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Posts tagged ‘history’

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.

Seville | Plaza Doña Elvira



elvira (2)Doña Elvira Square

Even in Seville, a city justly famous for its charming squares and other nooks, the Plaza de Doña Elvira in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood, even today still known as the old Jewish quarter, has to be one of the prettiest and most enchanting places you will ever see. It’s quite small, and is lined by orange trees and colourful tiled benches around an area of cobbled paving, flowerbeds, ornamental streetlights, and a central fountain. It’s reputed to be the birthplace (in what is now the Hotel Doña Elvira) of Dona Ines de Ulloa, the unrequited passion of Don Juan Tenorio, one of Seville’s most quintessential figures, immortalized first by Tirso de Molina, and later by Mozart in Don Giovanni.

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The approach to the Plaza along Rodrigo Caro street, around the walls of the Real Alcázar, is one of the most picturesque in the city, and anyone visiting the city should take the time to follow it. In Roman and Vizigothic times this area was outside the city walls, and was only enclosed by the Moors the ninth century. The pattern of narrow streets for which the Santa Cruz is famous, and which is typical of mediaeval Islamic cities, was created at this time, and the area of the modern square was probably occupied by a small block of houses.

elvira (3)After Ferdinand III reconquered the city for the Christians in 1248, he allocated this neighbourhood to the Jews and enclosed it with high walls (the only remaining piece can be seen in Calle Fabiola). There was often tension between the Jewish and Christian communities, but in the years following the Black Death (1349) and the great earthquake of 1356, these tensions mounted until in 1391 the Christians went on a rampage through the Jewish quarter, looting, burning and killing. Most of the remaining Jews fled, or were scattered around the city.

After the pogrom, Henry III gave the neighbourhood to Don Pedro Lopez de Ayala, and it was his daughter, Doña Elvira, who gave her name to the square. Their palace occupied part of the modern plaza, and had a small stable yard open to the street, forming a small square known as the Plaza de los Caballos. In the 16th century the yard was rented for the comedy theatre popular at the time (this was contemporary with Elizabethan theatre in England, with which it had much in common), and was known as the “Corral de Doña Elvira”.

Later, after the local authorities had banned the theatre performances, the yard was used as a warehouse, until in 1826, as part of a plan to revitalise the area, it was demolished, and the square enlarged to its present size (it probably acquired its current name at the same time), with the central fountain and benches. In 1924, as part of the preparations for the Spanish-American Exposition of 1929, the streetlights and flowerbeds were added, giving the square its modern appearance.

elvira (4)tiled plaque on the Doña Elvira house

We have a great selection of holiday apartments in this neighbourhood to give you the perfect base for exploring.

Malaga | Alcazaba and Gibralfaro

This week we have another guest blog post by history buff, tour guide and long-time Seville resident Peter Tatford Seville Concierge. This time, Peter takes us to Malaga.

Malaga has long been one of my favourite Andalucian cities. It’s not just a place to pass through going to and from the airport, or a high-rise resort with so-so beaches. Though there is still an element of that, in recent decades the city has done a lot to change its image, and its heart is now very firmly in the right place, with a pedestrianised historic centre, a thriving food culture, some of the best parks and gardens I know of anywhere, a recently renovated harbour front with shops and restaurants, and loads of cool museums and art (from favourite son Picasso to the Contemporary Arts Centre).

alcazabaat the top of the Alcazaba

For me, though, one of the most important things is that this is a city with history. Founded by the Phoenicians, and occupied by the Romans, its most impressive monuments date from the long Moorish period. From almost anywhere in the city you can see its two fortresses, the lower Alcazaba (from the Arabic al-qasbah, a citadel) and the upper Gibralfaro (gebel-faro, the rock of the lighthouse; Gibraltar, the rock of Tariq, has the same derivation). From below it can be seen to best advantage from alongside the Roman amphitheatre, itself rediscovered by accident in 1951 when the houses on the hillside below the castle were demolished to make way for a planned garden. Although the Alcazaba was also the palace and royal residence of the local kings, its primary role as a fortress is most obvious from here. There is an entrance to the castle here, but there is a second way in (all will be explained later) which avoids the steep climb up from the bottom.

view from gibralfaroview of the port from the Gibralfaro

In the meantime, take a trip up to the top castle, the Gibralfaro. The Phoenicians had a lighthouse and fortified enclosure here, and the current Moorish building dates back to the 10th century, with a substantial rebuilding in the early 14th. Our tip for the Málaga novice is to avoid going up the steep path that connects the two castles, and instead to take a taxi, or a bus up the back of the hill, and walk down the path to the Alcazaba afterwards. One of the main reasons for coming up here, as you will see for yourself when you get there, is the magnificent view right across the city, from the bullring almost immediately below you, past the Alcazaba, Park Malaga and the harbour, to the mountains beyond. Enjoy it from the castle walls, the mirador (lookout) or best of all from the terrace of the Parador Hotel with a drink to go with it. It’s a magic moment.

From there walk all the way down the hillside path to the bottom of the wall of the Alcazaba that faces the sea to find the alternative entrance. This is, in fact, a lift that takes you almost to the top of the centre of the fortress. It’s always my preferred option, particularly in summer, to be carried to the top of things, and only to walk downwards. During the period of the Córdoba Caliphate this hill had a modest fortification to protect the city from pirates. In the more troubled times that followed it, the local ruler built his residence and the double-walled castle enclosure that still exists today. It’s considered to be the best-preserved of all the Spanish alcazabas, and although much smaller than its counterparts in Granada and Seville, the central palace area with its courtyards, pools and gardens, still gives some idea of the high level of civilisation compared to most of the rest of Europe.

alcazaba (2)inside the Alcazaba

Walking along the old battlements it’s easy to see why the siege by the Christian armies leading up to its fall in 1487 was the longest of the entire reconquest period. The castle has endured ever since, surviving abandonment, neglect, and even being occupied as a tenement slum by the city’s poor before being carefully restored during the 1930s and 40s.

I think Malaga is one of those places that always seems to have another side of itself that it only reveals gradually, so it’s well worth renting an apartment and taking a few days to explore what’s on offer.

Seville | Alameda de Hercules

If you’re coming to Seville and looking for some (reasonably respectable) nightlife, the chances are high that at some point you will find yourself in the Alameda de Hercules, especially after reading this.

The Alameda can be found in the northern part of the historic centre of Seville, between the neighbourhoods of Macarena and San Vicente, and is the largest open space inside the old city walls, forming a long rectangle that reaches from near the Barqueta almost to the city centre. These days it’s quite upmarket, lined with lots of bars and restaurants, several boutique hotels, and a couple or three disco/nightclubs that host live music, as well as a cinema and a theatre. Although best known for its nightlife, it’s a busy social gathering place throughout the day, with a couple of play areas and water features (not sure how else to describe them, but you’ll know what I mean when you see them) for the kids, and bars and cafes for the grown-ups.

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It hasn’t always been this way. In fact the Alameda has a long and chequered history that in some respects has come full circle. Back in mediaeval times it was a branch of the main river that ran on through what is now Sierpes to the Arenal. After it was dammed in 1383 a shallow marshy lagoon was left behind. Finally, in 1574 it was drained and planted with the avenue of poplars (álamos) which give it its name, creating the oldest public park in Europe. Four marble columns (two at each end), were added. Those at the southern end came from the Temple of Diana, whose last three columns can still be seen in Calle Marmoles, and are topped with statues of Hercules and Julius Caesar, considered to be the founders of the city. In the 19th century it was a popular place for the upper classes to stroll and socialise, but from the time of the civil war it went into decline, becoming the city’s red-light district. More recently it has been undergoing a process of gentrification which included a complete refurbishment of the square itself, with partial pedestrianisation.

alameda tapastapas variadas in the Alameda – something for everyone

Eating out in the Alameda offers traditional Spanish fare along with international flavours, from Japanese-Peruvian fusion at Nikkei Bar to Argentinian style La Parrilla de Badulaque for terrific grilled meats. For something a bit more elegant head to Al Aljibe (a personal favourite), while buzzy Bar Antojo and Duo Tapas cater to a young hip crowd. If it’s a hot afternoon Freskita Heladería (ice cream bar) could be what you’re looking for. There may well be street performers to entertain you too, though opinions differ on whether this is a plus or minus. For late night drinking follow the crowds – what’s hot can change faster than British weather. After midnight Thursdays to Saturdays go to Fun Club for disco and live music. Another popular music nightspot is the Naima Jazz Café just off the square in Calle Trajano.

If you want to stay close to the Alameda, veoapartment has a wide variety of holiday rental apartments nearby. Choose one from either our Macarena or San Vicente listings.