Is it ‘Sevil’ or ‘Sevia’? That’s the first question we asked the receptionist at our hostel (a stunning little place called La Banda) in Seville, since we were greeted with both the pronunciations before we reached the Andalusian town. “The British call it ‘Sevil’ and the Spanish, ‘Sevia’,” we were told. So we stuck to the latter, because when in Spain, do as the Spanish do, right? But that’s the thing about Seville. It makes you want to do things the Spanish way because it bares the soul of the country in ways that commercial hubs such as a Barcelona and Madrid cannot.
After touring the concrete roads of the capital city, Seville offered just the quaint European alleyways I was hoping to walk through. We decided to explore the place on foot with free walking tours — a boon to budget tourists across Europe. Here, (very well-informed) guides take you on a two-three hours’ walking tour across town, while briefing you about the history of the place and taking pit stops to ogle at a particular landmark or fill you in on the trivia regarding a certain attraction. They add a bit of drama by staging a skit that you are dragged into, to play a dead king, queen, minister or in my case, a nun. You tip them at the end of the tour — it could be a Euro or five — and they’ll accept it with the same smile.
Flamenco sighting: Seville is an important cultural hub because Sevillanna, the original form of Flamenco, originated here. Flamenco as we know it today is a version of Sevillana that evolved out of the influence of Indian gypsies — who would’ve thought, right? Flamenco is a lot more fast-paced, thanks to the complexity of Indian musical notes. Do catch a Flamenco show when in the town that invented it.
We went to a cosy theatre called Museo del Baile Flamenco. A traditional act will have two male singers with guitars, a female dancer and a male dancer. For most of us, the thought conjures the image of a female dancer flaring up her skirt or traje de flamenca and watching the act live brings to life all those pictures you may have seen of beautiful dancers dramatically swishing that skirt.
No bull, only ring: Bullfighting is the other important activity in Seville. In fact, the colour of Seville’s emblem is a dull mustard, much like most of the city’s palette, to reflect the colour of the bullring. While it is banned in most places, Seville holds a few matches in April but from what we were told, the bulls are amateur and so are the matadors. In fact, they use cows too and it is done only to keep alive the tradition. Plaza de Toros in Seville is Spain’s oldest bullring and also houses a museum inside which includes paintings of American painter John Fulton, who was so enchanted by the sport that he used the dead bull’s blood to paint his canvas. Icky but interesting.
Touch of Royalty: Everybody in Seville will swear by the majestic Alcazar — a very important construction by the Moorish kings. For fans of Game of Thrones, a portion of the American television series was shot here. It is majestic and massive, but the most overwhelming part of the palace is its garden. You would need half a day to just walk through the place and giving company if not threatening to peck at your feet will be ducks, peacocks and other winged visitors.
Church calls: It is one of the most majestic structures that I have seen. The guide tells us that it was touted to be the biggest cathedral in the world but when the word got to Vatican, they were warned to not extend certain parameters, or they’d be ousted from the faith. As one of the most important structures in town, the church bells ring, signifying the time of the day — a loud yet soothing sound, it travels through a sleepy town at noon (oh they love their siestas) softly making the cathedral’s presence felt.
Apart from being a visual delight, it also hosts the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Known to the world as the man who discovered America, our guide told us that “that’s a very European perspective of course”. That’s the thing about these tour guides. They don’t stick to the book. And since they don’t work for the government, end up spilling dirty local secrets as well. Doesn’t that make the story so much more interesting?
Plaza de Espana
Food, Sangria and Bailando: Since we were only scouting for vegetarian options, there wasn’t much to gorge on. We ended up having tapas (appetiser portions) of paella or ratatouille apart from a few other options. But whatever we had, we washed it down with sangria. Chilled, fruity, delicious sangria. For non-vegetarians though, there are multiple options with bacon being on top of the list. Most restaurants in Spain have pork legs strung outside — like buntings almost. A tradition that came about when Muslims being ruled by Catholic kings had to prove their willingness to convert, that continues till today.
The place offers a buzzing nightlife too. There are pubs and clubs lined up against the beautiful bridge that runs across a canal in the city centre. Lit-up streets and thumping sounds keep the town alive on summer nights. But the most unique café was Casa Ensalma (house of Ensalma). Owned by a certain Ensalma, believed to be a dancer in her heyday, the place hosts a group of locals singing and dancing, as visitors sit around and watch. For those wanting to soak in the essence of Spain in a short visit, this is a great place. It embodies the locals’ love for celebration, music, dance (bailando) and joi de vivre — because we don’t know what it’s called in Espanol.