Seville being our first stop back in Spain I was expecting a city that, like most others, had developed itself into the 21st century at a cost to it’s heritage but I was soon proven wrong. As we approached the old quarter the crowds started to thicken and an exciting vibe filled the air.
The first sight we visited was the Alcazar which started life as a fort under the moors (although there were small but definite signs of Jewish influence as well), then a palace for the local nobility.
One of the wings hosted an exhibition on local ceramics and tiles dating back several centuries.
Next up was Seville Cathedral whose most famous tomb belongs to Christopher Columbus.
The cathedral is a massive structure with a bell tower in one corner that allowed visitors to ascend to the top for a magnificent view of the city. The first thing you notice upon entering the tower is that you ascend via one large spiralling ramp, ie: no stairs. I later found the reason for this was to allow guards to quickly reach their positions via horseback.
As we left the cathedral we came across this roving band/choir(?) singing ‘Cielito Lindo’ which worked the crowd into a real party atmosphere until they started passing the plate around.
Adding a touch of modernism to the city is the Metropol Parasol, claiming to be the largest wooden building in the world. Roman ruins were found at the beginning of the build and have been cleverly incorporated into an underground museum.
The Plaza de España, built for a 1929 exposition started out as a monument but today also houses government departments. It’s design cleverly represents the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. By the walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.
Cordoba welcomed us with a warm, bright day and although smaller than Seville it appeared to be swamped by twice as many tourists and as we visited each of the city’s main attractions it was easy to see why. Firstly the Mezquita has to be one of the most unique buildings I have ever seen and you really should read up on it’s fascinating history. Basically it is a mosque with a cathedral inside it. It is so large that Deb & I walked around the interior of the mosque for about 20 minutes before we found the cathedral (and it wasn’t small either).
There are only 3 medieval synagogues still surviving in Spain with 2 of those in Toledo and one in Córdoba. Unfortunately the synagogue itself was not much to see and what was there was more a remnant of it’s life under the moors. However, nearby was a Sephardic museum and this offered a peek on Jewish life in pre-inquisition Spain.
Travelling further north to Merida we were amazed to find the best collection & condition of Roman ruins we have ever seen (including Turkey). Being a small town off the main tourist route we were walking around what seemed more like a Roman ghost-town due to the lack of tourists & couldn’t believe we had this fantastic place almost to ourselves.
Highlights here include:
- The Puente Romano, a bridge that is still used by pedestrians, and the longest of all existing Roman bridges.
- The Alcazaba, built by the Muslim emir Abd ar-Rahman II in 835 on the Roman walls and Roman-Visigothic edifices in the area. The court houses Roman mosaics, while underground is a Visigothic cistern.
- Remains of the Forum, including the Temple of Diana, and of the Roman Provincial Forum, including the Arch of Trajan
- Remains of the Circus Maximus (1st century BC), one of the best preserved Roman circus buildings
- Patrician villa called the Villa Mitreo, with precious mosaic pavements
- The Amphitheatre, and the Roman theatre
After an overnight stop in Cáceres we continued on to Salamanca. By now we had seen many, many religious paintings most of which depicted some biblical highlight but I couldn’t figure out the one below.
Students of University of Salamanca, the oldest in Spain and third oldest in the world, are greeted with the old legend of the frog on the skull. It is presented as a challenge, that the students must spot the frog on the skull on the façade of the University, otherwise they will not be able to graduate as doctors.
Attempting to return to our campsite we boarded the wrong bus and had a lovely 1 hour round tour of suburban Salamanca before we finally found the right bus.
Looking to stop for the night we came across the town of Avila (also pictured at top of post) and it’s well-preserved 10th century walls. You’ll get a better view of these in my next flight video. Finally reaching Madrid we were glad to set camp for a few days and recharge the batteries. We spent the first day browsing two of the worlds finest galleries, the morning revealed all the romantic & classical works in the Museo Del Prado & the afternoon entertained with the abstracts, cubists & surrealists at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. By late afternoon we were on culture overload and so headed into Plaza Del Sol which definitely had a NY Times Square vibe. In fact we felt that Madrid lay somewhere between NYC & Sydney (without the beaches & harbour). There were thousands of young people filling the plazas and it was hard to believe it was just an ordinary sunny Saturday afternoon and not some festival.
Sunday morning in Madrid is a must for flea-market addicts and our visit to the El Rastro markets provided Deb with some much needed retail therapy, I have never seen so many people and so many stall-holders in one place! Although still galleried out from the previous day you cannot leave Madrid without a visit to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia a stunning gallery home to many works by Picasso including the civil war inspired ‘Guernica’.
Slowing the pace even further we spent the afternoon in the Parque del Buen Retiro which belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century.
A magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries and a peaceful lake
At this point I started to write a few things about the inquisition and the Spanish civil war but found it turning from a travel blog to a manifesto. So in an effort not to make it onto anyone’s ‘list’ I’ll leave it there and see you next time when we head for the Spanish Mediterranean coast.