Archive for August, 2013

21 May 2013

Seville, the land of flamenco and bull fighters, was also an important port with a river that connected it to the Atlantic, a 100 km away. It was from that Christopher Columbus set sail to East Indies and ended up discovering America. Immediately after the Moor invasion in the Eighth century, Seville was under the Caliphate of Cordoba. After Cordoba fell in AD 1031, Seville became a small kingdom by itself and was ruled by the Almohad dynasty. As with the rest of Andalusia, Seville also was under constant attack because of the Christian Reconquest and finally, it fell to Fernando III of Castille in AD 1248.

As per the guidebooks, the most important sight in Seville is the Cathedral and so that was our first stop for the day. The Cathedral is built on the location of an old mosque, which was demolished in AD 1401. The construction of the new church took more than a hundred years and was completed in AD 1507. The majestic minaret of the old mosque, called La Giralda, was kept intact and is part of the Cathedral. The building is huge and awe inspiring.

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There was a queue to enter the Cathedral and joined up. The square around was already active with many buggies and such, available for fun rides around the town.

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The La Giralda got this name after a weathervane, in the shape of a statue, was installed on top of the minaret in the Sixteenth Century. This statue represents the victory of Christian faith and that must be why it was placed on top of the minaret that represented Islam. A replica of the status is displayed as one enters the yard of the Cathedral.

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This Cathedral was the largest in the world when it was commissioned and supposedly, the authorities wanted such an impressive building that everyone would think they were “mad”! In any case, it is a colossal structure with very many impressive chapels.

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What attracted me the most was the tomb of Christopher Columbus. This tomb is supposed to contain his mortal remains though there is controversy on the subject as he was originally buried in the Dominican Republic and it is said that most of his remains are still there. The four pall bearers represent the four kingdoms of Spain – Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre. The significance of Columbus in Spain’s history is borne out by the fact that the Catholic Monarch, Queen Isabella herself is shown as the pall bearer representing Leon (on the front left with the oar in hand). The other pall bearer in the front holds a spear with a pomegranate, showing the fall of Granada (Granada means pomegranate in Spanish). I was very attracted to this tomb and I spent a lot of time around it. That I was standing close to a man (even if it were the remains) who was such an adventurer and visionary, was a special feeling.

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There are a good many chapels inside the Cathedral and many are very ornate. The one that attracted me the most was the Chapel of Saints Justa and Rufina. They were sisters who lived in Seville in the late Third Century and were ardent Christian believers. They refused to convert to pagan faith and the (pagan) authorities who ruled Seville at that time had the sisters tortured and killed them finally. During one of the pagan festivals, the pagans destroyed the utensils that the sisters had made and in retaliation, they broke a statue of Venus. According to legend, during their imprisonment, one of the sisters (Rufina) was thrown to the lions but the lions refused to attack her and licked her feet. These two incidents are represented in a painting placed in the altar of the chapel dedicated to them. I was wondering whether they would have thought that their story would be remembered 1200 years later and retold when a church was built. Supposedly, the resistance of the sisters represented the resistance of Seville. The La Giralda is also shown in the background in the picture.

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This Cathedral was meant to be a showpiece for Christianity and so is full of pomp and splendour. Many treasures that belong the Cathedral are also displayed. I guess this is to impress visitors as to glory of the faith. However, I could not help feeling that this was quite at loggerheads with what Jesus Christ had imagined.

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The keys of the city of Seville were also to be seen. These were the keys handed over to the Christian conquerors in AD 1248 when the city was captured.

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The La Giralda is about 90 metres high and it is possible to climb up to the bell tower. As can be expected, the views from the tower are fantastic.

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Right next to the Cathedral is the Alcazar, residence of many generations of Kings and Caliphs. This ancient building was first constructed in the Tenth Century and then renovated and rebuilt. Even today, a portion of this palace is used as the official residence of the royal family when in Seville.

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As one steps past the impressive gate, the Alcazar soars in front of the eyes in all its majesty. The façade is very Islamic as care was taken by Pedro I (Peter the First) of Castille, who rebuilt the palace. Pedro I was a Christian king who seems to have been quite an interesting personality. For starters, he seems to be referred to as Peter the Just and Peter the Cruel. The nobility and the aristocracy called him Peter the Cruel whereas the common people called him Peter the Just. Given that he lived in the Fourteenth Century and the subsequent recording of history must have been quite influenced by the nobility, I am inclined to believe that Peter must have been a king who understood the sufferings of the poor and supported them. He also seems to be the only Christian king who exhibited religious tolerance. When he rebuilt the Alcazar, he made sure that he used artisans who were proponents of Islamic architecture and he also used perishable material such as wood and plaster (supposedly, Quran reserves eternal structures for Allah). In some of the doorways, there are Arabic inscriptions that mean: “None but Allah conquers”, “Happiness and prosperity are benefits of Allah” etc. He appreciated the Islamic culture that existed in Seville at the time and it was evidenced in his dress and food. Peter also gave permissions to the Jews to build a synagogue in Toledo. I was quite impressed, especially when I contrasted this against the religious intolerance fostered by the Catholic Monarchs, who were to come later, who ushered in the black period of Spanish Inquisition. Incidentally, a friend told me later that there is still an office of the Inquisition in Seville (it is called by a different name these days).

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This palace is Seville’s answer to the Alhambra of Granada. The rooms are decorated with rich carvings and highly ornate walls and ceilings. I was just lost in the beauty of the place as I wandered from room to room. It was here that the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, spent time while preparing for their conquest of Granada. They used to meet with Christopher Columbus in this palace to discuss his expedition. The beauty of the whole place is breath-taking.

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It was getting late by the time we finished the Alcazar and we decided to visit Plaza de Espana before calling it a day. Plaza de Espana is located in the Maria Luisa Park and was built in 1928 for the World Fair hosted by Seville in 1929. This is a beautiful semicircular building with many exquisite bridges and a very nice fountain in the centre.

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We spent some time wandering around the Plaza and then headed back. Overall, it was a very satisfying day and the personality that stayed with me was Pedro I. He must have been an extraordinary man to have shown such tolerance in those days when everyone else seemed to be headed the other way. I was left wishing how better off we would be if only some of our current leaders could borrow a leaf from his book!