Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, is particularly important in Seville — it happened to be when I arrived, and while it made typical tourist activities somewhat difficult (many businesses are closed, and just crossing from one end of the city to another becomes outright impossible during certain times of day), I don’t regret the decision at all. The various pasos, or processions, by the cofradías (religious brotherhoods) passing late into the night offered a fascinating glimpse into the traditions that are centuries old.
Claudia was perusing a small booklet that looked like a bus schedule — actually a timeline of the dozens of processions and their locations during Holy Week. (If you can’t locate one of the free booklets, you can do what I did and look online. You can even download a phone app for iPhone and Android called iLlamador, which has route maps.)
We walked briskly on narrow, stone streets that squeaked with dried wax from previous processions, remnants of the candles carried by the nazarenos in their pointy hooded robes (outfits that may shock American visitors, as they closely resemble those associated with the Ku Klux Klan). After hitting a blockade of people going down one street and unable to go farther, we doubled back and wound through a back alley to approach the parade from a different locale.
The centerpiece of each procession is a large float — intricately carved, beautifully decorated, about the size of a small automobile — that depicts a scene from the gospels. The floats are also extremely heavy, and are carried by dozens of men, called costaleros, who rotate in and out during the course of the day.
The processions all differ in character, some more joyous, some more solemn. A particularly beautiful one passed through the Plaza Cristo de Burgos one night, punctuated by a plaintive, piercing saeta, or unaccompanied song, performed by a singer from a nearby balcony.
After a night of procession-watching, packed together with thousands of other people, you work up an appetite. After one paso, well after midnight, we headed to Bodeguita Fabiola, a small restaurant where the alcohol and conversation spilled out the door and lit up the dark street. A savory portion of tortilla española (2.50 euros), a sort of fluffy egg-and-potato frittata, was perfect with a slathering of salmorejo, a creamy, tomato-based purée. A plate of very sharp, almost spicy, aged sheep’s milk cheese was another winner (5.50 euros). A piece of that cheese atop a small montadito of jamón ibérico, Iberian ham sliced directly from a whole pig’s leg atop the counter, is a perfect late-night sandwich.
Suffice it to say that most of my days were broken up by five or six small, wonderful meals — acorn-fed ham, pungent cheeses, perfectly briny olives — and a caña (a small glass, less than half a liter) of beer. One morning I took in a late brunch at the Mercado Lonja del Barranco, a modern food court overlooking the Guadalquivir River, and enjoyed a powerfully saline, jet-black arroz negro (8 euros), made with cuttlefish and squid ink, from the arrocería stall. Alongside a 2-euro glass of wine from Albero y Vino, it was fuel enough to propel me across the river to the Triana neighborhood, passing by the Castillo de San Jorge, a former headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. A couple of hours later, I found myself back on the other side of the river, wandering into the Orfeo Café Bar for a pringá montadito that resembled a pulled pork sandwich (2.50 euros) and a caña of local favorite Cruzcampo beer (1.50 euros).
Another day, I went to Café Bar Las Teresas with Claudia and her father, another lifelong Sevillian, where we shared slices of fat-specked pork sausage, a plate of ham and sheep’s milk cheese, a pork-and-anchovy sandwich and three beers for a total of 15 euros.
After checking out the gorgeous Hospital de los Venerables, a former priests’ residence that dates to the 17th century (admission, 8 euros) and the surrounding neighborhood, what was once the Jewish quarter in medieval Seville, we found ourselves feeling peckish again. We went to another classic tapas bar, Casa Roman, and shared plates of bacalao frito (fried cuttlefish, 2.80 euros) and fresh tomatoes (4.80 euros).
While I wish I could say I spent all my time in Seville eating and navigating around Holy Week processions, there were simply too many other things to do. The Alcázar of Seville is necessary viewing for all visitors — a monumental palace built in the 10th century for a Muslim governor and still in use by the Spanish royal family. The Hall of Ambassadors is a particularly stunning room, and the palace’s accompanying gardens, fragrant with orange trees and dotted with fountains, are as beautiful as any I’ve seen. Tickets are 9.50 euros and free for children under 17. They can be bought in advance on the website — though expect to wait a good 20 to 30 minutes in line regardless.
The Alcázar, along with the Archivo de Indias (Seville had a monopoly on trade with the West Indies for over 200 years) and the awe-inspiring Seville Cathedral, make up the historical heart of the city. The cathedral, the largest Gothic building in Europe and one of the largest churches in the world, is worth at least a quick visit no matter how many European cathedrals you’ve visited (it has the tomb of Christopher Columbus, among other things).
Admission is 9 euros, but I highly recommend investing in the rooftop tour — for a mere 3 euros more, you get access to the inner workings of the structure and are allowed to climb up through its towers and along its gables. The views of the city are excellent. The hour-plus tour is slightly on the long side but it was worth it, though I don’t recommend it if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of heights.
“We don’t need to invent anything new,” Claudia told me when I first arrived in Seville. At that moment, I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but by the time I left, I understood. Seville can exist in what seems like a self-contained world because it wants for very little — many of the people I encountered in Seville had lived there most of their lives. With great weather, centuries of history, art, inexpensive wine and excellent food, who would want to leave?
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