The controversial spectacle of bullfighting is at the heart of Sevillano culture, a fact which is reflected in the First Category status of its beautiful 18th-century bullring. Though technically it shares this status with six other arenas in Spain, aficionados will tell you the only other plaza de toros to rival Seville’s in prestige is Madrid’s enormous Las Ventas. Even if you’re not prepared to experience what happens on the bright sands of the Real Maestranza (as the Seville plaza is called), a visit to this historic bullring is a must if you’re in the Andalusian capital: it houses a fascinating museum exploring the history of the spectacle, alongside a shop selling the beautifully-designed posters used to advertise bullfights. If you want to see for yourself what the impassioned debate is about, visit Seville during its great Feria de Abril, when several bullfights of the highest quality are held.
Plaza de Toros de Sevilla, 12 Paseo de Cristóbal Colón, Seville, Spain, +34 954 22 45 77
Flowing through the middle of Seville is the distinctively-green Guadalquivir river, which is now spanned by several ornate bridges connecting the city’s two halves. Seville owes a great deal to the murky waters of the Guadalquivir; flowing out into the Atlantic through the Bay of Cádiz, it gave the city a trading monopoly with the New World after its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Riches from the Americas poured into Seville and the city became enormously wealthy and powerful as a result. On sunny weekends (and there are great deal of them here), the lush banks of this great river are crowded with locals enjoying an activity named botellón, in which they carry their own booze down to the river and enjoy spontaneous, open-aired house parties. Blending in among them and indulging in your own riverside botellón is a great way to spend an afternoon in Seville, not least because it enables you to escape the ferocious heat and big crowds of the city centre.
There are no shortage of neighbourhoods in Andalusia where time stands to have stood still; barrios in which the homogenising trends of modernity have failed to take hold. One of the most enchanting of them all is Triana, the former gypsy quarter of Seville sitting on the other side of the river from the historic city centre. Many great flamenco artists and bullfighters have come from its attractive yellow and white-fronted houses, which are decorated with the pretty tile mosaics for which Triana is famous; indeed, as you arrive here via the Isabel II bridge, you are greeted by a statue of Juan Belmonte, the Triana-born matador said to be the greatest of the 20th century. Triana is also packed with traditional tapas bars—kitted out with the mandatory mounted bulls’ heads, bullfighting posters and pictures of a weeping Virgin Mary—offering insanely cheap drinks and snacks, meaning you can keep yourself well-refreshed whilst exploring this unforgettable neighbourhood.
Even if you usually have to be dragged to look at things like churches and cathedrals, Seville’s is likely to amaze you with its size alone: it is the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world. Construction of this sprawling Gothic complex, which houses 80 chapels and has the longest central nave in Spain, began in 1401 on the site of the city’s former mosque. Work continued for over a hundred years, and in 1507 the cathedral was finally completed, having quite spectacularly succeeded in fulfilling the design team’s original aim to make something “so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it will think we are mad”. Its iconic Giralda bell tower was formerly the mosque’s minaret and is all that remains of the Islamic structure that preceded the cathedral.
Catedral de Sevilla, Av. de la Constitución, Seville, Spain, +34 902 09 96 92
The old Jewish quarter of Seville has not changed much over the past few centuries (like Triana) and should be one of the first areas you explore when visiting here. It was into Santa Cruz that Ferdinand III banished the city’s Jewish population when he took Seville from the Moors in 1248; and brutal though the King undoubtedly was, one can’t help feeling, wandering around this maze of colourful houses and winding, cobbled streets, that there could have been worse places in which to be confined. Discovering Santa Cruz’s secret little squares and alleyways is a great way to spend a few hours in Seville, all the more so because the area is packed with traditional tapas joints where you can sample local specialities like stewed bull’s tail and pork in whisky sauce. It’s also a great place to check out flamenco, with the superb Museo Baile Flamenco (Flamenco Dance Museum) offering a fascinating exposition of the art’s complex history and nightly shows featuring some of Andalusia’s top performers.
Museo Baile Flamenco, Calle Manuel Rojas Marcos 3, Seville, Spain, +34 954 34 03 11
Central Seville can be a confusing place to navigate, but one landmark you can always use to orientate yourself is Las Setas (The Mushrooms). This distinctive structure, built between 2005 and 2011 over Roman remains discovered during its construction, is the largest wooden monument in the world and dominates the once run-down Plaza de la Encarnación in the centre of historic Seville. On its lower level you can view the Roman remains over which its canopies tower and on top there is a walkway offering stunning panoramic views of the Andalusian capital. This is without doubt the best spot in the city to head for the sunset, when you can watch the light fade over the rooftops of Santa Cruz as you sip from the glass of fizz that’s included in the price of your ticket: the perfect finale for any visit to Seville.
Las Setas de Sevilla, Plaza de la Encarnación, Seville, Spain, +34 954 56 15 12