoid involvement in both 20th century World Wars, the nation was racked by its own Civil War and subsequent domination by the Fascist government of Generalissimo Franco from 1936 through 1975. The past 30 years have seen a remarkable turnaround with the development of full democracy and a thriving economy. Spain is a full member of the European Union today.

University: Another walk back through Maria Louisa Park can bring you to the nation's second-largest building, the former Royal Tobacco Factory, the setting for the famous opera that defines the city, Bizet's "Carmen." Now home to the University of Seville's Department of Philosophy, it is open to the public from 8 a.m. and offers an intriguing glimpse of 18th-century Baroque architecture. The rambling structure was a complete world unto itself, with apartments, prison, church, dining halls, offices, stables, warehouses, garden courtyards and factory space to employ up to 3,000 cigar rollers. Look for the university's cafeteria, open to the public with some of the best food values in town, including a delicious array of tapas. Just beyond the dining hall you'll find access to the main patio, which will then lead you to the building's exit.

River and Arenal: Stroll from these parks along the river in the Arenal district to the Tower of Gold, built as a military fortification guarding the harbor during the Muslim era and now open as a small nautical museum. Another fine Baroque church is two blocks inland at the Hospital of Santa Carida, on Calle Temprado, featuring an elaborate interior with paintings by Murillo. Continue through the Arenal section of town to the Maestranza Bullring, one of Spain's largest and most beautiful, with an unusual oval shape. Next door is the Arenal Market, offering Seville's largest selection of fresh foods until about 2 p.m. daily. Both shores of the river, quite lively in the evening, feature many fine restaurants and bars packed with locals.

House of Pilate: This grand palace was built 500 years ago in a mix of styles combining ancient Rome with Gothic, Muslim and Renaissance, creating one of the most attractive sights in town. Casa de Pilatus offers the triple reward of stunning architecture, lush gardens and museum-quality art exhibits. You will be delighted by this whorl of bougainvillea, potted palms, Roman statues, pointed arches, colorful mosaics and Mudéjar designs.

It is called House of Pilate because it was thought to resemble the villa of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, but there never was such a place, so this is truly a product of fantasy. The house is located on Calle Aguilas, a main street that is a starting point for Holy Week processions, but now is slightly off the beaten path.

Day 1

More exploration and an afternoon trip to Cordoba

La Macarena: Morning is a fine time to explore Seville's north district, La Macarena, whose square mile of quiet back streets and plazas offer the authenticity of a working-class neighborhood. Of course, there are important historic landmarks here, but the main appeal lies in getting away from other tourists and experiencing the "real Seville." Plan on taking three hours to walk the three or four miles to cover Macarena.

Continuing where you left off yesterday, walk from Casa de Pilatus a couple blocks north to Plaza Ponce De Leon, which commemorates the first European to discover what is now the United States.

De Leon landed in Florida in 1512, then returned to Seville to report his discovery and get outfitted for a second expedition in his futile quest for the fountain of youth.

Old Town Ramble: Another mile through more of these characteristic streets will wrap up the tour of Seville and leave time after lunch for a quick train trip to Cordoba. Calle Feria is the Macarena district's main street and is especially interesting toward the narrow south end, where it is packed with quaint shops. Walk a few blocks west to Alameda de Hercules, a narrow tree-shaded park that has recently bounced back from being a seedy red-light district to becoming one of the trendy hot spots of town with ultrahip boutiques and yuppie cafes.

This is the scene of a major Sunday morning flea market, and on Thursday mornings the district's other flea market happens on Calle Feria.

A block east of Hercules is a curious jumble of 13 little streets coming together in two adjacent plazas, Europa and San Martin, which presents a challenge to find the right way out. Head east back to Calle Feria, then along Calle Espiritu Santo to San Juan de la Palma and you are finished. These little lanes are a lovely place to end the walking tour. Save some time and treat yourself to a taxi to the train station a mile away.

Cordoba day trip: The high-speed AVE train runs once every hour from Seville. You could catch the 2 p.m. and have plenty of time for your visit. This could also be done as a morning trip, reversing the order of today's activities.

There is one amazing site that makes the trip worthwhile all by itself: La Mezquita, the great mosque.

The majesty of this structure, dating back more than 1,200 years, reminds us that Cordoba was Europe's most important city during the ninth and 10th centuries under Moorish rule when the rest of the continent was slumbering through the Dark Ages.

The Great Mosque: La Mezquita is larger than any Christian church in the world, with dimensions of 425 by 70 feet, supported by more than 850 columns and nearly 2,000 arches, but size is secondary to the poetic beauty of the design. The low ceiling is held up by double arches made of brick and cream-colored stone arranged in striped patterns. Most of these stone columns were taken from a variety of older buildings dating to Roman times and come in a range of sizes and materials including marble, stone, porphyry, granite and jasper. As you wander through this stone forest, it seems you could get lost in the shadows, for the uniform plan is slightly disorienting and you cannot see completely across it because the columns get in the way.

Juderia: Cordoba's most fascinating streets are conveniently located outside the mosque in what had been the "Juderia," or Jewish district. Like the Santa Cruz neighborhood in Seville but smaller, this section has delightful narrow lanes and little plazas ideal for wandering, with no automobiles allowed.

It is a magnet for tourists drawn by gift shops.

Easy to navigate as long as you stay within three blocks of the mosque, the main pedestrian streets include Torrijos, Victor Bosco, Luque, Judios and Tomas Conde. Walk a few blocks beyond the mosque to the northeast into the housing area to view pretty residential courtyards. When gates are open, they don't mind if you have a quiet look since they decorate these spaces and fill them with flowers to share the beauty. Cordoba is known as the city of courtyards, so don't miss them.

Dennis Callan is president of the Hawaii Geographic Society and frequently leads tours through Europe, Canada and the United States. He produces the "World Traveler" TV series, airing at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on 'Olelo, channel 53. He writes "Three Days in ..." the first Sunday monthly, explaining how to get the most out of three days in the world's great places. This is the 40th article in the series.

When in Seville, try dining local style at a tapa bar.

Try a taste of tapas

For lunch, local style, try some tapas -- small, snack-size portions of a variety of dishes. Crowds indulge in this gastronomic adventure, especially between 1 and 2 p.m. If you'd prefer making your choices in a less frenzied style, find a tapa bar that opens early. Mouth-watering items are generally on display behind a glass case, so all you need to do is point to select such typical morsels as pata negra (ham from acorn-fed pigs), marinated olives, cured garlic, cheese pastries, fried seafood, grilled vegetables and stuffed peppers.

That's only a sample of the unending tastes to discover while tapa-hopping. Each dish is small and inexpensive, allowing you to try a wide variety, preferably in several different cafes as you make your way through town. Those gourmands on a low-carb diet will find plenty of satisfying choices. Wash them down with sherry for the full effect, choosing from different varieties such as the light dry fino and manzanilla or the stronger amontillado.


If you go ...

Here are places to stay and dine while in Seville. If calling from the United States, dial prefix 011-34.


>> Abanico: Aguilas 17, $90-$180; call 95-421-32071, fax 95-422-8950
>> Alcazar: Menendez Pelayo 10, $100-$191; call 95-441-2011, fax 95-442-1659
>> Alfonso XIII: A Westin Hotel, San Fernando 2, $406-$1,000; call 95-491-7000, fax 95-491-7099
>> Las Casas de La Juderia: Callejon Dos Hermanas 7, Plaza Santa, $107-$449; call 95-441-5150, fax 95-442-2170
>> Catalonia Giralda: Sierra Nevada 3, $100-$211; call 95-441-6661, fax 95-441-9352
>> Dona Maria: Don Remondo 19, $100-$193; call 95-422-4990, fax 95-421-9546
>> Fernando III: San Jose 21, $100-$137; call 95-421-7307, fax 95-422-0246
>> Hosteria del Laurel: 5 Plaza de Los Venerables, $61-$120; call 95-422-0295, fax 95-421-0450
>> Murillo: 7 Lope de Rueda, $80-$190; call 95-421-6095, fax 95-421-9616; www.hotelmurillo.com
>> Patio de La Alameda: Alameda de Hercules 56, $48-$126; call 95-490-4999, fax 95-490-0226
>> Los Seises: Calle Segovias 6, $120-$223; call 95-422-9495, fax 95-422-4334


>> Albahaca: 12 Plaza de Santa Cruz; call 95-422-0714
>> Anthony's: 2 Virgen de las Montañas; call 95-445-9798
>> Casa Robles: 58 Alvarez Quintero; call 95-421-3150
>> Corral del Agua: Callejón del Agua, 6
>> Cortijo Pino Montano: Prolongacion Avda; call 95-496-1267
>> Egana-Oriz: 41 San Fernando
>> Hosteria del Laurel: Plaza de lis Venerables 5; call 95-422-0295
>> Italica: 2 San Fernando; call 95-422-2850
>> La Albahaca: Plaza Santa Cruz 29
>> La Barca: 25 Placentines
>> La Cueva: 18 Plaza Dona Elvira; call 95-421-3143
>> La Dehesa: 21 Luis de Morales; call 95-457-6204
>> Meson Don Raimundo: 26 Argote de Molina; call 95-422-3355
>> Rincon de Curro: 45 Virgen de Lujan; call 95-445-0238
>> Taberna del Alabardero: 20 La Zaragoza; call 95-456-0637

Web sites

>> www.aboutsevilla.com
>> www.altur.com
>> www.andalucia.com
>> www.andalucia.org
>> www.barriosantacruz.com
>> www.exploreseville.com
>> www.flamencoshop.com
>> www.okspain.org
>> www.sevilla.org
>> www.sevilla5.com
>> www.sevillacard.es
>> www.sevillaonline.com



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