Plaza de España, Seville

In Seville last week I had my camera stolen on the third day of my four-day break, a major blow as this time it was my zoom camera so the images I took were different to those I’d taken on my last visit and, I like to think, better.

However, after an evening of crying into my Rioja, I just had to get on with things and determine to be more careful in future.  The loss was my own fault.  I had the camera on a table at the Casa de Las Teresas bar, probably the most famous bar in Seville, moved to look at some pencil drawings on the wall in front of me which left the opening for an opportunist to walk by and whip the camera away.  My travelling companion had been sitting there too but was looking out through the door at something happening in the street.  It was a daring move to grab the camera from under our eyes like that.

Santa-Cruz-Area,-Seville, La Cafe Bar Teresas
Santa Cruz area, Seville. La Casa de Teresas. Taken 3 years ago.

We still had four glorious days in Seville which is a genuinely over-the-top city of bulls and flamenco, dark-eyed beauties and white-washed alleys, a blazing sun beating down from a dark blue sky and never-ending late nights.  It’s the place to go if you’ve fallen for the romance of Carmen, Hemingway’s Toreros, and the lure of castanets and cante hondo, and if you want to drink manzanilla in a white-washed bodega late at night, or ride through the dappled park in a horse and carriage.  Seville is Spain’s party town and I love it.  I was seduced by its magic a long time ago and have never recovered.

We spent most of our time wandering the old streets of Santa Cruz, but we also managed to spend one afternoon at the Plaza de España, one of Seville’s show-offy bits, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 (Expo 29) and located in Maria Louisa Park.  The following photographs were all taken 3-5 years ago.

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This massive building is the city’s most impressive edifice – after the cathedral – for its sheer grandeur.  Some people hate it, thinking it overblown and ornate, a blot on the older Seville, but I love it.  What is certain is that no one should miss it on a trip to Andalucia’s capital, along with the many pavilions in and around the Parque Maria Luisa.

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The Plaza de España is a lavish Renaissance/neo-Moorish semi-circular brick building with a tower at either end, major landmarks as they are tall enough to be visible throughout the city, and it is said to be the size of five football pitches.  In front of the building, following the curve of its façade, runs a 515-metre canal forming a moat on which hired boats can be gently rowed, a real pleasure when the heat is intense.

18 10_0603 Elegantly curving over the moat are four bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain, Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon.  18 10_0604

Their supports are made of brightly painted ceramic tiles, which add an extra zing to the architecture, and in the centre of it all is the Plaza itself.

On top of the ground level portico there is a first-floor balustrade with balconies stretching along its length. Along the wall by the canal are 48 alcoves with tiled benches, one for each province of Spain, each with a relevant tableau and map designed on colourful azulejos, the painted ceramic tiles so popular in this part of Andalucia.

Malaga Pavilion
Malaga Pavilion

In fact, coloured ceramics feature heavily around Plaza de España –  the provincial alcoves, the walls, ornate bridges and balustrades being all covered in painted tiles.

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The architect of this amazing building which swings around the plaza in a large semi-circle was Anibal Gonzalez who designed the Plaza to wow the Expo’s visitors and in order to showcase Seville’s talents in industry and crafts.  Only this semi-circular pavilion remains from Expo ’29, the others are now used as museums: the Pabellon de Bellas Artes is now the Archaeological Museum, and the Pabellon Mudejar now houses the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares.

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For me, the best way to approach the Plaza de España is by horse and carriage.  Touristy, I know, but a ride through Maria Louisa Park to this lavish display of Spanishness, is very Sevillana and highly recommended. Pick a carriage up near the Cathedral, or the bull-ring, and fix your price.  It’s not too expensive (a 75 minute trip around the main sights of the city will only cost you €40 so you could do that and get off at the Plaza España: if there are two or three of you that makes it very reasonable).

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And then it will be time for tapas again, a manzanilla or a fino.  Losing my camera didn’t make me stop going to La Casa de las Teresas because the tapas were wonderful, slivers of acorn-fed jamón serrano draped over morsels of bread, little coquinas (clams), skewers of garlicky prawns and pungent tomatoes in a garlicky sauce, washed down with Manzanillo, the delicate wine from  Sanlucar de Barrameda.  I’ll be back.

N.B.  The Plaza de España is situated inside Maria Luisa Park, near the Teatro Lope de Vega and the University.  It is also near the Torre del Oro, embarkation point for trips on the River Guadalquivir (also highly recommended) and the Hop on Hop Off bus.

Holy Week in Malaga

As Easter approaches, I am reminded of a visit to some Spanish friends in Malaga a few years ago when I joined in that city’s celebrations for Semana Santa (Holy Week), an unforgettable event.  My photographs are not good, a combination of flashing lights, reflections, and crowded balconies and pavements: I apologise in advance.

Strictly speaking, Semana Santa is a religious festival, but with the solemnity comes carousing and fun, bars open until the early hours and entire families, from grandparents to babes in arms staying up until two and three in the morning.  The two main Spanish cities in which to witness this extraordinary event are Seville and Malaga.

A Brotherhood early in the afternoon

During Holy Week from early afternoon until well after midnight, elaborate floats –  huge statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ swaying dangerously atop them – weave through the streets and alleys, carried on the shoulders of men called submarinos, hidden by the float’s draperies.   They are accompanied by Brotherhoods and Penitents carrying candles and incense burners behind which come musicians playing hymns that have faint hints of flamenco.  Good Friday is the climax.

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With its aroma of burning candles, the mournful trumpets, the menacing appearance of the penitents in their white robes and white pointed hats, towns and cities across the region are literally transformed.

My friends had booked a room in a hotel overlooking one of the streets down which the procession came.  The reservation included food and wine which were replenished throughout the night (I told you there was fun as well) and the party continued well into the early hours of the morning.

A bell tolled to herald the approach of a wildly swaying float supporting a statue of the silver-crowned Virgin Mary with a dazzling blue velvet cloak richly embroidered in gold stretching some six metres behind her.  Hundreds of wax candles surrounded the statue, illuminating the golden float, the somberly attired attendants, and the onlookers.

Among the Brotherhood members, whose honour it is to support and carry the floats which can weigh up to six tons, can often be found celebrities from the Spanish film and TV world, but they will be incognito, the submarinos who support the float from beneath a curtain which hides them from view.   During my visit I was told that Antonio Banderas was one such submarino, as he is known to attend most years.

The tronos float High above the heads of the Spectators

In the hotels that line the route, the partygoers rush to the balconies as the clanging of the bell and the dull thud of the drums announces the passing of the procession. On tiered seats in alleyways, streets and plazas, the rest of the onlookers wait patiently, as they have done for up to seven hours, children, round-eyed and excited by the occasion, grandmothers fingering their rosary beads.

Those participating, whether as devotees or spectators, are often visibly affected by the rhythms of the music, the swaying pace of the bearers, the wailing of the sacred saeta (not unlike flamenco) and the build-up of emotion brought about by the statues of tear-stained Christ and Madonna figures.

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Again, the bell tolls, and on a golden float lit by the candles carried by penitents walking alongside it, is a life-size statue of Christ carrying his cross on the road to Calvary, light catching the lavish gold embroidery on his scarlet velvet robe and glittering from the silver cross he carried on his shoulder.  The costeleros sway to the slow rhythmic beating of the drums and the wailing of a flamenco song.  The real Christ was not dressed in velvet stitched with silver as he carried a plain wooden cross on the road to Calvary but such details can be ignored on this occasion when to dress the statue well is to honour Christ.

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The Christ Tableau ready to leave the Chapel

Behind comes the Nazarenos, followers dressed in white or black hooded robes that cover the entire body, the headpiece a pointed hood with space for the eyes only, the whole scene reminiscent of a Klu Klux Klan convention.  It could feel sinister were it not for the party atmosphere among the watching people.

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Goya could have done justice to the scene in front of me, a scene where art and religion merged into one theatrical event reflecting the culture and spirit of the Spanish people.

It was an experience like no other I’d ever had.  I must admit also, that there was a frisson of excitement, akin to apprehension, in that the floats swayed alarmingly in the narrow streets and I was fearful that the candles would catch the trappings on the tronos or the costumes of the penitents or Nazarenos.

Blue and Gold Cloak of Madonna

In villages, towns and cities all over Spain – especially in Andalucía – processions take place from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.   Religious beliefs are not needed for one to take part. To a visitor, it can be a fun-filled Fiesta or a week of reflection, but it will invariably be moving.  The only thing to remember is to dress with respect, i.e. no tee shirts or shorts.

Seats should be booked early, either in a hotel with a view of the processions, or along the route of the procession.

Thw Madonna is ready to leave the chapel

SEMANA  SANTA  in 2018  Sunday, March 25th – Sunday, April 1st.

Malaga Tourist Office for further information:   http://www.malagaturismo.com/en

Spanish Tourist Office in London  http://www.spain.info/en_

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