Seville – The Heart of Andalusia

We love Seville. The Real Alcázar, its orange tree lined streets, the elegant Cathedral of Seville and its beautiful architecture, a mix of Christian and Islamic styles…

I was told Seville is a beautiful city. This was an understatement – it is more than simply beautiful. I think it’s the most beautiful city in Andalusia. If you are visiting Andalusia for the first time, I would say, save Seville for last, otherwise you’d be constantly comparing all the others with her.

A bird’s eye view of Seville, with the iconic Alamillo Bridge by architect Santiago Calatrava in the background

It’s no surprise really. As part time home to the Spanish Royal Family, it is a city of great elegance and charm. Of all the cities we have visited in Spain, it is the cleanest and the safest. Its stone and brick buildings are well maintained and charmingly decorated.

Seville's bull ring, Plaza de toros de Sevilla, looking like a pit in the middle of the city
Seville’s bullring. An ornamented pit of torment for all the animals forced to fight and die there

Most of them are fairly quite simple in style, with flat roofs and relief ornamentation. Its colours are colours of the earth – yellow ochre, desert red, pale beige, Andalusian colours.

Residential buildings in Seville old town showcase traditional Andalusian architecture
The mudéjar styled residential buildings of Seville combine Renaissance and Islamic styles

Fun Fact: The Orange Trees of Seville

The streets of Seville are lined with orange trees, their graphic silhouette present in every view of the city. On our first night, I bought a bag of oranges thinking they were the famous Seville oranges. No, they aren’t. The oranges that line its streets are bitter, suitable only for marmalades. It is the blossom of this tree, the azahar, that is most valued for its delightful scent. It has been exploited by the perfume industry for centuries, and remains a staple in many floral perfumes.

The ubiquitous orange trees, combined with the distinct style of the residential buildings in the old town make any photograph of Seville instantly recognisable.

The balcony of Rosina, hanging of a white Renaissance styled building with three Seville orange trees in front
The orange trees are ubiquitous in Seville, fronting the “Romeo and Juliet” building featuring the famous Balcony of Rosina

Most of the buildings are in the Mudéjar style, a style which reached its height around the 14th century. For temporal orientation, Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, the same year the Moorish Islamic rule came to an end in the Iberian Peninsula.

Cathedral of Seville seen from the inside a courtyard of the Real Alcazar
The Cathedral of Seville framed by a massive door leading into one of the public courtyards of the Real Alcázar

Architecture in Seville

The architecture in Seville, and in Andalusia as a whole, is a truly delightful mix of Christian and Islamic styles. Although Islamic rule came to an end, people continued to incorporate Islamic elements into their buildings for centuries to come.

Overhanging Islamic style balconies in Seville, Spain
A European interpretation of the Islamic mashrabiya balconies. In the Islamic world, the windows would be smaller and made of stained glass

I particularly love the Renaissance Mudéjar buildings, which are most of the buildings in the old town of Seville. The Real Alcázar also favours this mix of styles. It is the islamic elements that make Andalusian architecture so distinct, even though it bears a strong resemblance to buildings you’ll find in Tuscany.

Men looking at the crucifixion under the shade of orange trees
Tourist contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus under the shade of Seville’s orange trees

If you walk around Seville’s old town a couple of times, you’ll come upon the Plaza del Cabildo. It’s shaped in a half circle and feels a little like an arena when you enter. It feels like entering someones oversized patio. The residents keep overhanging plants on the shared balcony and there are a few orange trees to provide shade in the open plaza. To me, it felt like a worker’s palace.

Traditional Spanish architecture - a semi-circular building around a private courtyard
Plaza del Cabildo, a semi-circular residential building with a lovely round courtyard

Juderia – Seville’s Jewish Quarter

One thing you’ll notice visiting the cities of Andalusia are the prominent Jewish quarters that live in the heart of each city.

View of Seville from above
A Where’s Waldo style photograph of Seville, revealing the lives of Seville’s citizens as seen from their rooftops

Throughout the centuries, regardless of who was in charge – Christian or Muslim, the Jewish population was always welcomed by the elite of Andalusian society and valued for their education and the financial services they provided.

Graphic shadows cast across a brick wall reveal the Islamic influence in the building behind
Graphic shadows cast by the unique mudéjar style architecture of a building

Like all other Jewish quarters in Europe, Juderia is filled with winding streets hiding excellent restaurants and boutiques. One of the streets entering Juderia begins from the same square as the entrance and exit to Real Alcazar, so you’ll have no excuse not to wander around its narrow, shaded streets. We had an early booking for our tour of the palace and when we got out, it was perfect timing to grab lunch at one of the lovely tapas places in the Jewish Quarter.

Architectural details on the underside of the Balcone de Rosina in Seville's Jewish quarter
The stunning detail and beautiful woodwork of the Balcony of Rosina is only fully unveiled when you step under it

If you’re not up for sitting down in a restaurant for a meal though, you can also grab a bite in the gardens opposite the Balcón De Rosina. It’s a very beautiful balcony. Together with the building, it is a great example of Mudéjar – Renaissance architecture. Overhanging, ornamented, balconies like this one are a feature taken from the Islamic world. The Balcony of Rosina, though, deviates greatly from the traditional mashrabiya in that it is completely uncovered – although it still has the roof (Renaissance balconies in Italy are seldom roofed).

The Balcony is known for its connection to the famous opera “The Barber of Seville”. Allegedly, it is the balcony which the Count of Almaviva climbs, on the advice of Figaro, in pursuit of his love, Rosina.

Fun Fact: Moorish Balconies

I first learned of the mashrabiya in Malta, when our guide explained the covered balconies that hung over Valletta’s narrow streets. In the Islamic world, privacy and modesty is greatly valued. These balconies are therefore covered and fitted with stained glass to let light in. These balconies allowed the people in the building to be able to look out and see without being seen. When the Spanish incorporated them, they removed the stained glass and replaced them with clear glass – allowing all who passed by to envy the wealth of the occupants who lived within.

A building at the end of a street corner in Seville's Jewish quarter, with an exit on the first floor

Seville at Night

Seville, like all Spanish cities, has a vibrant nightlife. People of all ages, from young toddlers to old grannies can be seen out in its bars and restaurants after 9 PM, which is when the Spanish have their dinner.

A blood orange sunset over Seville, Spain
The Sevillian orange sunset, so vibrant because of all the desert dust in the air

The entire old town comes alive and its worth re-exploring the city after sundown. We walked, all over again, the little streets of Juderia, checking out each bar. There are also plenty of lovely restaurants on the other side of the tram line, which runs through Avenue de la Constitución.

A street with plenty of lovely restaurants somewhere in Seville’s old town

Make sure to head towards the canal. We did and were quite happy with restaurant we found there that seemed to mostly cater to locals of the city and Spanish tourists. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any restaurant or bar in Seville I thought was a tourist trap. They all looked lovely and authentic.

The Cathedral of Seville has a golden reflection in the polished windows of the residential building facing it

Religious Procession in Seville

After dinner, we encountered a procession making its way through the streets of Seville. We’re not sure what the procession was about, but it was quite interesting.

The square in one of the main streets in Seville. Note the cover erected to provide shade during the day

Many people had come together to haul a giant, decorated alter through the streets – there were the men carrying it, the band playing the music, alter boys and girls leading the way and incense to provide a sense of the mystical. I’m not a big one for religious things, but this one had lovely music. I also felt fortunate to have this opportunity to experience a little bit of Spanish tradition.

People watching a religious procession in Seville
People looking expectantly at the religious procession about to pass by

We did not stay for long though. The crowds became too much for me and we took off in the other direction. Enjoying a little bit of a stroll in the cool Andalusian air before heading back to our hotel.

The alter being taken along with the procession. Here the virgin is made of some black stone and gilded completely in gold