Sunday 14 July 2013
Our journey has taken us to a few of Europe’s amazing cities—Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon to name a few. But there seems to be no end to the wonders of Seville. Perhaps it is because Seville was the centre of world trade for a few centuries. Perhaps it is because Seville has been a melting pot for three of the world’s great religious and cultural traditions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Whatever the reasons, we could have filled our entire eleven-week itinerary with destinations in Seville. Given our rule about not rushing around, and given that we had only three days left, we decided to tackle two of the big attractions: the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Alcàzar. Our ongoing exploration of the food in Seville was to yield mixed results.
The Museo de Bellas Artes is one of those eye-goggling galleries where art competes with architecture for the viewer’s attention. One of the rooms is a gallery of cathedral proportions, where vast paintings are displayed. (I didn’t know it was possible to mount canvasses that were about the same area as a football field.) It took us several hours to work our way through the permanent collection, which is arranged in roughly chronological order; but was worth taking our time and getting to the C20th paintings, because some of the latter are absolutely stunning.
Once we had taken in as many paintings as we could bear to admire in a single day, we wandered out into the heat in search of lunch. Unfortunately, we found ourselves in a part of Seville that is rather dead during the siesta hours, and we sat down to some tapas that were very ordinary and mostly unsuitable for Ruby, who is a vegetarian.
When we arrived at one of Seville’s other heavy-hitting sights—the Alcàzar– we were glad to escape from the heat of day into the cool, tiled surrounds. We purchased some audio guides, which are usually informative; but they are also prone to technical problems, which can be annoying. I was surprised to learn that parts of the Alcázar were built by Muslim architects who were commissioned by Christian Kings. Small factoids like this get us interested in the history of relations between the various religions that have shaped this and other cities in Andalucía. This factoid does not gel with the rivalry and armed conflict that usually gets foregrounded in the potted explanations that interpret monuments and artworks for tourists. We should not be too surprised to learn that history is more complicated; but if there is a time and a place where Judaism, Christianity and Islam interacted peacefully and productively, it would be nice to know more about it, if only to provide some hope for the future. In the meantime, we shall cling to our humanist scepticism towards religion, and our political convictions about the separation of church and state.
The tiles, wood carvings and plaster mouldings of the Alcázar are endlessly intriguing, and they create an environment that is simply delicious in the heat of day. Eventually, however, one is drawn out into the gardens, which also offer beautiful, cool places to sit and contemplate. I sometimes wonder what Australian architecture would be like had Terra Australis been colonised by Spain or Portugal. The Mujédar style seems much better suited to hot climates like ours than the colonial styles we inherited from the British.
After whiling away our afternoon in the Royal playground of Seville, we headed back to the Cerveceria La Catedral, where we knew we could cool down and order some decent vegetarian dishes. We ordered Berenjenas Catedral, Contrast salad, and tapas of baked mushroom. Susie and I also tried the fried bocarones, which were nice but not as nice as the cold pickled ones we have come to love so much.
We returned to the apartment for a siesta until 10:30 p.m. and then emerged with the good citizens of Seville to enjoy the Alameda in the cool of the late evening. We tried one of the busy cervezerias in the centre of the Alameda. Ruby ordered Fragata, I ordered cerveza, and Susie ordered the world’s worst Margarita—which was undrinkable. We also sampled a dish that we have been curious about since we first arrived in Spain—patatas bravas. We suspected that this was junk food, i.e. French fries with something like tartare sauce. Whilst our suspicion turned out to be correct—it is indeed junk food—we also discovered that it is wickedly delicious if done well.