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Seville | The New Seville Eye

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Seville’s latest tourist attraction, La Noria de Sevilla (Seville Ferris Wheel), opens for business this Saturday, June 27, following its inauguration on Thursday. Situated at the end of the Muelle de las Delicias, where visiting cruise ships dock, it’s part of a new “tourism hub” to the south of the city’s historic centre that already includes the Seville Aquarium and riverside bars and restaurants, and connects directly to Maria Luisa Park and the Plaza España, and by the riverside walkway, the New York Wharf, to the historic centre.

noria seville (2)the VIP cabin

The wheel was manufactured in Germany and shipped via Rotterdam to the port of Seville, and has been erected on a specially prepared plot of land between the aquarium and the port entrance. The project cost over 7 million euros in total, and the new wheel is expected to attract 350,000 visitors a year, also benefiting the aquarium (there is expected to be a joint ticket for both attractions available) and local businesses.

noria seville (3)a different perspective of the Cathedral

The wheel is 40 metres in diameter, and will take riders up to 50 metres above ground. Although this is quite modest compared to, for example, the London Eye (135 metres), or the Las Vegas High Roller (at 167 metres the world’s tallest), it will provide great views of the river, the park, and the World Heritage sights. There will be 30 cabins and for 7.50 euros (5.50 for children under 4 years old) you get to go round four times, which takes just under 15 minutes. There is also a VIP cabin for 20 euros, with darkened windows for privacy, a glass floor and television, which lasts twice as long. All of the cabins are air-conditioned with optional music, and a “help button”. Coming soon: a shop, a tapas bar and cafeteria, and a VIP area.

If you’re looking for a place to stay we still have apartments available to rent in the historic centre within easy walking distance of the wheel and other sights.

La Noria de Sevilla
Muelle Las Delicias
Open: 10 am – Midnight

Seville | Plaza España and the 1929 Exhibition

1-IMG_5240Plaza de España

Seville has played host to two major international exhibitions in the last 100 years, the 1929 Spanish American exhibition, mainly intended to promote the commonwealth of Spain and the former Spanish colonies in Latin America (but also including the US, Portugal and Brazil), and the 1992 Universal Exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

Perhaps surprisingly, given that it’s further back in time, it’s the site and remaining buildings of the 1929 exhibition that are of the greatest interest to the visitor. It is, of course, much closer to the city centre, but the site is also in and around Seville’s largest park, the Maria Luisa. The park was once the gardens of the Palacio San Telmo, but was donated to the city in 1893. Following the 1910 decision to hold an exhibition in Seville, the gardens were remodelled by the famous landscape gardener Jean-Claude Forestier, and in 1914 Anibal González, the architect in charge of the project, began construction work on the pavilions.

1-april102013 162Statue of Anibal Gonzalez

Eighteen countries took part, and although many of the minor buildings have gone, most of the national pavilions, many of which were intended to become consulates of their respective countries after the expo finished in June 1930, are still in use, together with some of the other principal pavilions, and can be found either in or near the park, and along the Paseo de las Delicias.

The park itself is Seville’s largest green space, and was designed as a “Moorish Paradise”, with ponds, pavilions and walkways, and the famous Fountains of the Frogs and the Lions.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was the Plaza España and the surrounding semicircle of the Spanish pavilion. Built in a mixture of art deco and neo-Mudejar (an early 20th century revival of late Moorish architecture), this held the largest Spanish exhibit, the Salon of Discoveries, about the exploration of the New World. Nowadays the building mostly houses government offices, as well as a small military museum. In front of the pavilion are the forty alcoves representing all the provinces of Spain, with illustrations in ceramic tiles of important scenes from their histories. The four bridges across the boating lake to the Plaza represent the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. Everything is decorated in a profusion of tiles showcasing the craftsmanship of Seville’s ceramics industry. Not surprisingly the complex has featured in a number of films, including Star Wars – Attack of the Clones, Lawrence of Arabia and The Dictator.

1-photo 2 (1)Plaza de España boating lake and tower

Other important buildings in the park include the Palacio Mudejar (now the Museum of Popular Culture), the Palacio Renacimiento (now the Archaeological Museum), and the Palacio de la Casa Real, all in the Plaza America at the far end of the park, and the horseshoe shaped pavilion of the Telephone Company (now the Gardening School), just beyond the Plaza España.

mudejarPalacio Mudejar

Prominent among the national pavilions, and worth looking out for, are those of Portugal (next to the Prado San Sebastian), Peru (now the Casa de las Ciencias), and those of Argentina and Mexico (both now used as schools) on the Paseo de las Delicias.

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Pavilion of Argentina

Preparations for the 1929 exhibition also included the building of new hotels (most notably the splendid Alfonso XIII for the Royal family and visiting heads of state), the widening of many streets, including what is now the Avenida de la Constitución, and the refurbishment of the old Jewish quarter as a tourist attraction. This area is a perfect place to rent an apartment to explore the old expo site and Seville’s other principal monuments.

Seville | City of Opera

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Statue of Don Juan

Did you know that there are more operas set in Seville than in any other city in Europe? As well as a number of minor works, three great stories have been the source of a huge number of operas (and books and plays, too). Who hasn’t heard of Don Juan (Don Giovanni), Figaro (the Barber of Seville), or Carmen, the gypsy girl who works at the Royal Tobacco Factory? The stories and the characters are timeless, and resonate through the ages, and even today new works based on them, and their themes of freedom, revenge, love and jealousy continue to be written. The great age of opera composition, however, was the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when some of the most famous works, such as those of Rossini and Mozart were written. By this time the “Golden Age” of Seville was already over, and these operas were set in a city that had become distant from the centres of cosmopolitan culture in Paris and Vienna, almost on the edge of the world, but still remembered for the time when it was the richest city in Europe. It was consequently a great stage, partly mythical, partly real, on which grand dramas could be played out.

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Commemorative Plaque in Plaza Doña Elvira

Seville today still has something of the same character. On the one hand it’s a modern, working city, a place where people live and work, but as you stroll around the narrow streets and pretty squares of the historic centre it’s another place, too, a place where the stories of the past linger on. Beautiful and historic, city of gardens and blue skies, dreaming palaces and rowdy taverns, bustling gateway to the new world, full of wealth and poverty, this Seville has captured the artistic and romantic imagination through the ages.

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The Prison of the Royal Tobacco Factory

To be sure, you don’t need to have a great knowledge of opera, or even to have actually watched any of the operas that are set here, to follow in the footsteps of legendary characters. As you walk around Seville you may have noticed brass plaques bearing the legend “Seville city of opera” set into the pavement, and white china “plates” with operatic information on them placed nearby. These are part of a local initiative to introduce visitors to the magic of Seville by means of self-guided tours around the city’s operatic locations.

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White China Information Plaque 

For me, Seville is always an uncompleted work of the imagination, stretching into both the past and the future, and walking these routes is less about the operas themselves than about thinking yourself into the life and times of these characters from Seville’s mythic past. The itineraries can be found online here, together with background information about the key operas and places. For some light and entertaining operatic performances, Sevilla de Opera  have a venue in the Arenal Market, with a show of excerpts from popular operas.

But don’t take it all too far. Unlike opera characters, who often find themselves in uncomfortable situations, you can retire at the end of the day to one of our very comfortable apartments without leaving the picturesque streets of our historic city.

Seville | Flamenco

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Although everybody’s heard of flamenco, and many visitors to Seville and other parts of Andalucía (the southern region of Spain) arrive with the intention of “seeing some flamenco”, this music and dance art form is surprisingly little known in practice, and most people’s first experience of a real flamenco performance comes as something of a revelation. Both the passion and intensity of the rhythms, and the level of technical skill required by the performers, sweep people off their feet.

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So what exactly is flamenco? Flamenco is the traditional performance art of southern Spain (declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by Unesco in 2010) that encompasses singing, dancing and guitar playing, together with handclapping and finger snapping (and castanets). The name may derive from Arabic fellah mengu, “expelled peasant”, referring to former Moslems in the 16th-17th centuries, or possibly from the name of the bird flamingo, which came to be used to mean flamboyant behaviour generally. The earliest use of the term flamenco referring to music and dance dates from 1774, though there are earlier references to the distinctive dancing of the ethnic Gypsies.

IMG_7659Although records of the origins of flamenco are sparse, the similarity of the arm movements of modern flamenco to those of the folk-dancing of Northern India, the original homeland of the Gypsies before their medieval migrations across Europe, and the flamenco cante, or song, often has an Arabic feel to it, especially in the more tragic or solemn styles. The flamenco guitar is similar to classical guitar, but with adaptations that allow a more percussive style when required, and is characterised by very rapid plucking.

The kind of flamenco you will probably see if you go to a show is called a tablao, literally a board, and refers to the stage on which it is performed, which is designed to accentuate the sound of the dancers’ footwork. Such a show will usually feature at least two dancers, a man and a woman, dancing different styles known as palos, a singer and a guitarist. Although the audiences are mostly tourists, Seville has a number of venues that provide quality performances by professional flamenco artistes. My favourite is the Flamenco Dance Museum, but La Casa de la Memoria, La Casa de la Guitarra, La Casa del Flamenco and the Auditorio Alvarez Quintero are all excellent.

Seville | El Centro

Often overlooked for the more obvious tourist neighbourhoods around the Cathedral, El Centro, the commercial hub and main shopping area of Seville, has a surprising amount to offer the visitor. It starts with the shopping, of course. Seville’s two main shopping streets, Sierpes and Tetuan-Velazquez run parallel from La Campana (the bell) to Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Nueva. They tend to be dominated by international names these days, but Sierpes still has a number of “Sevillano” shops like Juan Foronda, where you can pick up a nice handmade fan or shawl, and SohoBenita around the Metropol Parasol is the up and coming area for trendy boutiques. At weekends browse the street markets in Plaza del Duque or Plaza de la Magdalena. And of course there are always lots of shoe shops.

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The limits of El Centro are set in a rough triangle by three of the city’s most important buildings (after the Cathedral and Alcázar). The splendid and ornately carved (on one side) edifice with plazas to either side at the end of the Avenida de la Constitución is the Casa Consistoriales, which houses the ayuntamiento (city council). The original casa was built in the early 16th century along the outside wall of the Franciscan friary, which occupied what is now the Plaza Nueva, and gave its name to Plaza San Francisco. The archway at the end of the building was originally the entrance to the friary. When the friary was demolished in 1840 to create the new square a new facade and main entrance were built. The sculptures by the archway include the figures of Hercules and Julius Caesar, the “founders” of the city.

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To the west of El Centro is the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum). This is one of the most important collections of (mainly) classical age art in Spain, housed in the lovely old Merced convent. Outside is one of those pretty plazas that Seville is so good at, where you can relax in the shade of a pair of enormous fig trees. It also has a local art market on Sundays. Buy a painting, put it in your attic, and who knows – in a few hundred years your descendants might suddenly become very rich indeed.

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To the east is Seville’s contribution to modern architecture, the Metropol Parasols, the world’s largest manmade wooden structure. Completed four years ago, after a long period of gestation (the old Encarnación market that stood here before was demolished in 1973), there was a lot of controversy about both the design and the cost of its construction, but now it’s done it’s one of my favourite places in Seville. Come here during the day to visit the market and the Roman ruins in the basement, and take the lift up to the walkways on top for a bird’s eye view of the city. Come after dark to see it lit up like a scene from Close Encounters.

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Other things to see in El Centro include the Motilla Palace (you won’t find it in the guidebooks as it’s still a private residence, but it’s the Italian style palace with the tower on the corner just down from the Parasols), the elegant Baco 2 and the Casa de la Memoria just across the street, the Casa Palacio of Lebrija and the El Salvador church. This was built on the site of the old Grand Mosque (and the Roman basilica before that), and still has original Moorish archways and minaret (now the belltower).

Veoapartments have a wide range of apartments in this central neighbourhood that cater to all budgets and numbers, and give you an excellent central base to explore the historic centre of the city.