Universal Seville has entered the 21st century in great form, adapting her urban framework to the functionality and modernity required by the capital of an autonomous province, but without comprising the historical city that was for centuries the gateway to the New World.
Seville today amalgamates perfectly the past, present and future, uniting modern business practice with the old ways and local colour in an inimitable way. Seville is made up of four major parts: the old part of the city, the site of the 1929 Exposition, Triana and the Isla de la Cartuja (Island of la Cartuja).
This part of the city is of most interest to visitors because of the artistic and architectural wealth represented here. You will find the districts of Santa Cruz and the Judería (Jewish Quarter), El Arenal, la Alameda de Hércules, and an area referred to by some as the Acropolis, with significant monuments such as the Catedral (Cathedral) the Giralda, the Reales Alcázares (Royal Fortresses) and the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), all of which are of immense artistic interest and contain valuable works of art such as paintings and sculptures.
The Arco del Postigo del Aceite (Arch of the Oil Gate) divides the ‘Acropolis’ from the district of Arenal, where you will find the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza (Maestranza Bull Ring) and the Teatro de la Maestranza (Maestranza Theatre), the Torre de la Plata (Silver Tower) and the Hospital de la Caridad (Charity Hospital) and the most famous of them all, the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower).
This is a busy commercial area with many small shops, and it is one of the most popular areas among the ‘movida juvenil’ (young people) especially in the calle Adriano in autumn and on the left bank of the Guadalquivir in spring.
It is beautiful to walk through the narrow streets of the districts of Santa Cruz and the Jewish quarter; you catch glimpses of the Giralda over the rooftops from time to time. It was here that the Jews and Hebrews established themselves after the reconquest of the city by Ferdinand III The Saint. The churches are outstanding, many of them crafted in Mudejar style or with beautiful Gothic ogives (pointed arches or windows).
The Alameda de Hércules is one of the most popular parks in Seville. It is said that Hercules founded Seville. It has a youthful and cultural atmosphere. During the city’s Carnaval it is a favourite meeting place. On Sunday mornings it is the setting for the popular Mercadillo de la Alameda (Alameda Market) where you can buy almost anything.
Exposition of 29 site
In the 1920s, Seville experienced a cultural renaissance that has been called Regionalismo (Regionalism), because it coincided with the rise of Andalusian patriotism championed by Blas Infante. At this time the Iberoamerican Exposition of 1929 was held, and many beautiful buildings were built in a lovely spot in Seville to mark the occasion. The nerve centre was the Parque de María Luisa (Maria Louisa Park).
Between the city centre and these buildings from the beginning of the 20th century there are beautiful buildings like the Palacio de San Telmo (San Telmo Palace), the headquarters of the Universidad Hispalense (Seville University, formerly a tobacco factory), the luxurious Hotel Alfonso XIII, and a few metres away the Casino de la Exposición and the Teatro Lope de Vega.
In the Parque de María Luisa are the Plaza de España and the Plaza de América, as well as many pavilions built for the Exposition of 29. Among these are the Royal Pavilion, and the pavilions of Mudejar, Domecq, México, Chile and Uruguay (the two latter are now the head offices of public institutions).
There are other Latin American pavilions along the Paseo de las Delicias and the Avenida de la Palmera, including those of Guatemala y Cuba. The latter is one of the most beautiful, and is today the headquarters for the Delegación del Gobierno de la Junta de Andalucía (Andalusia Autonomous Government Headquarters).
Triana is located on the other bank of the Guadalquivir River. It is joined to Seville by several bridges, including that of Isabel II also known as the Puente de Triana (Triana Bridge).
Triana has traditionally been a fishing district. It was once the site of the Reales Almonas, a factory that produced the most famous soap in the world. Pottery making has also historically been an important resource of this area.
There are plenty of famous streets in Triana, among them San Jacinto, Betis, Pureza and Castilla. Triana is a district that is thought of independently from Seville, in fact the locals refer to Triana and Seville separately, as if they were two different cities.
Churches and chapels abound in Triana. It even has its own cathedral Iglesia de Santa Ana). There is also a great tradition of religious guilds, such as the brotherhoods of Semana Santa (Easter) like La Estrella, San Gonzalo, la Esperanza de Triana, El Cachorro and La O.
This traditional area has many bars where you can try pescaíto frito (small, deep-fried fish), such as in the Kiosco de las Flores, one of Seville’s most characteristic restaurants.
Triana’s atmosphere is more reminiscent of the traditional districts of Seville in the 1930s and 1940s, than of today’s overcrowded cities.
Island of la Cartuja
At the end of the 1980s, the Isla de la Cartuja was practically virgin territory containing only the Monasterio de Santa María de las Cuevas (monastery), casa de Cartujos (house), and the old ceramics factory of the Marquis of Pickman.
The site was transformed by the Exposition of 1992. Roads and buildings were constructed, and the Island of la Cartuja became one of the most modern areas of Seville, much sought after by companies wishing to see up offices here. The extra-modern Escuela Superior de Ingenieros de la Universidad Hispalense (Engineering School of Seville University) and some private faculties are located here.
It is a spacious and well-lit place, although an inconvenience is that it is so spread out that it is not easy to walk from place to place.
Several attractions are located on the Island of la Cartuja. Among them are the fairground Isla Mágica (Magic Island), the El Alamillo park (an ideal place to get in touch with nature), the Centro de Alto Rendimiento where you can go rowing or canoeing, and the majestic Estadio Olímpico (Olympic Stadium).
What is more, some of the city’s most important art exhibitions take place in the monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas, such as that which commemorated the 400th anniversary of the birth of Velázquez.
History of Seville
Many poets and writers have used the legend of the origin of Seville in their works. Two such are the brothers Joaquín and Serafín Alvarez Quintero in their dramatic poem Historia de Sevilla (History of Seville) that begins:
‘Mr Hercules,/ bored on the planet, / was searching for a pretty place / to set up a tavern. / As he was passing a place / where today the Alameda stands, / (and it is because of what happened there that since then / it has the name it has), / he stopped in amazement; / breathing hard, / he looked at the ground, / then at the sky, / and said, ‘Brother, what a land’.
Contrary to the mythological version, scientific history verifies 7,000 years of the dolmens (prehistoric sepulchral chamber) at Aljarafe and El Gandúl, in the municipal district of Alcalá de Guadaira, although the ones at dólmenes de Valencina de la Concepción are more well known.
Archaeological remains also exist in the villages of the province, like at Carmona where the Museo de la Necrópolis (The Necropolis Museum) is located; Osuna, or the region of Estepa, has the oldest Iberian remains from southern Europe. You can view some of these remains in the Museo Arqueológico Municipal (Municipal Archaeology Museum) in Marchena.
In the year 800 BC, Phoenician merchants settled in the valley of the Guadalquivir River, in a city that may have been Seville: the city’s name, Tartessus, was given to the river and a kingdom. Biblical quotations and Greek historians confirm the existence of treasures such as that of El Carambolo. The Tartessians must have lived on the cornice of the Aljarafe, and their descendants established a city called Hispalis ‘ present-day Seville. In 206 BC the Second Punic War began, and Scipio reached these lands, defeated Asdrúbal and established the city of Itálica, the birthplace of the Roman emperors Hadrian and Trajan.
Italica fell in favour of Hispalis (Roman Seville). The city experienced a period of expansion and growth. A walled acropolis with several access doors was built, though nowadays all that remain are the Arco de la Macarena (Macarena Arch) and the Postigo del Aceite (Oil Gate).
Hispalis later moved between Cesar and Pompeyo who engaged in the battle of Munda in 43 BC (between Osuna and Estepa) in which Osuna emerged victor. After this, Hispalis became a Roman colony with the right of Roman citizenship. Vestiges of Roman civilisation remain in the city’s Museo Arqueológico (Archaeological Museum).
Hispalis was the true political, economic and administrative centre of the southern Iberian Peninsula. In the 4th century Christianity was legalised, and in the 5th and 6th centuries the Suevo and Visigothic invasions occurred.
The arrival of the Muslims in 711 caused a radical transformation in the whole Peninsula, though especially in the south which they inhabited longest. Isbilia (the Arabic name for Seville) blossomed with its Arabic-Andalusian culture mix. Jews, Christians, Mozarabs (Christians living under Arab rule) and various Arab ethnic groups lived together in harmony. Isbilia was an important city, although Cordoba’s status as capital of Andalusia rankled her citizens and caused several uprisings against Cordoba. Seville flourished culturally under the rule of al-Mutadid (11th century). In 1085 al-Mutadid was forced to call on the aid of the Almoravids and was subsequently exiled. Once again Seville bloomed culturally under the Almoravids and their successors the Almohads. The 12th century saw a flourishing economy, population growth, and extensive building projects. The Giralda, the minaret of the mosque, is a splendid example.
In 1248, Ferdinand III reconquered Isbilia and expelled the Muslims, and the city was renamed Seville. It was repopulated by Christians, and a significant Jewish quarter emerged. The Alcázar became the residence of the Christian monarchs. Seville blossomed, especially under Alfonso X the Wise, son of Ferdinand III, and Pedro I ‘The Cruel’.
You can see the Arabic influence in the religious buildings of the era, for example in churches such as
Santa Marina, (the) Iglesia de San Marcos o la torre de la iglesia de (or the tower of the church of) Iglesia de Santa Catalina.
Gate to America
In the 15th century under the Catholic monarchs Seville became great, despite events such as the establishment of the Inquisition. The city became the gateway to the New World with its discovery by Christopher Columbus.
18th and 19th centuries
Seville’s brilliance declined in the 18th century, though she retained memories of having been the most important city in Spain. The Napoleonic invasion occurred in the 19th century (1808-1812), and part of Seville’s artistic wealth was transported to France. After the departure of the French, Seville became immersed in the ups and downs of political life that were a feature of Spain for most of the century. At the end of the century of Romanticism, the renowned Spanish Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer emerged. He is commemorated in a beautiful monument in the Parque de María Luisa.
Republic and War
The Iberoamerican Exposition of 1929 in Seville was the first significant event in the 20th century that began a new renaissance. Witness to this event are beautiful monuments such as Plaza de España.
Later came the brief period of the Second Republic (the first was in the 1870s), and the Franco regime. Queipo de Llano took La Plaza de Sevilla the day after the uprising of 18 July 1936, and the city scarcely felt the effects of the war ‘ unlike many other parts of Spain, such as Barcelona and Madrid. The nation-wide famine of the 1940s hit the country hard. In the 1950s and 1960s, in the middle of the dictatorship, the country began to recover somewhat.
With the arrival of democracy at the end of the 1970s, and the establishment of the Statute of Autonomies, Seville became the provincial capital and headquarters of its principal autonomous bodies. It retains the status of one of the most important capitals of Spain, and among its most beautiful. The staging of the International Exposition of 1992 in Seville endowed the city with an impressive infrastructure, including communications, accommodation and restaurants, ensuring many prospects for progress into the 21st century. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art) now administers some of the Expo pavilions.