As a young child and later adolescent I was not the best student in the world – the reasons for this were many but the result the same. I rallied in my 30’s to go back to University and then I soared but this only provided the basis for my pilot career knowledge – not so much the history that I should have picked up in high school. I have always been aware of the gaping caverns of knowledge missing from my basic intellectual library but traveling around Europe where history is measured in centuries and millennia rather than in our country where history is measured in decades and centuries has certainly shined a bright light on the shortcomings.
Im not sure if my new avocation in learning everything that I can about the world and it’s history is born of an latent desire that I never noticed or my new found delight in sharing all of this knowledge with our son but better late than never I say 🙂 So the learning that I have done in the past 8 months has completely eclipsed the sum total of all of the knowledge of world history leading up to this adventure. This is really exciting because what is travel for if not to open up our minds to history and the world.
Which brings me to our recent “road trip” to Sevilla, Spain, a city absolutely dripping with an incredibly vibrant and rich history spanning millennia. All of this AND it is incredibly well designed and spotless – seriously -spotless.
In 1929 when the city was planning for its Ibero-American Exposition, Anibal Gonzalez Alvarez-Ossorio was tasked with creating many of the spaces and buildings that are now the focal point and “cherry on top” of the city masterpieces. The most significant in my opinion is the Plaza de Espana which, upon entering, literally took my breath away. It was positively stunning and our guide took us there early on a Sunday morning so we essentially had the entire plaza to ourselves. We were rewarded in that we were able to see the magnitude of the space uninterrupted by crowds. The plaza was built facing West in a semi-circle to demonstrate the welcome and open arms to the Americas and the plaza itself pays tribute to all of the provinces of Spain in a combination of the Renaissance, Baroque and the Moorish styles as a nod to the city’s rich history. The city was taken back to Christianity from the Arabs in 1248 after a long and exhaustive war fought and won by King Ferdinand the III. The Arabs had this city for nearly 500 years and the artists and craftsmen of that time have left their mark throughout the city. Most of the development of Sevilla happened after 1929 so the city literally grew up around the beautiful buildings created by Alvarez-Ossorio but the buildings are only a small part of the charm of this city. Alvarez-Ossorio planted 100,000 orange trees in and around Sevilla and they are as plentiful as they are magnificent. We asked our guide why they were all so laden with fruit? surprised as we were that hoarders have’t come along to scoop them up and learned that they are a bit more sour than the typical fruit. We did try one and it was delicious but very sour. They don’t go to waste though – they are collected and shipped to England where they are turned into marmalade. As former residents of the “Sunshine state” which produces most of the country’s orange juice, we can only imagine what the city must smell like in the spring when the orange blossoms are in bloom! Heaven!!!
Anyone who reads our blog will know of our affinity for searching out and reporting on various UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This city has topped the list for varied sites in such close proximity with 3 independent sites located in the same square – Plaza del Triunfo – all from different time periods. The Archivo General De Indias, an example of the Spanish Renaissance architecture which houses extremely valuable archival documents according to Wikipedia, is one of the buildings. We were told that housed within are 2000 or more documents and charts from Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World. The building itself is a treasure and unfortunately that was all we were able to appreciate of it on this visit. The other 2 buildings are the Cathedral de Sevilla (also known as St. Mary of the See) and the Alcazar. Our guide stated that this is the largest Cathedral in the world but before I write I like to do some fact checking. In fact, I have found citations in Wikipedia supporting this assertion and also contradicting it calling it the 2nd largest cathedral in the world. The first point of distinction is that of the difference between a Cathedral and a Basilica – the former being a seat of a bishop. In any case, the size which has 5 Nave’s rather than the typical 3 of a Catholic Cathedral is owed to the fact that when the cathedral was taken over from the Arab Muslims, it needed to be rebuilt as a church and it needed to cover all of the previously consecrated space of the Mosque. In addition, the stunning Giralda Bell tower which was formerly the Turet in which the Muslims were called to prayer is 343 feet (104.5 meters). Interesting facts are that the remains of Christopher Columbus are housed here as are the remains of his son. Incidentally, Columbus’ remains have been moved 5 times so what portion of his remains that sits in the tomb is uncertain. This Cathedral is the largest Gothic building in Europe and it houses the largest alter piece in the world which is a complete work of art in itself divided into 4 tiers each depicting a different part of the life of Christ. This building was magnificent and personal favorite of Jack (who is only 9 and had to sit through a 5 hour tour but did so brilliantly as a trade for the 2 days he got to “tour” on a Segway.)
And the 3rd building on the site is the Alcazar, the current residence of the royal family when in Seville (although we have heard they prefer the local hotel) and the residence which has housed royalty since 913 AD. It has been added to over the years particularly a palace and stables. Examples of Renaissance, Gothic, and Moorish architecture abound in the various structures. Changes have been made by every monarch to grace the halls since Ferdinand The III and notable history is the birth of Maria Antoinette of Spain (1729-1785).
Honestly I could bore you for hours with details of the history we learned in the short 4 days enjoying Sevilla, but I digress, THE FOOD!!!
I had one of the most emotionally satisfying meals I have ever eaten. I know you know what Im talking about here. Not to say that it was the taste that was perfection, but the whole of the experience was pure delight. It was a tapas bar just steps from the door to our apartment and we were served beautifully prepared healthy and delicious local food slowly and deliberately and I could have sat in that spot for hours watching the gorgeous Sevilla city go by followed by a perfectly wonderful night spent enjoying a typical Flamenco dance show with an extraordinary guitar player.
The FOO FOO
One of the ways that we try as a family to most enjoy a new city (or food or person) is – to the absolute extent that we are able – totally suspend personal judgement. We task ourselves to walk and observe without making other cultures right or wrong and to catch ourselves if we struggle with this. It is a terrific way to “see” oneself and also to gently remind ourselves of what we are trying to do here. Remaining the objective observer makes new cities fascinating and even more enjoyable. This city challenged me a bit personally in a small way and then in a larger way. First with the city’s love of their hero, Christopher Columbus and then to a greater extent, with the continued “entertainment” of bull fighting.
I can understand that any effort to “judge” someone through the lens of 21st Century eyes is flawed which is why I can look at the appreciation of Christopher Columbus for all that he achieved for Spain and see that he will always be revered and celebrated due to his numerous contributions. I struggle a bit more with the whole bull fighting thing. I totally “get” that it is a matter of heritage and I even support as an “observer” and “guest” from another country that I have no capacity to ever understand it so we will just say that while bull fighting wasn’t happening at the time of our visit, we would not have spent our tourist dollars on this enterprise. Still, there is a farm nearby that had we had more time we would likely have gone to visit just so that we could teach Jack about it. As it was, it didn’t really come up and I didn’t feel the need to teach about this point of Spanish heritage quite yet as I didn’t want my personal “judgement” creeping in. Speaking of judging….
Funny thing – living with one of your greatest teachers and having it be your 9 year old son. As part of my quest for more history I have been reading a lot of historical fiction. A fantastic book I am currently reading is written by Ken Follett and is part of a trilogy. The tome of which I speak is 850 pages and called THE FALL OF GIANTS. It is only the 1st in the trilogy of equally lengthy pieces of literature but it is so captivating, Ill certainly read the other two. But I digress. So 2 other books I have recently read are concerned with WW2 and are non-fiction. Both have left me feeling both bereft for what the Jews have endured and equally shocked at how impotent the German citizens were to stop it. I became aware of my growing prejudice against Germans when my son, eager to learn German, tried to speak it in shops in London. I asked Jack to stop and told him that I was just uncomfortable with him trying to learn a language of a people who had fought against the shop keepers we were standing in front of. Also, while I support him learning it, maybe he didn’t have to actually use it to non-German speaking people. I then bristled when Jack expressed a desire to visit Germany next summer. Hmmm..
Jack knows all of the facts of the second World War largely due to his own interest in the subject and he wanted to go. We have always told Jack that we want him to be a part of the trip – to plan the itinerary and to take an interest in the places we visit. So – here it was – Jack was interested but not in the same places I was interested. Ha – Don’t you love it when that happens? So pressing me one night he asked – “Mom, you said you want to go to Russia right?” Me: Yep – I would love to get to Russia Jack: But Mom, what about the Cold war and how the Communists and the Americans each threatened each other with nuclear war and what about how bitterly the Americans hated the Russians and wasn’t that even MORE recent that WW2? Haven’t we moved passed that? How can you still hold a grudge against the Germans? Hmmmmm funny thing about “judgement”. Even when you declare it a family value is shocks me when I learn how I sit in judgement all the time. And who am I to judge? I have learned (and Im sorry Im going to tip my toe into politics here briefly though I promise I won’t stay) that even when my country acts in a way that opposes my value system I too am impotent to stop it. So there it is – my 9 year old son showed me the ways in which I was silently harboring a grudge and judging a whole country. Well, lesson learned. Germany is on the schedule for next summer and we have had German guests for cocktails and this week having a lovely German woman for dinner. Im learning…. And I have gotten my German travel guide in the mail and it promises to be one of the best stops of the summer. To all Germans reading this – sorry and thanks for being patient. I can only hope that you aren’t the 1/2 dozen or so who are sharing our dock 🙂
As always, Thanks for reading and wishing everyone a very Happy New Year