Some cities blast you away, others slowly win you over. Seville disarms and seduces you. Its historic centre, lorded over by a colossal Gothic cathedral, is an intoxicating mix of resplendent Mudéjar palaces, baroque churches and winding medieval lanes. Flamenco clubs keep the intimacy and intensity of this centuries-old tradition alive whilst aristocratic mansions recall the city’s past as a showcase Moorish capital and, later, a 16th-century metropolis rich on the back of New World trade.
But while history reverberates all around, Seville is as much about the here and now as the past. It’s about eating tapas in a crowded bar or seeing out the end of the day over a drink on a buzzing plaza. The sevillanos have long since mastered the art of celebrating and the city’s great annual festivals, notably the Semana Santa and Feria de Abril, are among Spain’s most heartfelt.
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A magnificent marriage of Christian and Mudéjar architecture, Seville’s royal palace complex is a breathtaking spectacle. The site, which was originally developed as a fort in 913, has been revamped many times over the 11 centuries of its existence, most spectacularly in the 14th century when King Pedro added the sumptuous Palacio de Don Pedro, still today the Alcázar’s crowning glory. More recently, the Alcázar featured as a location for the Game of Thrones TV series. Note that long entry queues are the norm here. To cut waiting time, it pays to pre-purchase tickets at www.alcazarsevilla.org.
Seville’s showpiece church is awe-inspiring in its scale and majesty. The world’s largest Gothic cathedral, it was built between 1434 and 1517 over the remains of what had previously been the city’s main mosque. Highlights include the Giralda, the mighty bell tower, which incorporates the mosque’s original minaret, the monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the Capilla Mayor with an astonishing gold altarpiece. Audio guides cost €3. Note also that children under nine are not permitted on rooftop tours.
Housed in a grand Mannerist palace, the former Convento de la Merced, the Museo de Bellas Artes is one of Spain's premier art museums. Its collection of Spanish and Sevillan paintings and sculptures comprises works from the 15th to 20th centuries, but the focus is very much on brooding religious paintings from the city's 17th-century Siglo de Oro (Golden Age).
A glorious oasis of green, the 34-hectare Parque de María Luisa is the perfect place to escape the noise and heat of the city, with duck ponds, landscaped gardens and paths shaded by soaring trees. The land, formerly the estate of the Palacio de San Telmo, was donated to the city in the late 19th century and developed in the run-up to the 1929 Exposición Iberoamericana.
Contemporary art goes hand in hand with 15th-century architecture at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. The centre, sensitively housed in the Monasterio de Santa María de Las Cuevas, hosts temporary exhibitions by Andalucian and international artists alongside some truly bizarre permanent pieces. Look out for Alicia by Cristina Lucas, a massive head and arm poking through two windows that was supposedly inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Elsewhere, several brick kilns testify to the monastery's past as a 19th-century ceramics factory.
The Metropol Parasol, known locally as Las Setas (The Mushrooms), is one of Seville's iconic modern landmarks. Built in 2011 to a design by German architect Jürgen Mayer H, the colossal sunshade is a hypnotic sight with its undulating honeycombed canopy – said to be the world’s largest wooden-framed structure – and massive support trunks. Lifts run up from the basement to the top, where you can enjoy killer views from a winding walkway.
The finest example of baroque architecture in Seville, this imposing (and deconsecrated) 18th-century church is a former Jesuit novitiate dedicated to King Louis IX of France. Designed by Leonardo de Figueroa, its unusual circular interior harbours four extravagantly carved and gilded altarpieces inset with paintings (Louis’ image is topped by a huge crown), and a central cupola. You can also visit the chapel decorated with macabre reliquaries (saints’ bones) in glass boxes, and the crypt.
The haunting Casa de Pilatos, which is still occupied by the ducal Medinaceli family, is one of the city’s most glorious mansions. Originally dating to the late 15th century, it incorporates a wonderful mix of Mudéjar, Gothic and Renaissance decor, with some beautiful tilework and artesonados (ceilings of interlaced beams with decorative insertions). The overall effect is like a mini-Alcázar. Note there is free admission for EU citizens (take ID) on Monday (3pm to 7pm).
This gem of a museum, housed in a former hospice for priests, is one of Seville’s most rewarding. The artistic highlight is the Focus-Abengoa Foundation’s collection of 17th-century paintings in the Centro Velázquez. It’s not a big collection, but each work is a masterpiece of its genre – highlights include Diego Velázquez’ Santa Rufina, his Inmaculada Concepción, and a sharply vivid portrait of Santa Catalina by Bartolomé Murillo.
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