Searching Seville Spain for its Heroes, History, and Architecture

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We're sitting at an outdoor cafe on the Alameda de Hercules, a broad tree-lined boulevard in central Seville, Spain's fourth largest city and the capital of Andalusia. Legend has it that Hercules discovered Seville and the Alameda is named after that mythic hero. Hecrules didn't, of course, but old stories die hard and Seville has parlayed the Greek hero, or at least his name, into a tourist attraction.

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Alameda de Hercules

The Alameda de Hercules used to be seedy. Now it's a trendy hangout for artists, hipsters and tourists. I notice two large columns at the end of the street. One carries the figure of Julius Caesar, the other is Hercules. I wonder what the son of Zeus would make of us mortals sipping lattes below. Seville sure loves its heroes, I think to myself, as I chomp into my biscotti.

Christopher Columbus: Hero of Seville

It's a short walk from my apartment off the Alameda to The Avenue de la Constitution, Seville's major downtown spine. The street is packed with pedestrians and those ubiquitous sidewalk cafes. There's also a tram that goes down the middle. The Avenue takes us to two major landmarks and the resting place of Christopher Columbus, another local hero.

The Catedral de Sevilla, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, is quite imposing as we approach it from the front but turning the corner reveals a more delicate facade. The stonework has been chiselled to look like lace, especially the area around the Door of Conception, one of 12 entranceways to the church.

Inside, the central nave rises to a height of 40 metres and is lavishly decorated with gilt and statuary. And over there, just inside the southern door, stands the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It's a sarcophagus really, carried aloft by four allegorical figures representing the medieval kingdoms of Spain, Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Leon. They are well traveled remains. Seville says the Italian-born explorer is buried in their city but Santo Domingo claims the bones rest in the New World. The debate has raged on for 500 years.

The Legendary Alcazar

Immediately adjacent to the cathedral stands the Alcazar, a Moorish palace that predates its Christian neighbour. It's plain, stone walls are a sharp contrast to the Catedral's refined facade but looks can be deceiving. We enter through the Puerto de Leon, or Lion's Gate, which leads us to a small garden and an airy central courtyard.

Originally built in the 10th century, the Alcazar has all the trappings of a Moorish palace but in fact the structure was refurbished and expanded by Seville's Christian overlords 300 years later.

Successive Catholic monarchs continued their embellishments in the Islamic style and as a result, the scalloped archways, patterns and mosaic tiles reflect the palace's original Moorish roots. There are some Christian additions though. In 1503, Ferdinand and Isabella built a wing to facilitate trade with the New World, the Casa de Contratacion. The Casa includes a chapel where the monarchs received Columbus after his second voyage.

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We leave the Alcazar for the Jardines de Murillo, a public park that runs parallel to the Alcazar's southeastern wall, and it's here that we find yet another homage to Columbus, two huge columns split in half with the prows of two ships and at the very top -- a lion.

Spain's Unlikely But Lovable Hero is Immortalized at the Plaza d'Espana

Discovery and expansion are prominent themes in Seville. The city is proud of its global accomplishments. The Plaza d'Espana, created for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 with the express purpose of showing off Spanish industry and ingenuity, sits on the edge of Seville's largest park, Parque de Maria Luisa.

The architecture is striking; a mix of Art Deco, popular in the day, and neo-Mujedar, a weird meld of Moorish and Gothic with a touch of Romanesque thrown in for good measure. The distinctive brick buildings are arranged in a half-moon with a moat in the middle.

We spot an elderly couple punting about the canal in a rowboat available for a rental spin around the moat. Four heavily tiled and decorated bridges cross the waterway to the huge Vincent Traver fountain in the middle.

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Forty-eight tiled alcoves, each representing a Spanish province, bite into the building's walls. My wife takes my picture in front of the alcove commemorating the province of Cuidad Real. Cuidad Real is La Mancha country and the setting for the misadventures of Don Quixote, Spain's misguided but lovable buffoon. Naturally, the alcove carries a picture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and can be seen in the alcove behind my left shoulder. It's not Christopher Columbus but what the heck, we take the picture anyway. Like I say, Seville honors its heroes, both real and imagined.

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John Thomson is a former television news and current affairs producer from Vancouver, British Columbia and a member of TMAC, the Travel Media Association of Canada. Thanks to the networks, he has traveled extensively throughout North America. The rest of the world has been on his own dime. His Spanish stories are part of an ongoing series of international dispatches.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 22nd, 2015

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