These past three weeks have been quite busy for me. On the weekend of 8th – 10th of April we visited Seville and the Alhambra, Granada’s most famous monument. Last week, it was Semana Santa (the Holy Week) and our Spring Break (15th – 24th of April) . In this blog, I will only write about Seville (Sevilla in Spanish) and in one of the following blogs I will talk about my Spring Break and Granada’s Alhambra.
On Friday morning, 8th of April, at 8 a.m. we have departed from Granada to visit Seville. It was a beautiful and sunny day. Our first stop was Itálica, an ancient Roman city, founded in 206 B.C. Itálica is famous because it was the birthplace of Trajan (98-117), one of the most important emperors of Roman Empire. Under Trajan´s rule, the Roman Empire has reached its highest territorial extent (map). The city of Itálica has been left in ruins after more than 2,000 years of weathering; yet, there are still some notable architectural constructions remaining such as the amphitheatre, the columns, the mosaics and the calzada (Roman roads, the word calzada in Spanish means “footwear”). One of the reasons the city lays in ruins a part from centuries’ long neglect is that the materials that the Romans used to construct Itálica are less durable in comparison to the granite used in the aqueduct of Segovia (picture).
The Roman roads of Itálica were preserved somewhat better though. One interesting fact I remember from one of my history classes is that the Romans constructed durable and wide roads in order to maintain the communication within their vast Empire, stimulate commerce, but also to avoid ambushes when the legionnaires escorted the tax collectors or were marching off to a military campaign.
One important architectural feature that is owed to the Romans is the semicircular or Roman arch and when the arch is prolonged it becomes a barrel vault a construction that is seen in amphitheaters, public buildings and even sewage system. The Roman barrel vault also influenced the Renaissance art and architecture.
The Romans were one of the first people to construct a sewage system cloaca maxima. If you are interested about the Roman sewage system, you can read more about it in a journal article that the university of John Hopkins published (link).
The mosaics at Itálica reminded me of mosaics that I have seen in two important archeological sites in the Republic of Macedonia (Република Македонија), which are Stobi (official website, has an excellent collection of photos and history) and Heraclea (you can look at some really impressive mosaics on this virtual tour). The mosaics at Itálica were made of small stones called teselas. The thing that fascinates me about the mosaics is that they have survived over 2,000 years of exposure to atmospheric changes. Some of the mosaics of Itálica can still be found in their original place, while some of the more important mosaics have been transferred to the Archeological Museum of Seville. One of the themes of the mosaics in Ancient Rome was the maze. We were told that the maze theme had to do with the journey of life.
The interesting thing to note about Itálica is that the Romans and later the Arabs constructed their cities on hills in order to oversee the valleys, but also to leave the fertile lands for cultivation. When the Christians came and re-conquered the cities from the Arabs, they started building the cities on the valleys i.e. fertile lands. As an example, Itálica was constructed on a hill, overlooking the fertile lands, which currently are doted by villages, roads and a huge concrete jungle, modern day Seville.
Did you know? Seville is one of the hottest cities in Spain. So, if you are going to visit Seville in the summer bear in mind that not only you have to be prepared for the inhumane heat, but also for the high humidity.
Seville is the capital of the autonomous province of Andalusia. Spain has 17 autonomous provinces, which resemble the 50 states of the U.S., each with its own assembly and government.
The patron saint of Seville is Saint Ferdinand named after the King Ferdinand III of Castile who conquered Seville from the Moors in 1248.
Reales Alcázares (Royal Palaces)
While in Seville, we visited the Reales Alcázares. Alcazár is a type of a Spanish castle and it comes from the Arabic word al qasr, which means “fortress.” The construction of the royal palaces started in 713 when the Moors conquered Seville. Throughout the centuries, different buildings and fortifications have been added on to the palaces. One of the most notable parts, La Sala de los Embajadores (the Ambassador’s Hall) resembles the Alhambra of Granada– virtual tour.
The Sultan Mohammed V of the Nasarid dynasty sent craftsmen to construct parts of the Reales Alcázares such as the Ambassador’s Hall, which have details of shells and acorns, symbols of Granada.
The interesting thing about the Reales Alcázares is that it incorporates a mix of Christian and Arabic art. After the Christians conquered Seville from the Moors in 1248, the Christians added more parts of the palaces such as El Cuarto del Almirante (the Admiral’s quarters).
La Catedral (the Cathderal)
Within Spain, there is a stereotype that people of Seville are very proud of their city and that everything is big in Seville. I have to say that the Guadalquivir, the river that passes through Seville, is the largest one in Spain and the same goes for the Cathedral. In 1401, it was decided to construct a new temple and one of the canonicals stated: “Hagamos una iglesia tan grande que los que la vieren acabada nos tengan por locos” (Let’s construct a church so big that those who see it finished will think we are crazy). Even though it may seem like an exaggeration, the cathedral is the largest Gothic temple and the third largest church in the world after the St. Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican and St. Paul’s Church of London.
The Cathedral of Seville is famous not only for its size, but also because it is the supposed burial site of Christopher Columbus.
One of the elements that highlight the Gothic elements of the cathedral is the vidrieras (stained glass) and the roseton (rose windows).
In many cathedrals it is not uncommon to see small chapels. The nobility constructed these small chapels in order to maintain the cathedrals, but also served as a “Hall of Fame” and a way of demonstrating their power, importance and social status.
The cathedral of Seville was constructed on top of the Gran Mosque of Seville (3D virtual reconstruction of the mosque). The mosque was finished in the XII century and the only remaining part is the minaret or more commonly known as the Giralda. The Giralda was finished in 1184 by caliph Abu Yacub Yusuf from the Almohad Dynasty, a Berber tribe of Morocco. The Giralda served as an inspiration of two other historic buildings, the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh.
The Giralda was used to call the Muslims to prayers. The tower was constructed with ramps instead of stairs which enabled the Imam (a Muslim priest) to go up to the top on his horse.
About two weeks ago, while watching the TV program Españoles por el mundo (Spaniards over the world) with my host family, I learned that there is a luxury hotel, Biltmore, in Miami, which imitates the Giralda of Seville. Then I learned that there are even more buildings over the world inspired by the Giralda, many of them in the U.S. (For more information click here).
It was a moment of amusement when someone’s sunglasses fell on the mosaic. The museum guard, clearly upset at our group, went up to the mosaic, literally stepped on the 2,000 year old mosaic and picked up the sunglasses. I thought that normally you put a little railing or some sort of protection around the important artifacts in order to protect them from damage and from people stepping on them. I thought that the guard would use a different method of recovering the sunglasses. Still, it was a funny moment for us.
I almost forgot to mention that Friday night I went out with Carolina, my Spanish TA from my sophomore year, and her friends. It was great to see Carolina after almost a year since she has left Bucknell. I have to say that she has helped me a lot with my Spanish. I would try to go to most Spanish conversation tables at Bucknell so that I would learn new vocabulary (I practically could not speak at the time :). Carolina, thanks for showing me the nightlife of Seville and teaching me Spanish. Take care and hope to see you soon!
If you would like to enjoy more beautiful photos of Seville, I would highly recommend seeing two slideshows.
1. Slideshow of my photos.
2. Courtesy of Max Stiss, a fellow Bucknellian who is also on the trip and takes excellent photos. Thanks Max, for sharing your photos!
I hope you enjoyed the blog!
Lesson I learned from Seville: A part from its glorious history, beautiful architecture and friendly people, I really liked the bike-sharing program encouraged by the city council. I think that we can all learn and improve on being more conscious about our health and the health of our environment.
Famous people who were born in Seville:
Hérnan Cortes (1485-1547) a Spanish conquistador who conquered Mexico and contributed to the demise of the Aztec Empire.
Count-Duke of Olivares (1587-1645) a prime minister of Spain between 1621 and 1643 who in part contributed to the demise of Spain´s global supremacy.
Sergio Ramos, a current defender of Europe’s most successful soccer club of the 20th century, Real Madrid.