Seville has Europe’s largest preserved old town, so there are lots of impressive monuments and museums to see, but it’s the whole atmosphere of the place that make it special. Throw away your map and just enjoy wandering through the labyrinth of small winding streets and little squares that make up the Barrio Santa Cruz and the old Jewish Quarter. At almost every turn there is something unexpected to be seen, a glimpse of a patio through an open door, a rooftop terrace, a fountain or a statue, or you can sit outside a bar or cafe, and watch the world go by for a while.
If you do want to go sightseeing, though, the obvious place to start is in the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, the hub of old Seville, and the most beautiful in the city, with its distinctive gargoyle fountain in the middle, and surounded by the Archbishop’s Palace, the Convent of Santa Marta, and of course, the Cathedral & Giralda Tower. Built in the fifteenth century on the site of the mosque, the cathedral is the third largest church in the world, with a huge and elaborate – some might say, ostentatious – gold altar piece to match, a number of richly decorated chapels, and also the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It’s all very impressive, but the real fun is to climb Seville’s most famous landmark and symbol, the 800-year-old Giralda Tower (there are ramps, which are much easier to climb than stairs). Once a minaret, and now the cathedral’s bell tower, the views over the city from the top are stunning, and you get an interesting perspective on the cathedral, too.
Next door is the Plaza del Triunfo, with the grim stone walls of the Real Alcázar on the side opposite the Cathedral, and the Archivos de India in between. The Alcázar is the royal palace-fortress of Seville, built by Pedro the Cruel in the 14th century using Moorish architects, and it contains some of the finest examples of mudéjar art and architecture in Spain. The patio de las Doncellas (maidens), and the Ambassadors’ room are highlights, and there is a guided tour of the Royal apartments on the first floor (extra). It is also very pleasant to walk in the surrounding gardens, which in the summer (July-Sept) are the venue for open-air evening concerts.
Plaza de España, another of Seville’s most impressive landmarks, which has recently been reopened after refurbishment, is to one side of the park. It has been described as stunningly beautiful, phantasmagorical, and even kitsch, and it’s all of those.
Italica was the Roman “new town” built at the end of the 3rd century BC. It’s actually in Santiponce, about a forty-minute bus ride from Seville, but the ruins, including one of the empire’s largest amphitheatres, are well-preserved and worth the journey. Good excuse for a nice day in the country.