Oh man, I'll just say it outright, Sevilla was both my favorite destination on the trip as well as one of my favorite cities ever. When you think of Spain, you think of the typical things such as flamenco, castles, and bull-fighting. While there's so much more than that in the country to explore, the southern region of Andalusia is where you'll discover the origin of those things and why they've become irreversibly linked to the Spanish image and culture.
We didn't even partake in any guided tours nor museums during our time in the South and we still ended up learning so much about the region and its influence on Spain as we know it today.
Centuries ago the Umayyads conquered and ruled over their dominion in Spain (along with practically all of the Maghreb across the Strait), and with that, they left their mark. You couldn't pass by a church without running into a relic or footprint of a dynasty that once was.
Beautiful Islamic calligraphy etched into the very walls that currently house and serve modern-day Spaniards. Streets and squares that inherit names from notable Jewish, Christian, and Muslim figures around every corner. The calling of preachers alongside the adthan sounding into the night would lead you to be nostalgic for a time long before you and me where all followers of Abraham shared the same warm days and cool nights alongside each other.
The first undeniable evidence of this was at our first must-see:
It's super hard to pick my favorite site to see on this trip. However, when I reflect on the journey, I can't help but remember how much I loved this place. Even after a few hours of walking around and taking it all in, I was dreading every step I took on the way out.
There's so much to see and learn within the walls. It was essentially a castle housing a desert oasis. For 7€, you can easily entertain yourself for at least two hours just walking around and seeing the palace and its gardens.
I mean, just look at this...
This could have easily been a mirage (90°F+), forgot water bottle back at the apartment, long blue chinos), but thankfully these photos remind me that this place exists and I wasn't just in the sun too long.
Registered in 1987 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The royal family still used the upper levels as their official residence
Made up of many different architectural styles over a few hundred years of construction (Gothic, Islamic, Renaissance, etc.)
For my Game of Thrones fans...look familiar?
There are so many places on my ever-growing bucket list that appear frequently on my social media feeds. Whether it is Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest I always manage to see one or two pictures of the Plaza. Even in its heavily edited form, nothing prepared me for what we saw in person.
Similar to the Alcázar, the Plaza was like an art piece made up of several artistic styles. This was intentional as it was built for the World's Fair in 1929 to showcase the city's beauty. In one glance you can see the Moorish influence mixed with Renaissance-like styling in the floors and walls of the park. Arabic calligraphy is written in stone atop beautiful tile patterned walls and floors in such a way that it feels like the Moorish Spain hasn't left.
From the outside, it doesn't seem too big. We entered from the East entrance through an inconspicuous entryway. I knew we were in the right place because of the tiles and murals covering parts of the floors and walls. After a few steps, we bring ourselves to the main part of the park and it was larger and more vibrant than any photo of the Plaza I have ever seen. I even had it as my background photo many years ago. It probably helped that it was 90°F outside without a single cloud in the sky...
As I may have expressed many times already, the level of detail everything has in Andalusia is astonishing. Other than the Alcaźar, there aren't many places as "Andalusi" as the Plaza. Other than the intricate stone and tile-work within the walls of the Plaza, the bridges and park floors outside were designed to impress.
Even though we didn't do this ourselves, you could rent a rowboat and cruise the little waterway that spans the Plaza.
Besides all the frequent posts you see on typical travel accounts on Pinterest, Instagram, etc, this place might look familiar to some...
I know right...
That scene where Anakin escorts Padme back to Naboo was shot here and with very little (or none at all) manipulation to the Plaza.
I wasn't even thinking about this scene at all. It pretty much hit me right when I stepped foot in that section of the corridor.
Then we did this...
We spent about two hours walking around and taking everything in. There was just so much to with every step we took that we decided to just stroll around and enjoy what we can.
My initial thoughts with this place were how evident it was that the Andalusi spared no expense when it came to detail. Everything from an individual tile to a whole staircase was made to impress. I couldn't help but think about how this dedication to detail and artisanship is evident in other places. (In particular, for me, Northern Africa)
Art invokes emotion so being able to walk in, around, and through it with every step leaves you feeling so inspired.
Of all the iconic things to see in Sevilla, the Setas (mushrooms), are probably the most popular things to see in terms of more recent constructions. From what I saw there, this is currently the largest wooden figure in the world. Not gonna lie, it was hard not to see these as giant actual mushrooms when seen from afar...
The area was previously a marketplace that was intended to be demolished and rebuilt as part of a new urban plan for the area. During construction, ruins from the Moorish and Roman days were found.
What does that mean? No construction.
What do they put instead? Giant mushrooms. This project began in 2005 and wasn't even finished until 2011.
After hilariously searching all over for the entrance, we finally get to the tunnel that leads into what was essentially a super cool basement under the Setas. Right next to the line was what appeared to be an excavation site? Probably to preserve whatever ruins were found in an attempt to build a small museum around it.
Tip: The entrance is close to the street. It looks like a tunnel going underground.
The line took about 30 minutes which we felt wasn't too terrible considering we arrived shortly before the sunset that everyone flocks to this place for. At least we got to see the ruins as we wait...
The entry was around 4€ which included a drink voucher for the bar/restaurant at the top. Once you arrive at the top, it's just stunning views of Sevilla all around. There are stairs connecting the mushrooms that you can meander around while you take nothing short of 4000 pictures that you have to sift through and decide which ones will go on your blog...
Our biggest regret was probably missing the sunset. Definitely plan around that if you intend to visit. It was beautiful past dusk, I couldn't imagine how amazing everything must have looked during the sunset.
Some of you may have CTRL + F'd this post for Flamenco so if there's only one thing I leave you with from all of this, it's La Carboneria.
How did we find this place?
Due to the number of things we wanted to do in Sevilla, there was only room for one evening of flamenco. Another big regret/tip for you, screw everything else and see as much flamenco as you can. My biggest fear was to wander into a tourist trap and miss out on whatever we felt was authentic flamenco dancing and music.
Part of the physical copy of the house rules our Airbnb host left us was dedicated to nearby attractions recommended to us. Awesome! Some recommendations from a local, always super handy.
In order to confirm if they are legit, I ask him in person as well. Rafael (and his wonderful girlfriend....couldn't find the name in my WhatsApp history. Sorry!), assured me that everything they recommend is purely their favorite things to see in Sevilla. Awesome.
All the typical spots (Plaza, Alcazar, Setas, etc.) were listed and we were already planning on seeing them. The only thing I hadn't carved out in stone was finding a place that has flamenco. Thankfully, Rafael hooked us up and eagerly encouraged us to check out La Carboneria.
Free entry, beautiful venue, and well established among locals in Sevilla. 👌
Fast-forward to the second evening of our three days stay in Sevilla. We roamed the beautiful royal gardens and ate everything we could all day; now we're ready to see a show.
After around 15 minutes of walking southeast, which if I haven't mentioned before, is a treat in and of itself, we stand before the entrance.
Inconspicuous yes? Totally unlike the hundreds of flamenco stages we walked past all day. I was half shocked and half terribly excited. This is my way of knowing if a place is legit.
We walk through the entrance and are greeted by an outdoor patio/tent-like space. Past that, we enter through some weird doors and find ourselves inside what initially felt like a garage....but with a bar and a small platform for the dancers.
The atmosphere is light and we could immediately tell the crowd was quite mixed. Plenty of locals alongside quite a few tourists.
Some time after we sit down the show starts...
Excellent. The music, the dance, everything.
There's not much more I can say. I know, rather anti-climactic
We were so mesmerized that we forgot to take pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it that this place was great.
Check this place out whenever you are in town. Apparently, it's open every evening with shows starting at 9:30 PM.
Regardless of what there is to see and do, I could go on and on for hours about the impact Sevilla left on me, but I would rather leave it at this...
There are very few places that I have visited that compare to Sevilla in terms of how well they are preserved. It's super important to experience what a city is today as well as what a city was yesterday/last year/last century.
Places like Bruges, Florence, and Tangier grant this kind of priceless experience. These places all share a certain appreciation by the people for preservation and with that comes the same brick roads our ancestors walked on, the same temples/churches/mosques they worshipped in, and the same traditions they passed down.
This is something I can't really get in New York.
My friends make fun of me for this but I am notorious for wanting to physically touch that stone in the wall or marble statue because in my mind it links me to a time and people from long ago, unreachable through time. Having that connection enhances your feelings for the land and that experience alone cannot be replicated at any time. And you know I had my hands all over Sevilla.
A fun exercise/essential thing I do everywhere I go is to wander through the streets for a while. Who knows what you will find?
Next time you stumble upon a renaissance era bridge or a perfectly preserved medieval alleyway, think about how many people did the same exact thing and had your same exact thoughts hundreds of years ago. It makes you wonder if they ever thought about this shared experience that transcends time?
I don't know, just my thoughts... Maybe if I ever develop and insert a commenting feature on this you could let me know.