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Posts from the ‘Archaeology’ Category

Seville | Roman Seville

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El Salvador church, site of the Roman basilica

Once upon a time, as we all know, the Roman Empire was the largest the western world had ever seen, and ruled most of the then known world, from Africa in the south to Britannia in the north, and from Syria in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. In 206 BC a modest town in the southwest of Spain called Ispal was conquered from the Carthaginians by the Roman general Scipio. Over the centuries, and through a variety of changes of name (Hispalis of the Romans, Isbilya of the Moors, and finally Sevilla of the Spanish) and fortune, it would become the city of Seville that we know today.

Although the physical remains of the Roman period are sparse, Roman civilisation has left an enduring legacy, so much so that Julius Caesar, who was governor here in the first century BC, is credited with being one of Seville’s founders. It was he who built the first stone walls around the city, granted it imperial status, and gave it the Roman name Julia Romula (after himself, naturally). The city that he “girded with walls” was considerably smaller than it later became, but covered most of what we now call the Barrio Santa Cruz, and an area around the Plaza Encarnación.

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Fish salting factory, Antiquarium

The centre of the Roman city was the Forum, and although there is nothing Roman to see there now, its probable location at the Plaza Alfalfa is still a public open space, a continuity spanning over two thousand years. The path of the principal Roman street, the Decumanus Maximus can still be followed along Calle Aguilas (Eagle Street), through the Alfalfa square, and down the Alcaicería de Lozo to the El Salvador church, thought to be the location of the Roman basilica.

Not far from the Alfalfa, in Calle Marmoles, are the oldest man made structures in Seville that are still standing in their original locations. The three granite columns were once part of a second century Temple of Diana, and were brought all the way from Egypt – quite an undertaking in those days, even for Roman engineers! Two more columns from here can be found in the Alameda de Hercules, topped with statues of – you guessed it – Hercules and Julius Caesar. A sixth column was broken during the process of moving it.

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Temple columns, Calle Marmoles

You should also go to see the Roman ruins below the Metropol Parasols, the largest exposed Roman site in Seville, though I suspect that if you dug down five metres or so almost anywhere in the old city you’d stand a good chance of finding more. The remains include residential buildings, mosaics and a fish salting factory, which can’t have made a pleasant neighbour.

Immediately outside the historic centre there are a couple of short stretches of the Roman aqueduct that supplied water to the city. Astonishingly, the bulk of the aqueduct was demolished as recently as the early twentieth century, in a fortunately rare act of civic vandalism.

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Roman aqueducts

There are, of course, a plethora of smaller Roman columns dotted about the city, mostly removed from the neighbouring Roman city of Italica (well worth a visit), in the days when such places were regarded as handy sources of building material rather than archaeological heritage. Other remains and objects from here can be found in the Archaeology museum in Maria Luisa park.

As always, we have a range of holiday apartments for rent in the historic centre of the city that make a great base for exploring. See you all soon.

Seville | Metropol Parasol

Most people who come to Seville for the sightseeing, and to absorb the unique atmosphere of the city have in mind its late mediaeval heritage sites, the Cathedral, the Reales Alcazares (Royal Palaces), and perhaps the Archivos de Indias. Throw in the Old Jewish quarter (Barrio Santa Cruz), Plaza España, and a quick visit to Triana across the river, and Bob’s your uncle – job done.

IMG_7554Plaza Encarnación and the Metropol Parasol

Or at least, almost. The Metropol Parasol, to give them their proper name (they’re also known as las Setas or the Mushrooms), are Seville’s contribution to modern, avant-garde architecture and can come as something of a surprise if you stumble upon them unexpectedly. The swooping umbrella shaped lattice structure comprises six parasols, and rises about 26 metres above the ground, and is, in fact, the world’s largest wooden structure. It was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann, who won the competition for a building to complete the redevelopment of the Plaza de la Encarnación, and after six years of work was completed in April 2011.

view metropol parasolView from the top of the Parasol

The shape was said to have been inspired by the vaults of the cathedral roof, and by the giant fig trees in the nearby Plaza Cristo de Burgos. Predictably, the design, location, delays and cost overruns made it a controversial project, but now it’s completed its eyecatching shape and open spaces have helped to restore the economic and social life of the neighbourhood.

1-038-mar182014 041The Parasols at Night

Like the city itself, the site of the Metropol Parasols is something of a historical layer cake. The name of the square, Plaza de la Encarnación, derives from the Convent of the Incarnation, an order of Augustinian nuns, which was located here from 1591 until its demolition in the early 19th century (the order then moving to its present home in the Plaza del Triunfo). In about 1840 the city’s central provisions market was established here, continuing in operation until 1973, when the building, by then in a ruinous state, was demolished as part of an urban renewal project. The stallholders were moved to “temporary” accommodation in the northeast corner of the square, where they were to languish for the next 37 years.

060-mar182014 019Roman fish salting works – Antiquarium

The site of the original market was left abandoned until 1990, when work on the construction of underground parking for a new market began, only to be halted shortly afterwards by the discovery of Roman ruins beneath. These can now be seen in the Antiquarium, the museum in the basement of the complex, and include a fish salting factory, esidential buildings and some well preserved mosaics. It’s well worth a visit, and is a nice contrast to the modern structure above. At ground level is the market, reinstalled in a modern market hall in its original location, and the main commercial hub of the neighbourhood. The roof of the market hall forms a plaza which holds various public events, such as small concerts and the christmas fair. From the basement take a lift up to the bar and walkways on the top of the structure for great views across the city.

IMG_7553Seasonal mushrooms in the market of the Mushrooms

Almost next door, our holiday apartments in Calle Laraña have views of the Mushrooms and are within easy walking distance of other sights and facilities.

Seville | A stroll down the Avenida

Much of the charm of the historic centre of Seville (and, it has to be admitted, many of its inconveniences) lies in its networks of narrow streets and little squares, and after the main monuments have been seen striking out into the back streets in exploration mode, not knowing exactly what you might find, or how to get back to your apartment, is one of the city’s great pleasures.

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The Avenida from the Ayuntamiento with the Adriatico on the right

There is, however, one outstanding exception to this rule. The Avenida de la Constitución, which runs from the Ayuntamiento (town hall), past the front of the Cathedral and Archivos, to the Plaza Puerta Jerez, is almost every inch a modern European style boulevard; wide, traffic free and tree-lined, with the terraces of pavement cafés strung intermittently along it and transportation provided by sleek modern trams that glide quietly back and forth, with the occasional clang of the bell to warn an inattentive pedestrian of their presence.

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Arquillo Mañara – entrance to the Moorish Alcázar

But only almost every inch. One of the fascinations of this stretch of road is the surprisingly harmonious combination of styles of different cultures and times, from the Torre Abd El Aziz (early 12th century), through the Cathedral (15th century) to a number of important early 20th century buildings.

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Old and New

The modern name is in honour of the Spanish Constitution of 1980, but prior to that its different sections were known by a number of other names, including Genovese (as attested by a small plaque near Starbucks), after the Genoese merchants settled there by Ferdinand III after the Christian conquest, las Gradas (the steps in front of the Cathedral), Libertad (during the Second Republic) and Queipo de Llano (during the Franco era).

Despite its centrality and importance in the modern city, this area remained outside the city walls throughout the Roman, Vizigothic and Moorish Caliphate periods, and a secondary arm of the river ran from where the Ayuntamiento stands today, along the course of the Avenida, before returning to the main river in El Arenal. It was by this means that the Viking longboat, discovered under the Plaza Nueva, reached its final resting place during the raid of 844 AD. From the early 12th century the site of the Cathedral and the area in front of it were enclosed by a new wall, with exit gates near the later Plaza San Francisco at one end, and near the Cabildo at the other. At the same time the Alcazar enclosure was extended to the Torre Abd El Aziz, the Miguel Mañara arch being the gate to the palace compound.

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Main entrance of the Cathedral

The second half of the century saw the building of the Grand Mosque, and further extension of the city wall towards the river. From 1401 work began on the demolition of the Mosque and the building of the new Cathedral, completed in 1526, and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. A large section of the frontage is actually a separate church, the El Sagrario, built in the 17th century in the baroque style.

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Casa Alvaro Davila in the early evening light 

The Avenida in its modern form was created in the first third of the 20th century, as part of the preparations for the 1929 Spanish American exhibition. The northern end was substantially widened, and the fine buildings along this section all date to this time, including the emblematic Adriatico (the circular building facing the town hall), and the Casa Álvaro Dávila (now a bank) on the corner of Garcia Vinuesa. The southern end, between the Archivos and the Puerta Jerez, did not exist at all until the 1920s, the area being occupied by the Convent of Saint Thomas and the University of Saint Mary of Jesus, of which only the chapel remains. Most notable of the buildings on this newly created section is the Coliseo, now government offices, but originally a cinema and theatre. The ticket windows can still be seen in the facade. Pedestrianisation and the installation of the tramway came in 2007, together with new orange trees, ornamental streetlamps and a cycle path, and the absence of traffic has helped to convert the Avenida into a pleasant and interesting place to stroll.

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Café Life

This has also resulted in something of an explosion in the number of bars and cafés, mostly aimed at the tourist trade. Best places to stop for a coffee and a snack are the Horno San Buenaventura and Genova cafe-bar, and just off the main drag is one of my favourite traditional tapas bars, Casa Morales.

From the Plaza San Francisco to the main entrance of the Cathedral is the official “carrera” or processional way, for the city’s big religious festivals, especially Semana Santa (Holy Week), and at these times the avenue is lined with seating and thronged with people. It’s a great spectacle, but normal life does come to something of a halt. At Christmas it’s strung with lights along its entire length, and the annual Bélen (Bethlehem) Fair is held in the street between the Cathedral and the Archives.

Booking an apartment in this area of the city is surprisingly easy, and veoapartment has a wide variety from studios to larger family apartments.

Seville | The Church and Plaza del Salvador

For many tourists the main reason for going to the El Salvador church is to buy a joint entrance ticket to the Cathedral, so that they can get in without having to endure the, often rather long, queues at the Cathedral. Now this is fair enough, and it’s a useful trick to know, but can mean that the El Salvador church itself is often overlooked. This is a bit of shame as it’s an important historical and architectural site in its own right, and the area immediately around it has a good claim to being the original heart of the city.

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Principal Facade of El Salvador Church

La Iglesia Colegial del Divino Salvador, to give it its full and proper title, is the second largest church in Seville, only the Cathedral being larger. The present building is in the baroque style, which is relatively recent (as these things go – it’s still old), having been completed in 1712 after nearly forty years of work. Like the Cathedral the interior is gloriously (or ostentatiously, depending on your point of view) ornate, with a major league gold altarpiece, and important artworks. These include the two statues of the Christ that are used for the Semana Santa, El Cristo del Amor by Juan de Mesa, and Jesus de la Pasion by Martinez Montañes (there’s a statue of Montañes in the Plaza outside).

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Moorish Arches in the Church Courtyard

But my favourite parts of the church, which also show us the long history of the site, are to be found outside. In the courtyard you can still see the arches that date from the Moorish period, when the Old Grand Mosque (built in 893) stood here, and also the minaret that forms the bottom two thirds of the bell tower (the bells were added later). Although replaced as Grand Mosque in the 12th century (when the new Grand Mosque was built where the Cathedral is now) it remained a Moslem place of worship even after the Christian reconquest of 1248, only being converted to a church in 1340. Eventually, having fallen into ruinous disrepair, it was demolished to make way for the new building.

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Minaret and Belltower

In Moorish times the area around the Mosque was an important commercial centre, particularly the Plaza Jesus de la Pasion, popularly known as the Plaza del Pan (bread), and the Alcaiceria del Lozo (the pottery market) and the Alfalfa. Even in modern times there is a row of small shops built into the side of the church in the Plaza del Pan.

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Shops behind the Church

But the history of the site goes back even further, as the original building here was the Roman Basilica. The Plaza del Salvador has probably been a civic space since the building of the Roman wall (which ran along the side of the square opposite the church) in the time of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC. The Roman forum was just a short distance away in what is now the Plaza Alfalfa.

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Los Soportales

Other things to look out for include the Iglesia del Antigua Hospital de Nuestra Señora de la Paz (now San Juan de Dios) on the opposite side of the square to the El Salvador (in the 16th century it was a plague hospital), the Cervantes plaques in the Plaza del Pan and Alcaiceria (places mentioned by him in his novels), and Los Soportales, the columns supporting the houses in one corner of the square. This is a building style that has virtually disappeared, but was once common. Finish your explorations with a cold beer at one of the popular bars here.

For somewhere to stay in this fascinating ancient part of the city try one of our range of city centre holiday apartments.

Seville | The Real Game of Thrones

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You don’t really need any additional excuses to come to a city as beautiful as Seville for your holidays, or to visit its top tourist attraction, Los Reales Alcazares (the Royal Palace), but this amazing place is now being brought to a wider audience, courtesy of the block-busting TV series, A Game of Thrones.

In series 5 of the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s books, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Alcázar plays host to the exotic Water Gardens of Dorne, seat of House Martell and the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Here are played out the intrigues and plots, murder and mayhem of the great houses (actually I’m just guessing as I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m betting they don’t just sit around knitting and playing whist).

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But the subtropical greenery, pools, fountains and lavishly tiled courtyards aren’t the only reason why the Alcázar is a fitting choice for the location of the high drama of A Game of Thrones. Still an official residence of the Spanish royal family, this is the longest serving palace in Europe, and has seen its fair share of drama and intrigue over the years.

In the year 913, by the order of the Arabic Caliphs who ruled Spain from their seat in Córdoba, the southernmost Roman-Visigothic suburb of the city was demolished, and a new palace for the governor of Seville was constructed in the area of the Plaster Courtyard and Patio de Banderas. In the 11th century, after the collapse of the Caliphate, the Almoravids, a Moorish clan from North Africa gained control of the city and extended and refortified the palace area. More buildings were added by the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century, including a covered way from the palace to the new Grand Mosque that allowed the rulers to avoid coming into contact with the common people.

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Apart from the impressive outer walls of the compound in the Plaza del Triunfo, little remains from this period – just a short section of wall between the Lion Gate and the Patio de la Montería, and the Justice Room and Plaster Courtyard to its left. The Gothic Palace was the first to be constructed by the new Christian rulers shortly after the reconquest of 1248. The palace was badly damaged in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and parts of the original ground floor were filled in and a new upper floor constructed. Some of the best views of the gardens, which you can see in Game of Thrones, are provided by the big windows in the upper galleries.

Also featured heavily is the tiled magnificence of the principal Royal residence, the Mudejar Palace, built for Pedro I (the Cruel) in the 14th century, mostly by those Moorish craftsmen who had stayed in Seville, and who are responsible for the “Arabian Nights” romantic appeal of its architecture and decoration, especially the long pool and sunken flower beds of the central Patio, the Patio of the Maidens

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Other favourite places which do (or should) appear, include the Baños de Doña Maria Padilla (actually rainwater tanks beneath the Gothic palace), the Pavilion of Charles V, and the Gallery of Grotesques (originally part of the city wall, but extensively remodelled in Italian renaissance style by Philip III), as well as the main gardens and garden courtyards in various styles.

For a place to stay while you’re here have a look at one of our wide selection of apartments in the neighbouring Santa Cruz, with its picture postcard streets and squares.