Cadiz & Seville, Spain

     May 5 found us in Cadiz, Spain, our last stop on the continent of Europe. With a population of 125,000, Cadiz is on the southwest Atlantic coast of Andalusia, a little beyond the Pillars of Hercules and therefore not in the Mediterranean. Founded around 1100 BC by the Phoenicians, who named it “Gadir” meaning enclosure or stronghold, this is considered by most to be the oldest continuously occupied city in western Europe. When it was part of the Roman empire after 206 BC the city was called Gades in Latin, and the Moors, who occupied it from the early 8th Century until 1262, Arabized the name to Qadis, which became Cadiz in Spanish after the Reconquista. Cadiz was the starting point for Columbus’s 2d and 4th voyages to America (although he thought it was Asia, of course), and became very wealthy during the 17th & 18th centuries when it held a virtual monopoly on trade with Spanish America after the port of Seville was blocked by silt. The city is located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula reaching out into a large bay, so there is water all around. Here is a panoramic view of the city from the upper deck of Prinsendam.

466a. Cadiz panorama from ship

     But before we get into what we saw on this stop, the night before reaching Cadiz we had an interesting performance on board by a local dance group. Consisting of four women, they presented a modern take on flamenco & other Spanish dancing and it was pretty striking. But detracting from the performance was the fact that all the music was canned; no live musicians at all. This was the first performance by local artists that had been presented that way & we thought it made a big difference, and not a good one. Still, the dancing was great & we were not sorry to have attended.

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     Cadiz looks like a very interesting city to explore & it is small enough that you can pretty much do it all on your own on foot from the ship. But everyone says that Seville is the real showpiece in this part of Spain and we had never been here before, so we signed up for a day trip to Seville. They were right, Seville is fabulous. Our only real regret is that we had only one day, with a fairly early departure, and that wasn’t really enough time so we felt a little rushed. But as you will see in the pictures below, what we did see was pretty special.

     Our bus left pretty early in the morning, taking us past the 16th century Puertas de Tierra (the land gates), one of the few remnants of the old city walls, which was modified in the 20th century so that car traffic could go through two large arches. We passed several nice looking towns on the way as well. These pictures were taken through the window of a moving bus, so some blurriness & window reflections were unavoidable.

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     Like so many of the cities we have visited on this voyage, Seville is very old, founded by the Romans around 200 BC. Like Cadiz, after the fall of the Roman empire it was ruled by the Visigoths for a few centuries then was governed by the Moors from the early 8th Century until 1248, when Ferdinand III drove them out and incorporated it into the kingdom of Castile. Although located about 50 miles up the Guadalquivir river, Seville’s port is accessible by smaller ocean going ships (the Azamara Journey docked there not too long ago). After Columbus’s first voyage Seville was designated as the exclusive port for American trade, which meant that any ship trading in the Americas had to begin & end its voyage here. This made Seville into one of the largest (a million people) and richest cities in Europe. But the monopoly was broken by Cadiz at the end of the 16th Century and then the river began to silt up and restrict navigation to Seville. As a result, Cadiz became the new port for American trade and in the 18th Century was one of the richest cities in Europe as Seville went into decline.

     As we arrived in Seville we saw many flowering trees & fountains, one of which is part of a 1973 monument to Juan Sebastian Elcano, the captain of the one ship with 18 men that completed Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world in 1512. This voyage began and ended in Seville & Magellan had been killed along the way. The red and white candy striped building behind the memorial is the 19th Century Pavilion of San Telmo. It is known locally as the Costurero de la Reina (Queen’s Sewing Box) because the wife of King Alfonso XII supposedly spent time here sewing. In fact, however, she died 15 years before it was built. Many of the buildings in this part of Seville are in a lively Spanish style.

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      We first walked to the Barrio Santa Cruz. This was once the “Jewish Quarter,” actually a walled ghetto with two gates. It is right next to the Alcazar, the royal palace, & our guide told us that the king once said that he kept the Jews so close to him because of his high regard for them. Sure. Anyway, in 1391 there was a nasty pogrom in which most of the Jews here were murdered & their property expropriated. Their synagogues were converted to churches. And of course in 1492 the remaining Jews who declined to convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain.

     Not a lovely history, but it is today quite a lovely neighborhood & very popular with visitors. The first place we visited was Plaza Santa Cruz, which is where the painter Bartolome Murillo was born. In the center is a 16th century wrought iron cross called the Cruz de la Cerrajería (Locksmith’s cross). I don’t know why its called that, but it is supposed to commemorate the Church of Holy Cross that stood here until the Napoleonic wars and gave the neighborhood its name. The church had been built on the remains of a synagogue & the floor of the synagogue (& the church) forms the center for the plaza. There are orange trees all around this part of Seville, something Seville has always been known for.  They are attractive, but the fruit is said to be bitter & useful mainly for British marmalade.

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     Barrio Santa Cruz is a labyrinth of narrow, twisty streets with brightly colored buildings.  It has several plazas & sidewalk cafes & a whole lot of souvenir shops (I told you it was popular with tourists). We also noted that the roofs of many of the buildings have weeds growing on them. We walked through this quarter to reach our next stop, the Alcazar, which borders the Santa Cruz neighborhood.

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     After our (first) stroll through Santa Cruz we arrived at the Plaza del Triunfo (Triumph Square), a UNESCO world heritage site bordered by the Alcazar on one side and the Cathedral on the other. On a third side is the General Archive of the Indies, housed in a 16th century structure originally built as a merchant exchange. It contains the documentary history of Spain’s American empire, including such items as Columbus’s diary & the Pope’s declaration dividing the new world between the Spanish & Portuguese. This is a UNESCO site that, sadly, we didn’t have time to visit. There was a long wait for our guide to get tickets to the Alcazar (why didn’t they buy these in advance?) as we waited outside the wall. On the wall above the entryway is a plaque with a lion holding a lance standing on a bunch of generic looking animals (alligators?). The guide said this represented the Christian king’s conquest over Islam. There was also in this plaza an unusual small fountain supporting an elaborate column topped by a streetlight, standing in front of the Cathedral.

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    The Alcazar is the royal palace of Seville.  First constructed by the Moors in the 10th century, it was greatly expanded after the Christian conquest, most notably in the 14th century by King Pedro the Cruel (imagine how much his people must have loved him to give him that name). This is one of the most important examples of mudejar architecure, which means designed & built by Moors after the Reconquista for a Christian king (although some additions since then have been in other styles). Much of it is very reminiscent of the actual Moorish design of the Alhambra, which we saw early in this journey, but you can tell it was not actually of Islamic origin because there are images of people and animals in various places. Today the Alcazar is still the Seville residence of the Spanish royal family, who occupy the upper floors when in town. We were told that this building cannot be visited when the monarch is there, but I am not sure this is true since we only visited the first floor in any event.

     Many of the views in this palace are really stunning. It is full of intricate Moorish tile work and carved stucco decoration. We felt that we were hurried through (to be fair, there was a lot to see today and not so much time) and our guide, while he seemed knowledgeable and amiable, talked rather softly and very fast and had a bit of an accent. Because of this you pretty much had to choose whether to stay close to him and listen or wander around and look and take pictures.  You will see below that we chose the latter.

     As at Disney World, once we were admitted through the Lion Gate in the wall we came to an inner courtyard, the Courtyard of the Lion, where we had to wait again for our turn to enter the building. This gave us some time to admire the façade of the palace built by Pedro, the wall with arches on the opposite side of the courtyard & the mosaic sidewalk of black and white stones.

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     Inside we visited, inter alia, the Salon de los Embajadores (The Ambassadors Room), which has a domed ceiling of gilded cedar wood. It also has horse shoe arches (Arcos de Herradura), elaborate tile work and carved stucco (I think) reliefs on the walls in a variety of colors.

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     The Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens) is reminiscent of the courtyards in the Alhambra, with a reflecting pool in the center flanked by sunken gardens & lots of intricate lattice-like plaster work. The first floor was built by Pedro but the second floor was added by Charles V in the 16th century in a Renaissance style.

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     Here is another courtyard, the name of which I don’t know, but this one is three stories high and there is no pool inside.

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     The mosaic tile work on the walls throughout the Alcazar is colorful, dramatic and varied. I can’t tell you what rooms these are in, but they are worth looking at anyway.

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     Here is a bunch of ceilings from various rooms, each one different (not to mention the ceiling of the Ambassadors’ room that we have already seen).

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     Here are the leftovers: pictures from inside the Alcazar that I thought worth seeing but don’t fit into any of these categories.

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     So then we passed out of the palace into the gardens.  On one wall was a plaque reading “Plus Ultra,” Latin for “further beyond.” This was the personal motto of Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand & Isabella, and today appears on the Spanish flag.

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     Behind the palace next to the gardens is the “Pool of Mercury.” The pool houses fish (who do not always play nicely with one another) and is fed by a fountain from the building. It has a statue of Mercury in the middle and is bordered by a wall with paintings in it. Bronze lions sit at the corners. Beyond it, the wall continues into the lush gardens with fountains, benches and sculpted shrubs.

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     We left the Alcazar through the Patio de Banderas (Courtyard of Flags) , where there was a beautiful view of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Cathedral. We walked through the Jewish Quarter again, this time along the wall of the Alcazar.  I have read that this wall once carried water on the top like an aqueduct. Then we walked through the beautiful Jardines de Murillo (Murillo gardens), which had several small plazas with fountains and tiled benches.  It also has a monument to Christopher Columbus consisting of two tall columns with a lion on top and a ship in the middle.

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     We boarded the bus to go to lunch. But on the way they took us for a drive past the bullfighting stadium (moving too fast for a decent picture), and across the Guadalquivir river, the only navigable river in Spain. It was a lovely day & there were beautiful flowers and rowers practicing in the river. We saw the Torre de Oro (Gold Tower), built by the Moors in the early 13th century. This was one anchor for a huge chain they put across the river to prevent an invading fleet from reaching the harbor; the Christian fleet’s breaking of this chain in 1248 was a decisive moment in the reconquest of Seville. W also saw a very unusual bridge that looked a little like a hand held harp. Built in 1992, it is called the Puente del Alamillo. The buffet lunch was unmemorable (I can’t remember it), but the hotel where we ate had a nice tile covered fountain in the sitting area with little ceramic frogs spitting water into it.

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     After lunch we headed back to the Plaza del Triunfo to visit the Cathedral. Just across the street from our luncheon hotel were what I took to be the walls of the Alcazar. We passed some amazing flowers then walked again through the Barrio Santa Cruz, this time taking a street that enabled us to look through the iron gates at the courtyards in some wealthier houses.

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     Seville’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Two churches are generally considered to be slightly larger: St. Peter’s in Rome (not a cathedral) & St. Paul’s in London (not Catholic), but I have read that a more recent measurement of volume places Seville back on top. I guess this is not an exact science & depends on how you go about measuring. Originally there was a mosque on this site which was converted into a church after the reconquest in 1248. However, it was damaged in an earthquake in the 14th century and had to be replaced. The city fathers then resolved to “build a church so big that those who see it will think us mad” (an interesting goal, to convince your progeny that you were nuts; many parents spend a great part of their lives trying unsuccessfully to convince their progeny that they are reasonable and sane). They spent about a century doing just that; when completed in 1506 it supplanted the Hagia Sofia as the largest in the world (just 5 years later, after the warranty expired, the dome collapsed & had to be rebuilt). The Cathedral is built mostly in a gothic style and has a roof that looks like an abstract sculpture garden.

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     The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral. It was originally built as a minaret in the 12th century but was converted to a bell tower after the reconquista when the mosque was made into a church. It reminded me of the Koutoubia Mosque we had seen in Marrakesh and when I looked it up after returning home I discovered that it was actually modeled on the mosque. Its not a copy, but you can see below that the style is similar. The top third of the tower, containing the belfry, is in Spanish renaissance style & was added in the 16th century.

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     After another long wait for admittance (again tickets not purchased in advance), we entered through one of the few remaining doors from the old mosque, built with a horseshoe arch. This took us into a courtyard behind the Cathedral. We entered through the Puerta del Lagarto (door of the lizard). From the ceiling in front of this door hang an elephant tusk & a stuffed crocodile the sultan of Egypt gave to Alfonso X in 1260 (actually, the crocodile is a wood replica, since the original apparently hasn’t survived).

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     The interior was, of course, just as awe inspiring as the original city fathers intended, with soaring pillars, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. After all, it is the largest gothic cathedral in the world!

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     The Cathedral has a number of side chapels, some with very elaborate altars. Most of them are behind iron or bronze gates, some of which are works of art in themselves. The Chapel of St. Andrew contains a large painting by Murillo called “The Vision of St. Andrew.” In 1874 thieves cut out the figure of St. Andrew and tried to sell it in New York as a separate painting. A sharp art dealer returned it to the Spanish & it was reattached to the original painting. However, you can still see where the repair was made.

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      One of the major features of this cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. There has long been controversy about whether Columbus is really in there, since he travelled almost as much after his death as before. The Seville tomb was originally to be in Cuba, but was brought here after Spain lost that island in the Spanish American War. There is another tomb of Columbus in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A few years ago, however, a DNA test was done on the remains in Seville which concluded that this is Columbus (the mitochondrial DNA in these remains matched that of Columbus’s brother Diego, also interred in this cathedral). But it turns out there is not a full skeleton in there, so part of Columbus may still be in the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans have so far declined a DNA test on their remains, so the mystery remains.

      The tomb is unusual in that it is a box (at least I think he is in the box rather than underneath) suspended on poles held up by four pall bearers, each representing one of the medieval kingdoms that made up Spain (Castile, Aragon, Navarre & Leon). It is a large dramatic structure in the context of this huge cathedral. Coincidentally, I was told, it stands in front of a two story tall painting of St. Christopher.

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     In the center of the Cathedral is the choir, elaborately carved in wood. The main glory of this Cathedral is supposed to be its main altar piece, composed of 45 scenes from the life of Christ carved in wood (gilded, I think) by a single artist around the turn of the 16th century. It is the largest and richest altarpiece in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it because it was apparently being refurbished behind a huge canvas curtain displaying a picture of what was behind. Maybe next time!

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     I have pictures of two more things worth noting from inside the Cathedral (there was a whole lot we didn’t get to see, however). One is the beautiful pipe organ mounted somewhere in the middle of the Cathedral. It is of impressive size & beauty & there is a marble building underneath it (don’t know what that is). I also have a picture of a wall of sculptures; I don’t know what that is either, but I think its worth seeing.

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     We exited the Cathedral into the Patio de los Naranjos (court of the oranges). This was the courtyard of the original mosque, where worshippers cleansed themselves before entering. Today it is filled with orange trees. In the center is a Moorish fountain incorporating a 6th century carved marble font that was part of a Visigoth cathedral that was here before the Moors arrived. While in this court we saw the Door of the Conception, built at the turn of the 20th century despite its gothic appearance. There was also a different view of the Giralda (with a tourist marring the view). We left through the Puerta del Perdon (gate of forgiveness) across the courtyard from the Cathedral, which was the original entrance to the old mosque.

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     We boarded the bus for the short trip to our last stop in Seville, the Plaza de Espana. On the way we saw the equestrian statue of El Cid, a hero of the Spanish Reconquista wars against the Moors (there is an old movie about him starring Charleston Heston & Sophia Loren). The statue dates to about 1930 & is the work of an American sculptor named Anna Hyatt Huntington. There are identical statues in Balboa Park in San Diego & somewhere in New York & Washington.  You won’t see El Cid’s face here because the guide didn’t tell us what this was until after we had passed it.

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     Plaza de Espana was built as the centerpiece for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, which was actually part of a larger world’s fair that was held mostly in Barcelona. A number of American countries, including the United States, Brazil and many of the former Spanish colonies, built pavilions here that afterward became consulates.  We drove past a few of those.

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     The Plaza de Espana is an impressive architectural work, using aspects of Art Deco, Renaissance & Mudejar styles to create a unified whole. There is a lot to like about it, including colorful tile work, towers, bridges, waterways & a fountain.  But on the day we visited this monumental space was mostly empty of people, which gave it a bit of an eerie feeling. It was kind of like being he first to enter a Disney World theme park in the morning when nothing has started yet. If this place looks familiar it might be because scenes on the planet Naboo were filmed here for Star Wars Episodes I & II.  It also played the army headquarters in Lawrence of Arabia. The plaza is a large semicircular building with towers on each end. There is a moat paralleling the inside of the semicircle with blue tiled bridges to a central patio with a large fountain in the center.

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     Along the colonnades is a series of 58 alcoves representing Spain’s provinces. Each is elaborately decorated with colorful tiles & includes a map of the province and a tile mural of something representative of it. Above each set of two white columns is a bust of a famous Spaniard. Finally, the ceramics & tile work on the bridges and some of the balustrades was quite compelling.

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     We drove back to Cadiz in the late afternoon sun. In Cadiz we drove past the Cathedral, the Ayuntamiento (city hall) and a building called the Palacio de Congresos. I took the latter to be something official, like the home of the legislature. But no, it just means conference hall; it is a hotel with conference facilities.  It is, however, built on the foundation of Cadiz’s old tobacco factory (you will recall that Spain received the first tobacco in Europe when Columbus returned from his first voyage to America).  One sight we did not glimpse was the Torre Tavira, the highest remaining tower of more than 160 that once stood in this area to watch for returning merchant ships as well as for pirates and other hostiles. Wealthy Cadiz was an obvious target; In 1587 Sir Frances Drake attacked the town, doing enough damage to delay the launch of the Spanish Armada by a year, and 11 years later the British succeeded in burning down the whole city. Cadiz was also the only city in Spain to avoid conquest by Napoleon, and in 1812 Spain’s first liberal constitution (attributing sovereignty to the populace rather than the king) was drafted here. From the ship (in fact from our window) we could see the top of the monument to the 1812 constitution. Unfortunately we didn’t have an opportunity to visit any of these sights in this interesting looking city . . . maybe next time!

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     As we sailed away from Cadiz there was a Cinco de Mayo party on the Lido deck, with the Lido crew all dressed up in Spanish outfits (even though this is a Mexican holiday). There was a huge vat of paella & other delights, along with colorful signs made of bread. Notable in these pictures is Willie, the friendly supervisor of the Lido crew who was always ready to come dish out ice cream for us every afternoon (an indulgence, yes, but this is a cruise!).

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     So that was the end of our long and rewarding day in Andalusia. We were leaving Europe & heading for home, but our adventures were not yet over, except for today. I will leave you for this episode with a few fruit & vegetable sculptures and catch up on the towel animals.

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2 responses

  1. Mike Levitt

    Everyone seems to love Barcelona, and it is easy to see why! I can’t wait to go someday. And now that we are back from Turkey, it is very interesting to compare the Seville architecture, mosques, tiles, etc. to what we just saw. We are thinking of going to Spain next year, but it looks like we need to set aside a month!

    October 29, 2013 at 3:05 pm

  2. Marty

    Thanks for the pics. Seville is beautiful.

    July 11, 2016 at 12:26 pm

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