“Sevilla aire de luz y luz de aroma
abre, en Abril, como una flor radiante,
su corazón, sonoro y palpitante, con un batir de alas de paloma. “
Seville is the birthplace of Velázquez, Bécquer and Machado. Its historic center, dominated by a colossal Gothic cathedral, is an intoxicating mix of resplendent Mudejar palaces, Baroque churches, and winding medieval alleys.
It is my last night in Seville when a light rain begins. Despite this, I stay seated outside on the patio at my favorite spot in the Triana district, where I like to have dinner, or “tapas”, at night. Why? Because at that precise spot, the view is dazzling. On the left is the Isabel bridge, inspired by the Carrousel Bridge over the Seine in Paris. On my right in the foreground I can see the reflections of Seville on the Guadalquivir River. Beyond that is the silhouette of the Torre del Oro, and behind that, the majestic Giralda Tower that, as Machado said, “looks out everywhere” like a supreme bishop, “alert and elegant.”
Barely 200 meters separate the Triana district from the center of Seville, and yet many locals define themselves as “Trianeros” rather than “Sevillanos”. What makes Triana endearing is its people, the atmosphere of its bars and markets, and the fact that Triana is one of the neighborhoods with the greatest flamenco traditions in Andalusia. The main attractions for my camera however are without a doubt on the other side of the emblematic river.
I know so much about the infinite magic of Seville because I am privileged to have a great Sevillian friend, who guides me around day or night every time I am there, and who gives me all the historical details necessary to make me feel like I am a part of his beloved Andalusian city.
Looking towards the Guadalquivir river, from whence Christopher Columbus’ boats left for America, is the Plaza de España, featuring a giant monument to the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. Its tiled walls shimmer with the brightness of the night lights and reflect back colors that dissolve into the water of the Canal de Alfonso XIII circling around the plaza. The circular canal represents the unification of Spain with its colonies, on a journey through water and across the round Earth. And if the moon is also out, the scene is striking and unmissable for my camera.
“Let’s build a church so beautiful and grand that those who see it finished will think we are mad”, proposed the church elders of the time, according to what has been collected in the Sevillian oral tradition. The stunning result was the Cathedral of Seville, the largest Gothic temple in the world. Its most iconic section is the Giralda Tower measuring 97 meters high. The tower was there before the cathedral, built as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville during the reign of the Almohad dynasty but later made part of the Catholic cathedral. It is a twin of the minarets of Rabat and Marrakech.
If it is true that the Giralda Tower looks out over everything, then even more emblematic is the El Giraldillo, the sculpture that sits atop the tower, contemplating all of Seville below its feet. At nearly three and a half meters tall and weighing 1.2 tons, the Giraldillo is a work of art, but also a working weathervane that moves in the wind. Although the sculpture has the masculine name of “Giraldillo” it is not of a man, but a woman dressed as a warrior, a symbol of strength. She is also pregnant, symbolizing hope, carrying a palm leaf to symbolize victory, and a large shield with a Christian cross on it to symbolize Christianity. All these elements serve to symbolize the victory of Christianity over Islam.
Phoenician, Tartessian, Latin, Visigothic, Arab, Christian and contemporary….many very different cultures coexisted and coexist in Seville, and they are all very “Seville”, and fundamental elements of its modern identity.
Some cities win over your heart slowly, enveloping you gently and slowly in their atmospheres after time spent walking their streets and neighborhoods, as I did through the Andalusian capital over long, exhausting days and lively nights. Seville, however, did not need time to win my heart. It is a place that seduces and instantly disarms like an Andalusian cadence.
Dedicated to my great friend in Seville, Joaquin Roncero.
Pablo Munini Ⓒ, August 2022