One of the first conversations I had with my host family when arriving in Sevilla regarded the age of the United States in comparison to Europe. Wow! Think about that for a second. Ancient ruins are not prevalent in the US, but in Europe, even a pothole in the cobblestone streets would be considered an ancient ruin.
Seville, Spain is a city overflowing with history, although it might not appear that way at first glance. If you look closely, looking beyond the beauty of the season’s growth of bougainvillea blossoms, you will see the scars that have been left on the city from centuries past.
You will be able to see that the fissures in the ancient Roman walls as you walk along the Paseo de Catalina de Ribera resemble wrinkles in the face of an elderly person.
Seville’s “wrinkles” are the lasting testimonies of its complicated past lives—the city has many stories to tell and a strong, enchanting voice if you lend your ears to it. You can hear this story by taking a stroll through the Puerta de Jerez in the evening and pausing to watch the street flamenco dancers, by visiting the Cathedral of Seville or the Alcázar and imagining who walked through the courtyards centuries before, by stopping in at a local restaurant to order a traditional and locally sourced dish, or by speaking the language. The possibilities of anthropological observances of Seville are vast and vibrant. Every corner of Seville has a secret of its past to share with passersby, but in order to learn about these untold stories you have to be attentive and you have to explore and seek the living history.
What do I mean by living history? Well, there is the obvious answer: if you want to understand what it is like to be a Sevillian, you will have to experience the night life, which does not truly begin until 10 pm—but even then it is a bit early to leave the house. The precarious schedule of Sevillian’s is actually rooted in a cultural and weather-based tradition. Believe it or not, it revolves around the fact that in the summers, the weather is unbearably hot. The hottest part of the day is usually in the late afternoon, around 3 or 4 pm, which is why the trend of taking a midday siesta became popular. It gave the working class a chance to take a break from the heat for a bit. Therefore, my anthropological theory for the reason why the night life starts so late is because Seville does not start to cool down until 8:30 or 9 pm, around dinner time.
Aside from the evening, Seville is lively during the day. Long ago, Seville was famous for it’s Torre de Oro because it was the site of major exports and imports through the passage of the Guadalquivir River, including spices, gold—hence its namesake— and tobacco. Remnants of Seville’s tobacco industry can be seen at the University of Seville, which now occupies the grounds of the former Fábrica Real de Tabacos de Seville. Today, you can embrace the city’s beauty by kayaking along the Guadalquivir or by renting a sevici bicycle and cruising through the Paseo Alcalde Marqués del Contadero.
Along with ancient Roman ruins just on the outskirts of Seville and medieval monuments in the city center, you may stumble upon a twentieth century edifice that will take your breath away. A horse-drawn carriage tour of the city will cost around 45 Euro, or a self-guided stroll along Calle San Fernando can lead you to the Plaza Españna if you are in the mood to marvel at the architectural fusion of multiple cultures. The Plaza de Sevilla was built for the World’s Fair in 1929 but designed to complement the history of the country of Spain as a whole.
Finally, and arguably the most glorious destination in all of Seville, is the Parque de María Luisa—although more youthful than the aforementioned monuments, this park blends culture, art, nature, and people from all around the world who want to appreciate the many lives that Spain has fostered throughout its complicated history. My best advice is to pack a lunch of olives, manchego cheese, fresh bread, olive oil, jámon ibérico, fruit of your choice, and café con leche. Oh, perhaps some gelato, too! You also need to venture into Maria Luisa Park for a picnic and listen to Seville’s tales.
Sinead Thornhill is a student at Seattle University and was an ISA Featured Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Seville, Spain.
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