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Posts tagged ‘spain’

Seville | The Jews and the Old Jewish Quarter

santa cruz 030Corner of Agua & Vida (Water & Life)

The Barrio (neighbourhood) of Santa Cruz is perhaps the best known and most iconic in the historic centre of Seville, with its patchwork of small squares and picturesque narrow streets that help to keep the heat of the summer at bay. It’s also the oldest inhabited part of the city, dating back to the time of the Romans and even beyond. Although it was only for some 250 years of its more than two thousand year history, part of its romance certainly comes from the fact that this was the old Jewish quarter of the city in the late mediaeval period of the Christian Reconquista.

No one really knows when the Jews first came to Seville, or Spain (known to them as the Sepharad) generally. The first definitive written record is from the Vizigoths at the beginning of the 6th century, but they seem by then to have already been a substantial and well-settled community, numerous enough to be considered a problem by the Vizigothic kings, especially after the conversion of the Vizigothic royal family to Catholicism in 587. They had probably first settled in number in the diaspora that followed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus in 70 AD, but some believe that they were here much earlier, equating Tarshish of the Old Testament with the realm of Tartessos in southwestern Spain.

santa cruz 019-001Casa number 6

The Golden Age of the Jews in Spain was under the Caliphate of Córdoba in the 10th century, a period of unusual religious tolerance, when Jews came to the cities of southern Spain from all over Europe and the Mediterranean and mingled with Arab scholars and Christians to create a unique culture. It was all too brief. After the end of the Caliphate a renewed influx of fundamentalist Moslems led to renewed persecutions. Many Jews fled to the Christian realms to the north, where, despite mistrust and sometimes hostility, they were generally welcomed as valuable allies against the Moors, and in 1248, when Ferdinand III captured Seville, it was the Jews who presented him with the keys of the city.

1-juderia wall-001Wall of the Jewish Quarter

It is this event that marks the beginning of the Jewish quarter as it’s remembered today. Although the Jews were confined to the Jewish quarter, which was separated from the rest of the city by its own wall, a short section of which can still be seen in Calle Fabiola, and had to wear a yellow badge to identify them, they enjoyed a century or more of prosperity until the civil war in the time of Peter I. Increasing hostility on the part of the Church, and the anti-Semitism of Peter’s rival Henry, culminated in Seville in the great pogrom of 1391, when a mob broke into the Juderia and murdered some 4,000 Jews. In the aftermath many more fled, and others submitted to baptism and became conversos. Two of the three main synagogues became churches, including the Santa Cruz church (now the Plaza Santa Cruz). Although (or perhaps because) many of the conversos were wealthy, and also suspected of keeping to the old religion in secret, they remained targets of hostility. Finally, in 1478, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition, which claimed its first casualties in 1481, before expelling all unconverted Jews from Andalucia in 1483. The Jewish quarter was no more.

0007_veo-2Plaza Santa Cruz

Much of the area underwent a decline in the following period, but with programs of urban renewal in the 18th century, in the Napoleonic period, and particularly in the preparations for the 1929 Spanish-American exhibition, it gained a new lease of life as a tourist attraction. Today it sees tens of thousands of visitors a year, who come to enjoy its colour and its history. Its little squares, such as the Plaza Elvira, Los Refinadores and the Santa Cruz are indeed among the most beautiful in the city, and the narrow streets with their tiles and balconies work their magic on even the most blasé. Plenty of places to sit outside a bar and watch the world go by too, and some of those little secret places like the Plaza Escuela de Cristo or Santa Marta which you might miss if you don’t know how to find them. The shades of Don Juan and Doña Iñes de Ulloa still walk these streets, brushing shoulders with Carmen the tobacco girl and Cervantes, and many another.

To experience it best rent one of our Santa Cruz apartments, and spend a few days living in one of Europe’s most atmospheric neighbourhoods.

Paella Explained

In my line of work I get asked a wide variety of questions by visitors eager to get the most out of their stay in Spain. Everything from “Is it worth seeing the Alhambra?” (Duh), through “Do they still do bullfighting?” (Yes, except in Catalonia, and yes, they still kill the bull) to “How does the washing machine work?” One of the most common subjects of enquiry, perhaps surprisingly, is paella (pronounced pie-aiya, the Spanish double-ll always being pronounced as a y). It seems that outside of Spain, where it’s just part of the furniture, paella is regarded as the Spanish “national dish”, and it comes as something of a surprise that in many parts of Spain it’s not particularly common. People are also quite hazy about what a paella actually is (it’s a specific dish, not just rice-with-things-in-it, which covers everything from risotto to kedgeree and exists in pretty much every country in the world), so today’s post is a kind of paella 101.

paella 1

What you can expect

Firstly, paella is not really a Spanish dish, but a regional dish from Valencia on Spain’s east coast, where rice was first cultivated by the Moors, who improved and adapted the Roman irrigation systems of the area for this use. By the 15th century rice was an important staple, often eaten as a casserole with fish and vegetables. Modern paella was developed by farmers around the Albufera lagoon near Valencia during the 18th and 19th centuries, and was traditionally cooked on open fires of orange and pine branches, whose aroma infused the dish. Initially the principle added ingredients were water voles, eels, snails and beans, but as living standards improved rabbit and chicken became the norm, and are regarded today as proper Valencian paella.

paella

What to avoid

The name of the dish is a Catalan/Valencian derivative of old French paelle, meaning a pan, but now referring to the wide, flat metal pan (a paella) in which the rice is cooked, and whose shape allows the distinctive light crust, the hallmark of paella, to form on the bottom. Classic paella is made with a short grain rice, usually calasparra or bomba, chicken and/or rabbit, snails (optional), green beans, artichokes (in season), garlic, olive oil and saffron. It is a matter of some contention as to whether other varieties, made with fish, seafood and other ingredients should be classed as paellas. Purists say no, but there doesn’t seem to be any other convenient way of referring to them, and the usage has become so widespread that it’s no longer possible to hold back the tide. But apparently adding chorizo to a paella is the ultimate sin.

paella classChef Victor at Taller Andaluz shows us how it’s done

So where can you get a good one? For the most part, the answer seems to be Valencia or Barcelona (and places between). Sevillanos don’t seem to have mastered the art, although they do have fabulous rice dishes of their own. Look for arroz del día at bars, only served at lunchtime and often made with long grain rice. Avoid places with pictures of lots of different paellas, they’re always tourist traps, and the paella preprepared/frozen. Good paella should be fresh and takes at least 40 minute to arrive at your table.

There is another alternative, though. By far the best paella I’ve had in Seville was at the cooking class in Triana market (we made three traditional Spanish dishes, all excellent, and had lots of fun, too). And if you’re renting one of our self-catering apartments you can practice the recipe yourself (though you will need a proper paella pan).

Seville | Spanish Lifestyle

1-IMG_20140216_133811street life in Seville

Although the notion of a Spanish national character can easily be overdone, there are some cultural biases that people from the English-speaking countries will probably pick up on. The Spanish are generally ebullient, noisy and outward going, with a smaller personal space than you’re used to, and this combination can make them seem a bit “in-your-face”, especially given a widespread lack of foreign language skills (the Swiss and the Belgians can look smug at this point; the Brits and the Americans should probably keep quiet). But really, they’re by and large friendly and hospitable.

Timetables. Partly as a product of climate, and partly because Spanish clocks are an hour out of kilter, everything happens later in the day than you’re used to. A lot of people don’t start work until 10, lunch starts at 2 not 12, and carries on through siesta until 5. Then everything opens up again until 8 or 9. Dinner (usually tapas if you’re eating out) is after that, and may carry on until midnight, especially in summer. In school holidays and at weekends you’ll also see lots of quite young children out and about at this time.

There’s a good reason why “siesta” is the most widely understood Spanish word in the non-Spanish speaking world – it’s just such a good idea. Although a long afternoon break is anathema to the corporatist work ethic of much of Northern Europe and America, it actually conforms to the natural rhythm of the human body. And in the days before aircon, or if you’re working outside, what else could you be doing in the heat of the summer sun? It also allows you to stay up late and get up early.

jamonjamón Ibérico de Bellota

When it comes to eating out the hustle, bustle and sociability of the tapeo is an essential part of Spanish culture in general, and Sevillano culture in particular. Despite the buzz, it’s essence is laid back and informal, with lots of sharing and conversation, and at the end of the evening, lots of lingering over a final drink. People often go from bar to bar, but no one ever tries to move you on to clear the tables for the next shift. Visitors often remark on how civilised this way of eating and drinking feels.

Before the tapeo, if work schedule and weather permit, is the paseo, the evening stroll. The Spanish live outside more than their northern counterparts, and on a warm spring or autumn evening what could be finer than a walk out of doors and perhaps a bit of window-shopping?

arenal (2)Bullfighting is still very popular in most of Spain, though not, of course, as popular as football. They still kill the bull, and the ritual and symbolism are part of every Spaniard’s repertoire, even if they’ve never been to a bullfight. These days the social, see and be seen, aspects of attending a bullfight are as important as the fight itself (unless you’re a bull).

Religious processions are very popular throughout Spain, though not, of course, as popular as football. Although strict religious belief and observance are in decline, Spain is still very much a Catholic country, and in Seville participants prepare all year for major events such as Semana Santa (Holy Week) which still draws huge crowds.

Even if (unfairly) the Spanish, especially in southern Spain, don’t have a reputation for working hard, they do have a reputation for knowing how to party. Every locality has its annual fair where they dress up in flamenco costume, dance the night away and drink lots of rebujito (a cocktail of sherry and 7up). In Seville the Feria is in April.feria flamenco dresses

All this, of course, just scratches the surface, and if you want to find out more about why so many people love Spain and its relaxed lifestyle, you need to come and stay in one of our holiday apartments and experience it for yourself.

Felices Fiestas! Happy Holidays!

christmas 2014
The Veoapartment Team wishes you a very Merry Christmas!

 

Cordoba | The Palacio de Viana

About an hour and a half away from Seville by train, Cordoba is one of Spain’s great old cities, once the capital of Moorish al-Andalus and regarded as one of the most enlightened, sophisticated cities of the European Middle Ages. It was a place where Moslems, Jews and Christians lived for the most part harmoniously, creating a cultured, intellectual life that was not to be equalled again for many centuries. It’s famous above all for the Mezquita, the Grand Mosque of the Caliphs of Cordoba, but away from the monumental area it is also a city for people, and one of its most captivating aspects is that it is a city of flowers.

viana cordoba (3)

This is best shown by the festival of the Patios of Cordoba, which is held every May, when the private patios of many buildings, with their plants and fountains, are opened to the public, but streets adorned with the typical blue flower pots of the city are common all year round. In the spring and summer months they are alive with flowers and I love to visit the city at this time of year to enjoy its colours and smells.

viana cordoba (5)

viana cordoba (4)

Not surprising, then, that one of my favourite places to go in Cordoba is the Palacio Viana, also known as the patio museum. Now about 500 years old, it originally belonged to the Marqueses de Villaseca, and acquired its modern name when it was bought by the Marquis of Viana in the late 19th century. It was eventually sold to the CajaSur foundation in 1982, and turned into a museum. From relatively small beginnings it has grown over the centuries by buying up surrounding properties, and now boasts no fewer than 12 patios, as well as the main garden.

viana cordoba (2)

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The modern grand entrance into the Patio de Recibo was built to impress visitors with the wealth and power of the owners, and features a colonnade around the perimeter. To one side is the carriage house, where you can see the Marquis’s carriage and (a personal favourite) a sedan chair, which looks really heavy for four men to carry! From here you go into the older parts of the palace. The little Patio de Los Gatos, or courtyard of the cats, will certainly charm you as it always charms me. In mediaeval times it was a Patio de Vecinos (neighbours), where the common people lived, and to one side is the palace kitchen of the early 20th century.

viana cordoba (1)

Beyond that are the Patio of the Oranges (a Moorish style garden), the Patio de las Rejas, which means bars or gratings, which gets its name from the bars that separate it from the street, and allowed those outside to look enviously at those inside, and the Patio de La Madama (the lady of the house), perhaps the most picturesque of all the courtyards.

The two largest spaces come next. The Courtyard of the Columns is a modern addition, but its fountains blend harmoniously with the older elements. It is used for events such as concerts and theatre. Alongside is the garden, with a formal area of low, square hedges around a central fountain and a grand oak tree. The two interior patios, the Courtyard of the Chapel and the Courtyard of the Archives, are the quietest and most tranquil. Finally, you come to the courtyards where the gardeners worked, and stored their tools. These include the Courtyard of the Well, which was fed from an underground stream, and provided enough water for all the patios.

viana cordoba (7)

You can also take a guided tour of the inside of the palace, though admission is extra, and see the living quarters of the aristocratic owners and their collections of art and books, and other historical items.

Although it’s outside the main monumental area, I always try to make time to come here when I’m in Cordoba, and I think you should, too. I don’t know anywhere else that’s quite like it.

Palacio Museo de Viana
Plaza de don Gome, 2
Tel: 957 496 741
Tues-Sat 10.00 am to 7.00 pm Sundays 10.00am to 3.00 pm Closed Mon
July and August 9.00 am to 3.00 pm Closed Mon
Price 5 euros to the patios, 8 euros with entrance to the palace.
Website