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?

Exploring the Roman Ruins of Itálica Near Sevilla

Shame on me: my blog friend Trevor Huxham of A Texan In Spain pointed out that, in six years blogging about Seville, I’ve not ONCE written about Itálica, a former Roman settlement that you can practically see from the city. Trevor offered to write about this once-bustling city that saw Hadrian and Trajan grow up (while I go sulk in shame):

It’s a little-known fact that half an hour from the southern Spanish city of Sevilla you can find the ruins of an ancient Roman town. Now, I know you’re going to say, But Trevor, Sevilla started as the Roman city of Hispalis, why is this so special? Well, I’ll tell you. Modern Sevilla sits upon two thousand years of not just Roman history but also Moorish, Christian, and contemporary reworkings—so hardly any vestiges of the Roman city remain to be seen. The town of Itálica, however, was long deserted before major architectural upheavals beginning in the Middle Ages could erase its Roman character, so the ruins you see give you an idea what it was like ca. two millennia ago.

Itálica’s claim to fame is being the first Roman settlement in Spain. After a battle during the 2nd Punic War (which was fought between the ancient Mediterranean powers of Rome and Carthage), General Scipio’s troops became stationed at this outpost on the important Guadalquivir River. Centuries later, two of the city’s sons would become Roman emperors: Trajan and Hadrian. The brochure I picked up at the ruins explains that, despite being developed during those emperors’ reigns, the town fizzled out and was ultimately abandoned by the medieval era. The nearby pueblo of Santiponce was founded only in the 17th century.

The large amphitheater is what primarily draws folks to the ruins. About half the size of Rome’s Flavian Amphitheater (aka the Colosseum), it would have hosted sporting events and gladiator fights for the local population. For modern-day spectators, it no longer has such a Colosseum-esque grandeur, having lost its stair-step grandstands long ago. But you can still amble through the gently-lit galleries that link what remains of the seating and envision toga-clad Romans hurrying through the tunnels to the nearest urinal or picking up a box of popcorn from the concessions. (Forgive the anachronisms…I couldn’t resist!)

Beyond the amphitheater you can hike across an original Roman road and appreciate the ancient municipal street grid. Itálica has little left apart from a few house walls here, some foundations there, but what remains is particularly powerful. Colorful, pixelated mosaics set a scene of reclining diners enjoying bread and wine…or they recall the pensive, candlelit face of a woman pacing the colonnaded porch, in between first and second sleeps. You can touch the still-sharp, right-angle bricks that form corners of a shop or a bedroom and wonder—who must have made those bricks, who must have set them in place? Sleepy from too much bread at lunch, peer inside a shadowy oven and imagine a tunic-clad baker removing warm loaves that would have fed the town.

It’s fun to fantasize about what life might have been like in a Roman town, but there’s only so much you can do with stone foundations. Most of the fascinating artifacts, statues, and inscriptions are housed in the Archaeology Museum of Sevilla, a museum that you can find in the Maria Luisa Park just to the south of Sevilla’s historic center. Inside, you can see impressive, sprawling mosaics, serene busts depicting the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, and even political documents written on bronze tablets. Don’t miss this museum when you visit Itálica!

How to get there

The ruins aren’t technically in Sevilla proper but in a suburb called Santiponce. I took the M-172 bus line from Sevilla’s big Plaza de Armas bus station to the end of the line, where I was dropped off in front of the entrance (Avenida de Extremadura, 2). Itálica is free for EU residents and 1,50€ for everyone else.

Trevor Huxham is a language assistant in between teaching placements in Úbeda (Andalucía) and Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). A native of Texas, he blogs at A Texan in Spain where you are welcome to say “howdy!” and stick around for a while.

Have you ever been to the Itálica ruins before? Do you prefer exploring remnants of the past or taking in contemporary culture more? Comment below!

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