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Seville | The Royal Tobacco Factory and Carmen the Opera

Just to the south of the old historic centre, between the Puerta Jerez and the Prado San Sebastian is a magnificently imposing stone building that looks as if it should be a Royal Palace, or at least the stately home of a major aristocrat, but which is currently the headquarters and main campus of the University of Seville.



Main courtyard of the Old Tobacco Factory

But it wasn’t always thus, for this was originally the Royal Tobacco Factory, the largest industrial building in Europe in the 18th century, a visible declaration of the wealth and power of the city as the Golden Age came to its end.



The Moat

Tobacco, as we all know, was discovered in the Americas by Columbus and was soon being imported and processed in Seville. In 1636, in order to centralise and control production, the first tobacco factory was built in what is now the Plaza Cristo de Burgos, but production soon outgrew the space, and in the early 18th century the decision was taken to build a new factory on a site outside the city wall known as “de las calaveras”, of the skulls, because it was once a Roman burial ground.



The old prison of the Royal Tobacco Factory

The original plans were drawn up in 1725 by Ignacio Sala, and work began on the foundations in 1728, but work proceeded only in fits and starts until the appointment of the Flemish Engineer Sebastián van der Borcht in 1750. Production began in 1758, and the building was completed in 1770. Initially, the main output was snuff, with some 170 mills being used to grind up the tobacco plants into powder, but with the rising popularity of cigars, part of the factory was converted for their production. Initially the workforce was all male, but by 1830 cigar production had become the work of women, who were paid less, were less troublesome, and made better quality cigars. In the 1880s, at the peak of production, 6,000 women were employed rolling cigars.


“Las Cigarreras” by Gonzalo Bilbao (Bellas Artes Museum)

It was this all-female workforce that inspired the French novelist Prosper Mérimée to write Carmen (published in 1845, and the basis of Georges Bizet’s opera of 1875). One of Seville’s most famous stories, Carmen is about a gypsy girl who works at the tobacco factory, seduces one of the guards, who finally kills her when she later jilts him for a matador. The story is, of course, one of the “seven basic plots”, but its depiction of the amorality of proletarian life and the free-spiritedness of its heroine were seen as shocking by many of its original middle-class Parisian audiences. Other reminders of Carmen around the city include the famous statue outside the bullring, on the spot where she meets her death.



Facade of the Royal Tobacco Factory

The most obvious thing about the building today is that it’s big (185 metres by 147 metres, second only to the El Escorial Palace in Madrid), and obviously built to impress people with the wealth and power of the crown. You’ll also notice that it is protected on three sides by a moat (on the fourth side was the Tagarete stream, which has since been diverted to a new course), and by little turrets, where the guards would once have kept watch. The two free standing buildings at each end of the front facade are respectively a church and a prison (I’d like to be able to say that it’s now used for detentions, but alas, no), the twin forces of social control, all of which demonstrates the importance of tobacco in the economy of the 18th and 19th centuries.


One of the inner courtyards

As it’s now a university it’s open to the public during the week in term-time, and there’s a signposted audioguide tour.

From one of our rental apartments in the Santa Cruz you can easily visit the Royal Tobacco Factory, and also explore the sites associated with Carmen and other famous operas.

Seville | The Royal Dockyards

Las Atarazanas Reales de Sevilla (Royal dockyards of Seville) are probably one of the least visited major historic buildings in Seville (indeed, at the present time it’s not possible to go inside, only to view it from outside), but it’s appearance and history make it well worth going to see.

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Exterior of the Atarazanas – “Looks like there’s a storm brewing, Captain!”

The atarazanas were built in 1252, just four years after the reconquest of the city by the Christians, by king Alfonso X, for the construction of the galleys needed by the Spanish to guard the Straits of Gibraltar against the Moors and protect Spanish shipping in the Mediterranean. There were originally seventeen naves, and up to thirty ships could be constructed at the same time, but now only seven remain in more or less their original condition. They can be found along the outside of the stretch of city wall by the Postigo del Aceite (Oil Gate), and once continued as far as the Postigo del Carbón (Coal Gate) and the Torre del Plata.


Interior of the Atarazanas – naves and arches

They were constructed entirely of brick, in a style now known as Mudejar-Gothic, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches connecting the naves. The best view of the interior is to be had from the windows just beyond the Oil Gate, from where you can see the arrangement of the naves and arches, giving a perspective reminiscent of the Mezquita in Cordoba, as well as a section of the old city wall that forms the back of the dockyard enclosure. In late mediaeval times the area between the dockyards and the river was open sand and mud, allowing completed ships to be hauled to the river.

Because of their size, and the fact that the required rate of shipbuilding rarely utilised the whole building, the Atarazanas were used for many different purposes during their long life, including everything from public festivals to customs sheds, storing loot and holding prisoners of war from the conflicts with the Moors, and later as a fish market.

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Entrance to La Maestranza de Artillería

Perhaps surprisingly, it was just after the discovery of the Americas in 1492 that the shipyards went into decline, probably because the galleys they were designed for had been superseded by newer designs, and the incorporation of Aragon into a united Spain had made cheaper shipyards in Barcelona and Valencia available for the building of the navy’s ships. In 1641 five of the naves were converted for use as a Charity Hospital, and in 1719 the seven naves we can still see became officially the headquarters of La Maestranza de Artillería, and were used for the manufacture, storage of artillery and for offices of the administration of the army until as late as 1970. The façade that can still be seen today was built in 1782, and the chimney, now used only by nesting storks, also belongs to this period. Finally, in 1945, the five naves at the Torre del Plata end of the complex were totally demolished to make way for new government offices.

Although currently disused, there are plans (albeit vague) to bring the Atarazanas back into public use. They are certainly far too remarkable, both in themselves and as part of Seville’s heritage, to be abandoned.

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Local resident in the courtyard of the Atarazanas

If you are interested in this part of Seville and its history, we have a variety of holiday apartments in this part of Seville that are a perfect base for exploring the riverside area.

Seville | Noche en Blanco (sleepless night) 2015


“Noches en blanco”, literally meaning Nights in White, but here used colloquially to mean sleepless nights, have become increasingly popular around Spain in recent years, including here in Seville, where the fourth annual Noche en Blanco event will be held on the evening of Friday, October 2, starting around 8 pm and continuing into the small hours of the morning. It’s organised by the Association Sevillasemueve in conjunction with many of the city’s monuments, museums and theatres, as well as tour companies and guides, with the purpose of promoting Seville’s rich cultural life to as wide an audience as possible.

The night visits and tours allow you to see monuments and museums in a different light (both literally and figuratively), and some will give access to parts of buildings normally closed to the public. Among this year’s top attractions are guided tours of the Cathedral, Los Venerables, the Archives of the Indies, the Antiquarium, Saint George’s Castle (headquarters of the Inquisition), and the Triana ceramics centre and museum, as well as exhibitions at the Casa de Murillo, Casa de la Provincia, Contemporary Arts Centre and Santa Ines Monastery.

noche blanco flamenco

Musical events include flamenco at the Casa de la Memoria and Casa del Flamenco, and a rock concert at the Mudejar Museum.

If you want to know more about Seville there’s a wide range of themed walking tours through the night time streets that will introduce you to aspects of the city you didn’t know existed.

The full programme of events can be found here.

If you’re coming to Seville on holiday, renting one of our apartments will give you the flexibility to stay out as late as you like. Have a good weekend.

Seville | Feria de San Miguel

feria san miguelThe Feria de San Miguel in Seville is the short bullfighting season in autumn that falls on or close to Saint Michael’s Day (Michaelmas) on September 29. “Saint” Michael is not, strictly speaking, a saint, but an angel, one of three Archangels whose names appear in the bible (the others are Gabriel and Rafael). When taking time out from being commander of the heavenly hosts, he’s the patron saint of, among others, police officers, fire fighters, the military and paramedics, and also, more prosaically, of grocers (but not of bullfighters).

The bullfights of the Feria de San Miguel at the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, only last two days, Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th, both at 6pm, with tickets available online.

To coincide with the fights, the Abaceria San Lorenzo is hosting a three day event (September 25-27) with a menu of traditional beef dishes prepared from the Toro de Lidia, the unique breed of bulls raised for the fights. These will include steak tartare, beef sirloin, beef neck with tomato, rib eye steaks, chops, “babillas” with saffron, and red beans with beef cheeks, cola de toro (tail), meatballs and hamburgers.

cola de torocola de toro (oxtail)

Toros themed decoration and sculptures by Jacinto Oliva and Jesus Iglesias will add to the atmosphere of this traditional and rustic abaceria.

We still have a variety of quality holiday apartments to rent in Seville throughout the San Miguel weekend.

Malaga | The Wheel

They seem to be springing up like mushrooms these days, but ever since the London Eye first opened its capsules back in 2000 to welcome in the new millennium, it’s been obvious that these hi-tech Ferris wheels for carrying sightseers above it all were here to stay.

malaga wheel (1)the Mirador Princess

The latest to be erected is the new Noria (literally a treadmill) de Malaga, which can be found in the port area just beyond Muelle Uno, on Avenida de Manuel Agustín Heredia. It will be even easier to find at night, as the LED illuminations will be visible from up to 30km away, and will be there for at least the next eight months, with the option of an extension.

malaga wheel (3)view of Muelle Uno from atop the Wheel

The wheel, rather romantically called the “Mirador Princess”, is fully transportable, though it does require 25 special trailers, and once it arrived on site it took a team of 25 men and a very large crane two weeks to erect. It stands 70 metres high and has 42 air conditioned cabins, each taking up to 8 people, so fully loaded it holds a maximum of 336 people. Each ride lasts 15 minutes, and takes each cabin around three circuits (a full circuit actually takes only four minutes, but the extra time allows people to get on and off). The price of a ride is 10 euros for an adult, and 6 euros for a child, unless you’re less than 80 cm tall (2 foot 8 inches), in which case it’s free.

malaga wheel (2)view of the Wheel from Muelle Uno

So how much bang do you get for your buck? From the top of the wheel you will be able to see about 30 km, as long as there’s nothing in the way. This is enough to give you a view across the city, with novel views of landmarks like the Cathedral, the inner harbour, the Atarazanas Market and the Alcazaba, as well as a fascinating roofscape of the old town. Personally, although I don’t really have a good head for heights, I think that getting up somewhere high for a look around is the best way to start a holiday in a new city, and gives you a different perspective.

Ooo look! Is that our apartment?