Five Myths About Seville, Debunked

“I’ll just stop talking before I ruin the Feria de Sevilla for you,” Dan remarked, noticing that I’d stuck my fingers in my ears. A history and archaeology professor at one of the city’s universities, he’d already struck down a number of things I’d known to be true about my adopted city.

5 Myths about Seville

In a city as mythical as Seville, I’ve become privy to tall tales and lore that have only grown to be larger-than-life legends in the Hispalense. But Dan’s early morning route with Context Travel astonished me with how many things I’d had wrong. Winding through the streets of Santa Cruz and the Arenal and speaking about the centuries that shaped modern Spain and the New World, I had to shut my mouth and just listen (always hard on a tour when you know so many of the city’s secrets!):

Gazpacho was invented by the Moors

Dishes with a legend are rife in Spain, and Seville’s claims to gazpacho are just as common. Gazpacho is a cold, tomato-based soup that pops up on menus as both a dish and a garnish. It’s also about the only Spanish dish I’ve mastered. While the word gazpacho is of Arabic origin, and they commonly ate a dish of bread, garlic and olive oil, the dish as we know it today is definitely is not of Moorish invention.

gazpacho andaluza in spain

It a simple question of history: The Moors conquered the Iberian Penninsula over centuries, beginning in 711. The last were expelled in 1492 from Granada, the same year that the Catholic Kings sent a young dreamer, Christopher Columbus, to find a passage to India. Tomatoes come from the Americas, so the very earliest they would have appeared in Spain was the late 15th Century. While Moors lingered in Spain for centuries, the introduction of vinegar, tomatoes and cucumber would come much later.

Seville is flat

Columbus may have been onto something else: for all of the boasting I do about how perfect Seville is for biking and walking, the city was built in Roman times around a series of hills. Little remains of the Roman past within the city limits, save a few columns on Calle Mármoles, the crumbling aqueduct that once carried water from Carmona, and the recovered mosaics and fish paste factory in the Antiquarium underneath Plaza de la Encarnación. If you want to see ruins, head to nearby Itálica or Carmona, or even two hours north to Mérida.

Context history tours in Seville Spain

Roman Seville – then called Hispalis – had five major hills, with strategically built fortresses and temples built atop them. Laid out in a cross fashion, the major thoroughfares, called Cardus Maximus and Decumanus Maximus, and likened, to the main arteries of the human body, lead to a crossing near Plaza de la Alfalfa. This site was likely home to the forum, and Plaza del Salvador excavations have led archaeologists to believe the the curia and basilica once stood here. Indeed, the street leading from the east-west axis is the city’s one “hill,” dubbed Cuesta del Rosario, or Rosary Hill.

Where to see Roman ruins in Seville

My glutes would be better off having some changes in elevation, but my knees are glad that silt from the Atlantic, which once lapped shores near to the Cathedral and old city walls, filled in the shallow valleys.

The true meaning of barrios

The streets of Seville are steeped in history, and many of their names give tourists a historical context. In my neighborhood, Calle Castilla stems out from the ruins of the Moorish castle, Calle Alfarería reveals where pottery and ceramic kilns once stood, and Rodrigo de Triana takes the name of the prodigal son who was reputedly the first to spot the New World from high in a crow’s nest.

casa de la moneda sevilla

When Seville became a bustling commercial center after the Reconquist in the mid 13th Century, European merchants flocked from other ports of call to take part – population boomed, making Seville not only the most important city in Iberia, but also the largest in Europe.

Dan explained that competition was fierce amongst bands of merchants, and large manor homes were constructed around the cathedral to showcase not only the wares – olive oil was big business, even then – but also wealth. Just peak into any open doors in Santa Cruz, and you’ll see what I mean. Feudal relationships existed, and small gangs of street were established as territories, owned and operated by the merchant groups.

Santa Cruz Sevilla neighborhood

Because of this, streets bear names like Alemanes (German) or Francos (French). The wealthiest group? The Genovese, whose market wares were sold on Avenida de la Constitución – the most important street in the city center.

You may know another important genovés who passed through Seville during this time – he set off from Spain in 1492.

Triana was the historically poor neighborhood 

Dan asked the other tour guests what they’d done since arriving in Seville the previous day. “Oh, we wandered over the bridge to the neighborhood on the other side of the river. Lovely place, very lively.” 


“Well,” Dan replied, taking off his sunglass for effect, “Triana used to be one of the richest sectors of the city.”

I was baffled – I’d spun tales about how my barrio had once housed seafarers, flamenco dancers and gypsies, and thus made it more colorful and authentic, an oasis untouched by tourist traps and souvenir shops. In reality, the heart of Triana – from the river west to Pagés del Corro, and from Plaza de Cubs to just north of San Jacinto – was encapsulated in high stone walls and a number of manor houses during the Al-Andalus period in the 10th Century. 

Capilla del Carmen Triana Anibal Gonzalez

After the Christian Reconquist and subsequent destruction of the Castillo San Jorge, artisans, labor workers and sailors took up residence in Triana, perpetuating the stereotype that the neighborhood has been poor since its origins. Poor or not, it’s full of character and close to the city center, yet feels far away.

Orange trees are native to the city

I had learned the importance of citrus fruits in Seville’s culinary history during a Devour Seville food tour, and had wrongfully assumed that orange trees had been around since the time of the Moors. After all, they brought their language, their spices and their architectural heritage, so surely they’d thought to plant orange trees. Maybe they did – the Monasterio de la Cartuja is said to have edible oranges, and the cathedral’s Arabic courtyard is named for the naranjos that populate it – but it was renowned Sevillian architect Aníbal González who suggested planting orange trees along roads and in private gardens.

Oramge trees in Seville

Hallmarks of the Neo-mudéjar visionary are littered around the city and other Andalusian cities, including his obra maestra, the half-moon Plaza de España. And Each year when the azahar blooms, I’ll be reminded that the Novio’s great grandparents wouldn’t have marked the start of springtime with their scent like I’ve come to do.

I’d spill more, but the tour will reveal dark moments during the Inquisition, hidden secrets from the bustling commercial period after the Reconquist, and where the New World archives actually are – it’s a tour made for history buffs and visitors who want a more inside scoop on a city’s political, geographical and historical origins. Admittedly, many of these facts can be found online, but the point is that locals perpetuate the incorrect myths as a way to keep the magical of the city intact. Sevillanos exaggerate, and these many of these tales are as tall as the Giralda itself.

Typical Seville Streets

Dan and I walked back over the Puente San Telmo towards Triana, and I offered to buy him a beer back in the barrio (even though he tells me I’m from the cutre part). One Seville myth that will never die: cerveza is cheap and aplenty in this city, and tastes best on a sunny day with friends.

Context Travel graciously invited me on the Seville Andalusian Metropolis tour free of charge; tickets are 80€ each ($91 USD at publishing), plus any entrance fees you may incur. Tourists are encouraged to tell the guide what things they’d like to see and explore to help give the tour shape – their tagline is #traveldeeper, after all! You can also look for them in Europe, North America, Asia and South America. 

Are there any odd myths in the city where you live?

Wine Tasting for Dummies: An Afternoon with With Locals in Spain

“Wine snobbery is ruining the pure pleasure of a nice glass of wine,” Adolfo remarked as he poured us a young Verdejo from Northern Spain. “You like what you like, period.”

We studied the color of the pale yellow liquid before sloshing it around a tasting glass and lifting it to our noses. I don’t pretend to be a wine snob or even to know much about it, but after spending the afternoon sampling wine in Adolfo’s living room, I was convinced that I never would be nor need to be a wine snob.

Wine Tasting for Dummies

Adolfo’s three-hour introduction to wine paired with tapas – plus a short tour around the center of quaint Utrera – was part of the WithLocals experience I was invited to attend. An initiative that began in Asian countries before expanding to Spain and now Italy, WithLocals connects travelers with locals in tourist destinations with the aim of providing organic experiences, from cooking lessons to hikes to excursions from big cities.

In the spirit of full discolsure: I was skeptical about paying someone to spend a few hours with me, especially having been approached as a potential host. But peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, BlaBla Car and Couchsurfing have become some of my go-tos for saving money while traveling as well as a way to forge connections with locals, plus learning about wine is something I’d spring to experience (and pay for!) in another country. I have become increasingly disillusioned with tours and operators, but wanted to give wine (and a company in its infant stages in Spain) its fair chance.

how to open a wine bottle correctly

Adolfo called to us from his balcony, which looked over a street appropriately named for a type of regional wine. Part of the WithLocals philosophy dictates that events be held in hosts’ homes whenever possible, so a table was set with three tasting glasses, a few tapas and the tools of the trade were set in his living room. I brought along my friend Hayley, a wine drinker far more experienced than myself in the grape and its magical properties (magic, as in, turning sugar into alcohol, of course).

I’ve been to a few tastings – in family-run bodegas that sell al granel in DO Jumilla, in world famous wineries in La Rioja and even in a fancy wine shop in Seville, but I’d rarely learned much past the three-step tasting process. See, smell, sip and repeat until your brain’s a bit hazy and it’s time for a tapa.

verdejo wines Spain

Adolfo changed all of that: as an apasionado for wine whose hobby has become a lifestyle and job, Hayley and I fired off questions about soil conditions, favorite denominaciones de origen and how to find a decent bottle in a supermarket without knowing about that year’s harvest. Our host knew more than the number of ‘sommeliers’ and winemakers I’d drank wine with, but was quick to tell us his dismay for people using wine as a status symbol (to which I snuff, ponme otra cervecita, por favor). 

The Verdejo was crisp and, though I couldn’t snuff out the banana peel undertones in the smell, refreshing. We snacked on salty anchovies with avocado and onion puree between sips. What struck me was that we could have a normal conversation as friends once we’d sipped the first glass and discussed the mechanics of the fermentation process, how to tell when wine has lost its quality and why some bottles slope and others don’t. We were one glass in, and I’d already learned more than my brain could hold. 

tasting wine with locals in Spain

Spain still pits Rioja against Ribera as far as favorites, much in the way it does with fútbol, so Adolfo skipped the vino heavyweights in favor of a crianza from a little-known region tucked between Alicante and La Mancha, Utiel-Requeña. I’d never even heard of it, much less tried it.

Plates of chorizo, cheese and salchichón appeared as the cork was popped, revealing a faded crimson ring. The glug, glug and slight ring of the liquid against the glass preceded a sip and slosh around our palates, and I went so far as to try and gargle like the sommeliers do (it sounds weird, but the bubbling reveals even more tastes buried deep in the mouthful!).

Typical Spanish Charcuterie

We’d then try a grandaddy Rioja and compare the two tintos in color, smell and taste. I began to smell the earthy wood undertones and hint of black pepper as my sinus cavity cleared up and reminded my brain of the properties of a strong wine that had been aged for two years and then bottled for two more before entering the market. 

In the wake of turning 30, my mom reminded me that age is like fine wine, and Adolfo had saved the best for us to drink with duck paté and strawberry jam: a wine he’d inherited from his uncle from 2002. Even though wines depreciate depending on their aging process, the murky brown liquid still tasted amazing.

Three hours later, we sipped a sweet Pedro Ximénez from nearby Jerez, brains as full as our bellies.

How to Taste Wine:

Most everyone knows that wine tastings have three parts: first you check out the color, then provide a preview for your tastebuds by sniffing inside the glass before finally tasting the wine. But I’ll go further:

tasting wine with With Locals in Spain

Open the bottle correctly. Some restaurants will cut the aluminum cap that protects the cork right near the top, but you should do so under the lip of the bottle. Better yet, press firmly on the cap to pull the aluminum upwards in one piece.

Pour less than one fluid ounce into a proper tasting glass. Glasses should grow thinner at the top to help aromas reach your nose, and while stemless glasses are gorgeous, your hand can heat the wine and distorte its properties slightly.

Remember that red wines have varying properties, so know the differences between joven, crianza, and reserva when tasting Spanish varieties. Everything from the color to the depreciation and especially the taste will vary. Joven wines are very rarely aged in oak barrels, whereas crianzas will have spent 6 months in barrel of its two years aging. Reserva are aged longer in both bottle and barrel. So, the 2010 reserva we tried had spent two years in barrel and two more in bottle before being labelled for sale, but the joven we tried wasn’t half bad because it came from a reputable bodega.

Wine Tasting with Plus Vino Sevilla

The olfactory phase is the most important, Adolfo tells us, because our tastebuds can only perceive sweet, sour, salty and acidic. The nose can sense the nuances of flavors are snuffed out at this phase, and this is why you’re encouraged to move the liquid around in the glass. Take your time.

When you’re ready to taste, don’t swallow right away. Slosh the wine around in your mouth the get the full sensory experience.

If you’re trying more than one wine, pour 15-20 milliliters of the next wine you’ll be trying into the used glass, swirl it around and dump into a recipient.

Most importantly – don’t get snobby about wine. Everything about wine – from the soil from which the grapes grow to the content of the cork – is a science, so just open a bottle you like and enjoy it!

With Locals invited Hayley and me to be guests for the WithLocals wine experience in Utrera. All opinions expressed are my own – I like my opinions as pure as my vinate. Be sure to check out With Locals’s page for more inspiration, as well as Adolfo’s YouTube channel about everything in the Mundo de Vino.

What’s your favorite Spanish wine, and where do you buy it? Sound off in the comments below, and I’ll get down to the task.

Three Reasons Why Seville is a Foodie Haven

“So we’re initially going to just be making plans for cervezas and tapas, correct?” One of my closest friends was just a few weeks away from his trip to Seville, and he’d planned the itinerary for me: a week of eating, drinking and catching up (and that’s just what we did!).

Spain's best city for Foodies

When it comes to showing friends, family and even readers my adopted city, they see less of the city’s monuments and off-the-beaten track gems, and far more grubby old man bars and fancy gastropubs than museums. My heart is happiest when my belly’s been wined and dined, and I love sharing Seville’s food culture with them.

I’ve eaten my way through Spain, from gastronomic sweetheart San Sebastián to family farms in Málaga, and Seville remains my favorite food city in all of Spain for three very important reasons.

Variety of Choices

If variety is the spice of life, Seville can only be described as zesty. Apart from the serving sizes and types of eateries, the sheer number of bars is dizzying.

While it would be impossible to count the number of bars in the city, figures tend to land in the 4,500 – 6,000 range when it comes to establishments for a bite or sip. Even if I wanted to try every single one, from the hole-in-the-wall abacerías to the Michelin-lauded gastro experience, it would take me years. And the question I get most from my readers, ‘Where should I eat in Seville?’ is harder to answer than you’d think.

Devour Seville Tours

Taking a mid-morning tapas tour with Devour Seville, a food tour company with operations in four Spanish cities confirmed that. In fact, Lauren and I mused about other places that Devour Seville could have included on their four-hour tour through Seville’s central neighborhoods. Andalucía’s flamboyant capital has no shortage of choices, and tour guides are even thrilled to make recommendations for dinner.

So, choice is a factor, but it gets even trickier from there. Bar or restaurant? Sit down or stand up? Trendy gastrobar or traditional tavern? Should we split large plates, or have everyone get their own tapas? And just how hungry are we?

What sets Andalusian cities apart from their northern counterparts in many cases is the serving size options you’re allowed. Lauren explained that the word tapa – Spanish cuisine’s global export – has several different origins, though the most common is that bartenders would plop a morsel of food on a thin-lipped sherry glass to keep out fruit flies. This practice, said to have come from Seville’s little sister city of Jerez, is one of the easiest ways to sample and share food. If you’re hungrier, choose a ración or media ración.

seville sandwich city

And, of course, then you have to pare down a menu and decide what to eat and what to drink. The tour had several Andalusian hallmarks but left behind the tortilla, huevos estrellados and gazpacho. After a morning of chowing down, we’d tried eight different dishes, each with a backstory of is origin and the establishment that served it.

Arabic, Roman Influence on Cuisine

In the middle of the morning, Lauren led us to a cluster of churches in the heart of Barrio Santa Cruz. Once a pocket of the city where Jews, Moors and Christians mingled and traded freely, there are traces of culture on every block and hidden beneath the citrus fruit trees that perfume the city and the almond trees planted further east.

Their sugar and egg pastries are baked in convents around the city (many made with oranges, lemons or almonds!), and though Spanish baked goods don’t do much for me, the naranjines we tried were actually sweet with a touch of citrus!

Convent Sweets in Seville

Additonally, Seville was truly the gateway to the New World and Africa, with ships coming and going from the port and bringing products from far off lands. The city grew fat off of riches from its discoveries before the gold and silver was taken to Madrid on the Via de la Plata, but the gastronomic heritage remained.

After a pit stop for a few sips of orange-infused wine, we walked through the city’s historic quarter and into the once-gritty El Arenal neighborhood, where ships were repaired as they unloaded their goodies. The New World brought the tomatoes for your gazpacho, the chocolate you dip your churros into and the potatoes served with just about everything from montaditos to meat dishes.

Typical Taverns in Seville

Another fascinating tidbit of local history lies in the twelve city gates that once punctuated the walled city. As we walked under the Postigo del Carbón, Lauren gave us a run-down of other food-monikered gates to the city, like meat and olive oil. By this time, we’d snacked and tried several sorts of drinks, but we’d worked up enough of an appetite for the main course: tapas.


I felt like we walked less on the Devour Seville tour than my previous taste tests with them in Madrid and Barcelona, but Seville is the longest tour! Even after winding through the streets of Encarnación, Santa Cruz and Arenal for four hours, I felt strong enough to have one last beer with another tour-goer at primetime on a sunny Friday!

Walking in Central Seville

All of my guests are surprised at how easy it is to walk around Seville – even if getting lost in the winding, cobblestone alleyways is part of the experience. The city sits at 11m above sea level and there’s one ‘hill’ in the whole place!

Besides, Seville is beautiful, between the tucked-away plazas and tiled entranceways, so it’s easy to be entranced.

How to Tapear in Seville

A true tapas tour doesn’t just settle for one eatery – it’s quite normal for the hungry to go from bar to bar, ordering one drink and one plate before moving on to the next. And don’t expect to sit down at a table. Most tapas bars allow you (or force you if it’s that popular) to eat at the bar itself, giving you the chance to bark your order to the waitstaff without flagging down a frazzled waiter. Bonus points for the bar if they tally your tab in chalk right next to your plates.

Seville Food Tour Samplings

The bars clustered around the city center should be your focus if you’re visiting Seville – check out the bull meat entrées served in El Arenal, choose international dishes and Spanish favorites around El Centro, and opt for al fresco dining in La Alameda.

Be aware that many bars will not have English translations, and if they do, they’ll often leave you just as confused (seriously, I once saw ratatouille listed as ‘tomatoes attacked by angry vegetables’). Start by ordering a few plates – you can always get more if you’re still hungry.

On a Food Tour in Seville

If you’re overwhelmed, leave it to the experts at Devour Seville. This four-hour tour will have you sampling eight dishes, which is enough to feel satisfied without being stuffed. The guides are knowledgable and personable. Prices start at 65€ for their Tastes, Tapas & Traditions tour.

Devour Seville allowed me to tag along on their inaugural tour, though all opinions are my own. I’m a big fan of their mission – to use local vendors and provide customers with a taste of Spain – and their excellently assembled tours!

Have you ever eaten in Seville? What are your favorite places to chow down?

I’ve got loads about food in Seville, from Tapa Thursdays, which highlight foods and restaurants, to recommendations on where to eat in town. My instagram is also full of food and beer photos with fancy filters – follow me!

Visiting Seville on Two Wheels: a Bike Tour through the City’s Main Sites

My first moment of consciousness was fragrant – the orange blossoms outside my window were finally in bloom, and I could smell spring wafting in between the persianas.

I deliberately left my jacket hanging on a dining room chair, breathing in the azahar and the sizzle off of the pavement as I crossed Triana towards the center of town. On the eve of Holy Week, I would be touring my city on my favorite form of transportation besides my own two feet. 

take a bike tour in Seville

Given that Seville is Spain’s most bike-friendly city and one of the European leaders in two-wheel transportation, it was only a matter of time before cycling tours caught on in the Andalusian capital. Andalucía Tours and Discovery had written me in November to invite me on a tour, and I was finally able to take them up on the offer on the first true day of spring.

Before moving to Europe, I imagined buying an antique bike with a wicker basket and doing my shopping  – a flaky baguette, a dozen apples and fresh cut flowers – by cycling. In reality, I use my bike Feliciano to get to and from work, often arriving sweaty and panting.

Seville Bike City

When I arrived, I was immediately surrounded by around a dozen Dutch tourists (I can’t make this stuff up!), adjusting their bikes in front of ATD’s bike and segway warehouse. I jumped at the chance to leave my rickety bike behind and use one with full tires, fully-functioning brakes and a bell that hadn’t been stolen. Rosalie helped me get my bike adjusted to my height and urged me to have a quick ride around to make sure everything was in tip-top shape.

Andalucia Tours and Discovery Bike Rentals

As someone who sticks to bike lanes whenever possible, I was wary to ride on the streets and sidewalks, especially in such a large group. But them group’s founder, Carlos, had another plan for me: we took off down Santas Patronas, using a pedestrian shortcut to pick up four lost Dutch women and deliver them to the tour group, which had already crossed the Triana bridge.

Bike Tour El Arenal Sevilla

Bike Tour Torre del Oro

The tour was in Dutch and German, so Carlos tagged along to conduct what felt like a private tour. In Plaza del Altozano, he gave me a challenge: ¿Qué no sabes de Sevilla?

As it turned out, plenty. We rode through the narrow alleyways of my neighborhood and he peppered in anecdotes and lore, from architecture to origins.  I continue signing up for tours of my adopted home town for this very reason – a city with more than 2000 years of history is full of secrets.

Bike Tour Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

Carlos kept me in good company – as a former school teacher himself, he knows how to keep a crowd entertained – and our conversation drifted from history to Spain’s political climate and everything that has changed in the seven years I’ve been a resident and the seven years he’s owned a small business. In a city whose tourism business is booming, Carlos is ethical and innovative, looking for clients in their own countries and doing things 100% by the book – a far cry in a city whose political corruption is glaringly evident at times.

Tour por bici en Sevilla

Bike Tour Sevilla Patio de las Banderas

Winding through the historic center and the palcos set out for the upcoming processions, we ended up in Patio de las Banderas, sandwiched between Barrio Santa Cruz and the Alcázar palace.

“Do you smell that?” he asked, pointing his nose towards the line of orange trees that had just begun to bloom. “Huelva has the light, Granada has the sights, but Seville is all about the smells.” I breathed in more, immediately sneezing. Spring in Seville is a double-edged sword for allergy-prone people like me.

Carlos pointed out places for me to take a picture of myself with the bike. I was already half a step ahead of him and handing my camera over.

Bike Tour group photo

Nearing the end of the tour, the guide brought us to a bar near Plaza de España to partake in another local pastime: having a drink. The Dutch ladies who had been lost before asked me inquisitively about how it was that I’d ended up in Sevilla.

While that’s a loaded question, I kept it simple: the weather, the cheap beer, and the fact that I can commute to work by bike.

Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

A tour on bike is perfect for anyone active, and especially recommendable if you’ve only got a day to see the city’s main sites and want to learn a little bit about them. The tours last around 3.5 hours, can be categorized as easy exercise and costs 25€, 19€ for students, with rental, tour, insurance and a drink included. Find out more about their tours and cultural activities on ATD’s website.

Have you ever been on a cycling tour on your travels?

In the spirit of full disclosure, ATD offered me a free tour. The awkward tanlines and opinions are all my own.

Photo Post: A Visit to the Seville Cathedral Rooftop

There are some things in Seville that don’t need any further explanation – a cotton candy sunset over Triana, Plaza de España’s beautiful tile benches, the dreamy chords and staccato of a flamenco performance.

And then there’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and its stunning minaret. Visiting the rooftop has long been on my to-do list, and even with a guide recounting the history, lore and practicality of the temple, the views of La Hispalense needed no explanation.

Florentino met us at Puerta de San Miguel, adjacent to Avenida de la Constitución. It was a busy Saturday evening, and the streets were clogged with families and street performers. Once we’d stepped inside – our guide with an enormous key and soft feet – we’d get ground rules: watch your step, stay with the group, and don’t touch any wires.

The massive cathedral of Seville

We climbed a winding staircase, worn down by more than 600 years of history. Etched Stars of David, rhombuses and other figures were a testament to the 100 years it took to build the cathedral once the city was reconquered. It was dark and cramped, but we emerged just over the sacristy, affording us views of Plaza de Virgen de los Reyes below.

The Giralda

cathedral in seville

For someone who has climbed the Giralda and visited the cathedral itself two dozen times, I didn’t think the building and anchor any touristic route would hold much mystery. 

Florentino reminded us to watch our step as I nearly tripped over a stone pod on the uneven surface. These devices were used as weights for the reliquia below – statues, paintings and even old altarpieces were hoisted using this archaic system.  So, there, I learned something. He pointed out features in the building process, from the stained glass to the buttresses, navigated a labyrinth of staircases, rooms and small patios.

sunset from the seville cathedral

sunset Seville Spain

When you’ve admired the sprawling cathedral from below, it’s incredible to see the details up close. So close, in fact, that I received a shock from wires designed to keep pigeons away. Oops, broke rule three.

We climbed and climb, retracing the Latin cross as Florentino recounted the 500 chapels below our feet and lore about the construction and consecration of the cathedral. Like everyone else, I gasped when we reached the highest point of the tour.

The Giralda Tower Seville

We were just a few yards from the Giralda, and climbed up the dome of the sacristy to contemplate the tower. Along with the Patio de los Naranjos, the minaret is a trace of the mosque that stood here until the reconquest in the 12th century.

Rooftop tour of the cathedral

Entering the temple shortly after, we walked behind the organ on a small walkway that could only accommodate you if you squeezed by, careful not to trip over the wires that light the naves. I had lost Florentino’s voice by now, but that hardly mattered.

Stained glass at the Seville Cathedral

rosette window in the catedral de sevilla

Once back on the ground, I could truly appreciate the immensity of the cathedral and its importance in Seville lore and history. The church built to inspire all those who see it to think that the architects and commissioners must have been crazy. Crazy, maybe.

If you go: Conocer Sevilla runs weekly visits to the cathedral rooftop – called the Cubertizo de la Catedral. Tours are about 90 minutes, cost 12 per person and it’s recommendable to wear comfortable clothing, as surfaces are unsteady and there is a bit of climbing involved. For more information and reservations, check Conocer Sevilla’s webpage.

Logo TNS-01

I visited the cathedral as part of the Typical NonSpanish project with Caser Expat. For more on the project, visit their webpage or find them on twitter.

Love and the Art of Flamenco Guitar Making: A Visit to the Guitarrería Mariano Conde

The sawdust on the floor gave it away: this was actually a living, breathing sort of workshop, not one where the workers are tucked away, out of sight for appearances. My ears perked with each twang of the six strings of a flamenco guitar. There was a few hollow knocks, followed by a bit of sanding.

That’s where the sawdust came from. 

Growing up, I played the clarinet and learned music theory while perfecting trills, scales and my embouchure. Upon taking a flamenco course in Seville, I discovered that I shared the innate rhythm bailaores possess, the internal metronome that allows them to recognize palos and styles, then spiral into dance. My ears picked up the 2/4 and 3/4 counts and set my feet into motion with a firm golpe using my whole foot.

There are three big parts to flamenco – el cante, or the song; el baile, or dance;  el toque, or the guitar. The guitar is what accompanies  the cante, and sets rhythm to the bailaor. 

To learn about how flamenco guitars are crafted, Tatiana took us to the Mecca of guitarras flamencasGuitarrería Mariano Conde. Tucked away from the Ópera area on Calle de la Amnistía, this workshop has existed since 1915 and is operated by a third-generation craftsman and his son. 

Mariano hardly looked up from his work as he welcomed us into the bi-lever taller. He was sanding down the intoxicating curves of a flamenco guitar, crafted from cyprus and a century-old design. There was a muttered holaaaaa bienvenidas and a quick dos besos for Tatiana as she led us downstairs into the dimly lit belly of the shop. 

The tools of the trade stood against the wall – picks, sanders, measuring sticks, protractors. Nearly two dozen guitars in various stages of development, each showing just a fraction of the work that goes into crafting a lightweight flamenco guitar. In all, about 300 hours of labor go into producing a single instrument.

Mariano descended the stairs, carrying a soundboard over his shoulder. Made of thin strips of cypress or spruce, this part of the guitar provides for the reverberation and the sound that is transmitted when strings get plucked. Once this part of the guitar has been crafted, the sideboards are affixed, followed by the fretboard, or neck.

Just as a painter signs the bottom of a masterpiece, Mariano’s signature comes by way of the carving on the top of each fretboard – his is a minute, gently sloping “M.”

Many of the guitars we saw were in their final stages of production – applying coat after coat of French shellac, drying, or ready for the strings and bridge to be attached. Around the sound hole, Mariano adds another signature of his workshop, one which is solely dedicated to flamenco guitars: the rosette.

Made from carved and dyed pieces of wood, the color and pattern of rosettes changes regularly, and his current design pays homage to the first generation of flamenco guitar craftsmen in his family. The costs begin at 2800€ and rise steadily from there, depending on the wood used and hours of craftsmanship.

Unless, of course, it’s a Sonata.

A list of about 30 names of guitars, named for the poems that accompany the tag, are specially crafted for famous names in flamenco (including the recently deceased flamenco great, Paco de Lucía) and specialty buyers, including musicians who do not perform in the flamenco style. The Sonata guitars are pricey, but done solely by el maestro himself.

Mariano himself was hospitable, answering my questions between teens looking to replace nylon strings and other curious buyers who walked into the shop.

To say the Conde Hermanos, sobrinos de Domingo Esteso, are household names when it comes to flamenco guitars, would be an understatement. I’m not a flamenco aficionado, but can appreciate the discipline and attention it take to perfect an art, be it el cante or el baile or el toque.

The Art of Making, Alma Flamenca from Deep Green Sea on Vimeo.

I visited Guitarrería Mariano Conde as part of the ‘Origins of Flamenco’ tour with OGO Tours. Check out their website for loads more, from food to walking tours to excursions. Javier and Tatiana graciously invited my friend and I free of charge, but all opinions are my own.

If you’re interested in more Madrid and flamenco: My Perfect Madrileño Day | Mercado San Miguel | Where to see flamenco in Seville

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