A rich blend of cultures and influences have played their part in making Seville the magnificent city it is today, with charming old quarters, beautiful gardens and stunning historical attractions
The Romans knew it as Hispalis. Then, after passing through the hands of Visigoths and Vandals in a couple of hundred years of change, the city we now know as Seville was bequeathed with much of its character by the Moors, who took charge in 712 AD. Five hundred years later, the reconquista returned Seville to the West, and Christianity. It's this strange melding of religions and cultures - the exotic Moorish with the strictly Catholic - that makes Seville such a beautiful city.
Seville is small, too - which is a good thing. With most of the cultural centre built when the latest technological advances in transport were, well, a horse and cart, the narrow streets of the city are almost impassable by car (although your taxi ride from the airport, which should cost no more than €27, will try to prove this theory wrong, careening at high speed around impossibly tight corners) and beg to be walked through on a bright summer's day.
A bright summer's day is something that comes often in Seville. Be aware that temperatures can reach 40°C on particularly harsh days. But don't worry: the added perk of those tight narrow back streets, with high buildings at close quarters, is the shade they provide. If you're ever feeling sick of the sun, just duck into one of the streets of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. Age-old ceramic shops sit almost on top of small cervecerias in these winding streets. Some of the buildings date back hundreds of years and the barrio often feels like the untold heirloom of the Moorish control.
If you can handle the sun, you'll want to while away the time in some of Seville's most beautiful gardens. The Parque de Maria Luisa, which runs parallel to the Quadalquivir river, and the Jardines del Prado de San Sebastian (near the University) are intricate, ornamental examples of nature that can entertain for hours - if you can take the incessant heat.
They are just supporting acts to the main greenery in the city, however. The Real Alcazar (or Royal Palace; free to students and only a few Euros for everyone else) is slap-bang in the middle of the city, off the main square, which contains many of Seville's architectural wonders. A sprawling palace fortified by massive walls, it contains the great Lion's Gate at its entrance and an almost uncountable number of rooms, each more grand than the next. Outside are the equally magnificent gardens, which encompass centuries of design and gardening styles and are certain to wow. For those of a more historical bent, the one room to visit in the Alcazar is undoubtedly the Salon de Embajadores, a great meeting room where Columbus planned out his first sea voyages and the early cartographers met to map the world.
Across the main square from the Alcazar is the totemic sight of the cathedral, still the third largest in the world. Originally a mosque, the cathedral was built after an earthquake damaged the existing building. Retaining much of the Moorish style but fusing it with the vogueish Gothic movement, the designers of the cathedral had a simple but boastful goal: "Let us build a church so beautiful, so magnificent, that those who see it will think us mad."
It's a sentiment you feel when you first see it peering over the rooftops of the surrounding area. Up close, it's even more amazing. Grand and intricate, in a dusty colour, it bridges the gap between mosque and church perfectly and leaves you agog. Inside, it becomes even more magnificent, with a great nave and the tomb of Christopher Columbus, four carved kings of old Spain bearing his coffin in a stoic manner. The admission price (a smattering of Euros) includes the chance to scale the grand Giralda, the minaret, which is topped by a statue of Faith. Two-thirds Moorish and one-third Christian, this huge bell tower sums up the style of Seville perfectly - and affords you great views of the expansive city from its highest point.
Where to stay
Staying in Seville can cost you next-to-nothing or a small fortune that wouldn't go amiss in the Real Alcazar. The Hotel Alfonso XIII (Calle San Fernando 2) is one of the grandest and largest in the city, but is well worth its price. Set back from the busy thoroughfare it sits on, it's far enough away from the centre of the city to avoid the noise of the legendary Sevillian nightlife but close enough to be easily walkable.
If you want to be in the heart of the city, however, you need to be close to the cathedral. The Hotel Dona Maria (Calle Don Remondo 19) almost pushes up against the boundary walls, and is a good choice for those looking for luxury at not too great a cost. A rooftop swimming pool allows you to sunbathe in the shadow of the Giralda, and won't set you back too much.
Budget-conscious backpackers can't do better than the Sevilla Inn Backpackers (Calle Angeles 11), much loved by all who stay there. Dorm rooms cost less than €20 a night and give you a prime location in the city (including a rooftop terrace that overlooks the cathedral). Comfortable, clean and with a friendly staff, it's the perfect place if you're looking for function, not luxury.