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Report 856: The Romance of Moorish Spain

By janie and geoff from Canada, Fall 2004

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Page 7 of 13: Seville, Italica, and parking

photo by Geoff Chambers

Mosaic floor of a Roman villa in Italica

Thursday

Destination: Seville. We set out fairly early at 8:00 am, and stopped for coffee and gas in a little nowhere place in the mountains. By now we had learned that there is no such thing as take out coffee in paper cups in Spain. You sit down and drink your coffee like a civilized person. The tiny gas station served coffee, so we ordered lattes in our best Spanish, not expecting much. I mean, there were fresh eggs in a basket for sale. The young man fired up his espresso machine, laid out small glass cups and plates ceremoniously on the counter, spoons perfectly aligned. Pulling out a carton of milk, he pours a thin stream of milk into each coffee cup from a height of about 18 inches to 12 inches to froth the milk, then puts the whole thing into the microwave for a few seconds to warm up the coffee again. It was great coffee. We thanked him and he said in English “Lavazza coffee. From Italy. Better than Spanish coffee”. So much for our attempts at Spanish.

We are finding that the Spanish have no hang-ups about alcohol and driving. The gas stations sell beer and wine. The truck stops sell beer and wine. The vending machines at the gas stations sell beer. That was a bit of a cultural difference that made us feel prudish, North American and terribly politically correct.

Our first stop was Italica, which is actually about nine kilometers outside Seville, but it was still morning and we could not check into our hotel yet, so why not? Italica is an archaeological site, and was once a more important city than Hispalis (the Roman name for Seville). The emperors Hadrian and Trajan were from Italica. The theory is that the river silted up and so the port activity moved to Seville and Italica declined. The town of Santiponce is now built over various parts of old Italica, but the remains are just fascinating.

Our timing was really good, as we pulled in to park across from the site, several tour buses were just leaving. There is enough of the amphitheatre, Teatro Romano, to imagine what it must have been like. It’s not as impressive as the amphitheaters of Arles or Nimes or Orange, the marble and stone facings have been taken away and what’s left is the building rubble. But the pits in the center of the arena are still there, and you can still see the tiers of seating. This arena once held 25,000 people.

The other highlight of the site was what must have been the high end residential area of Italica. The foundations are still visible, and some of the original mosaic floors are there, with bird and marine motifs, and really decorative geometric themes. As much as anything else, the layout of the streets was interesting, the curb stones were largely intact, and they had planted cypresses along some of the avenues to emphasize the neat, angular design of Roman urban planning. It was very hot now, and we had lunch under the shade of grape vines and matting of an outdoor restaurant across the road from the site. Then back into our Ford Focus and into the madness of Seville.

Between the one-way system and the haphazard street signage, we circled the main attractions of Seville several times. We kept passing signs to hotels that I tried to book us into, but no where was there a sign for the Hostel Goya. Geoff finally parked the car about a block from our hotel, and told me to find the hotel on foot. Which we did, and the concierge/doorkeeper showed us a public parking lot where we could leave the car and that was that. We unloaded the luggage, brought it to the hotel, and Geoff drove off to find the parking lot.

The only reasonable thing to do after this was to sit down and have a few cold drinks, and have a relaxing wander through the area. The Hostel Goya is located in the quieter section of the Calle Mateo Gago, which is one of the lively streets of the Santa Cruz/Catedral district. It was a short three-minute walk from our hotel to the Seville Cathedral and the Real Alcazar, but first we sat at an outdoor café for some sangria, cold beer and guidebook perusal. Then we strolled to gape at the Giralda and Cathedral. It’s huge, and it has every architectural style. Moorish, gothic, renaissance, baroque, it’s all there. The cathedral also had sidewalks outside littered with the drunken bodies of soccer fans from the UK. The plaza Virgen de los Reyes is bordered by the cathedral, the Palacio Arcobispal, the Convento de la Encarnacion and joins up with the plaza del Triunfo which is in front of the Real Alcazar and a number of other beautiful public buildings.

We had a quick look inside the cathedral, the non-paying entrance, and then went strolling down the Sierpes, the main shopping street of Seville. More shoes and lots of people-watching, Geoff was really taken by the beautiful women. I would say the security guard at the Zara store didn’t mind either, having to scan all the customers going in and out.

On the way back we met up with a couple of groups of schoolchildren carrying crosses and a small platform – they were practicing processions!

The Goya has a funny entrance, a narrow corridor where our doorkeeper/concierge sat behind a counter. This corridor opens out to a lobby area that obviously used to be an open central courtyard, but which has now been glassed in with skylights. The skylight is kept open if it’s not raining, and there is a cloth canopy that can be pulled over the glass when the day is really hot. We could see this clearly because Geoff and I took the fourth floor rooms (no elevator) and could see the wires strong across the roof for the canopy.

For dinner, we went exploring and we passed by a sign pointing to the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia, so we went to see what it looked like. After seeing the Jewish quarter in Girona, I was very curious to see this hotel, a converted ducal mansion. It was just beautiful with a courtyard restaurant, so we sat down in a beautiful setting of deep yellow walls, balcony windows looking down, potted geraniums hanging from the windows. We strolled back to the hotel at 11 pm and the dinner crowd was just getting lively in the streets. But we were determined to get to the Real Alcazar good and early the next day to beat the tourist traffic and to sightsee until we dropped.

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