Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sevilla, Spain: Faith, Flamenco and Flavor

The Andalusian capital city of Sevilla (Seville in English) was recommended to us by many people when we spoke of our upcoming Spanish travels. One thing that especially intrigued me about the city was that around Easter religion dominates the highly Catholic region with a lengthy celebration know as Semana Santa (Holy Week). Semana Santa is apparently celebrated in many cities throughout Spain, and particularly in the Andalusian region, however in my research Sevilla’s celebration was rumored to be the most magnificent. So when our host in Toledo recommended we visit the city, and I realized our time could easily correspond with the beginning of these celebratory activities, I thought to myself (and said to Drew) “Let’s do it!”

Less than 24 hours later we had our train tickets in hand, a centrally located accommodation booked, and excitement building.

We arrived in Sevilla on Saturday evening around 10:30, after a six hour bus ride from Madrid. Our hosts, Karren and Chris met us at the bus station to give us our keys, a map, and a warm welcome and a few minutes later we were walking up the steps to our next “home.”

The place was perfect; stylish, clean, and centrally located. We rested up Saturday evening and Sunday we began our exploration!

We wandered, walked, and absorbed the city. We immediately liked it. It was bigger than Toledo, smaller than Madrid. It had a great feel and a unique character with its gorgeous old buildings that you see so much in Europe that they almost become common, except for that fact that we just don’t get them at home so they could never get old! It had personality and style, old and new, hidden alleys and bustling plazas.
A typical gorgeous sight in the city
Drew and I in front of the Cathedral
The Cathedral
The Cathedral and fountain

Around two, after exploring for a few hours, we decided to take a rest on a fountain in a plaza near the Cathedral  People had been setting up endless rows of chairs outside the church and in many different parts of the city. We had heard about the religious processionals that were supposed to begin today, but hadn't seen anything.
Resting by the Cathedral
Then we heard something; a marching band. We walked a couple hundred feet to the main road outside the Cathedral and the procession had found us! It consisted of a marching band, followed by hundreds or thousands of people walking in white robes with tall pointed hats. Eerily they reminded us of KKK costumes, but of course they were nothing of the sort. (Apparently the KKK adapted the costumes from these religious processions in Spain into their outfits, which most people now associate with a fearful and gruesome symbolism).

In addition to the robed walkers there were massive “floats” (for lack of a better term) emblazoned with gold, figurines of different religious scenes, and detailed adornment. As the first of these passed us, just inches away, we realized that these “floats” were not moving on wheels or motorized – they were being carried! We saw the human feet along the edge marching perfectly in sync, and even watched the men lower down, and later, pick up the structures. It was incredible! These things are huge, old, and must weigh a ton!

We watched the procession for an hour and decided to walk against its flow to find the end – it seemed that the robed people just kept coming! Finally we found the “caboose” which consisted of a second elaborate float with the virgin atop it. Behind the procession, people were swarming, heading to their favorite bar for a drink and some tapas. This is clearly one of the most important days of the year – everyone is dressed beautifully – men all in suits, women in cocktail dresses and their highest heels (I didn't envy them walking on the cobblestone streets!), and children fancied up in their special outfits.

Taking a break...this is how these "floats" are powered.
Apparently people pay to carry them!

Later that night we headed out to dinner at a restaurant that I read about online, Al Solito Posto – supposedly they had gluten free pizza and pasta and even prepared it in a separate kitchen from the gluten-containing food. I ordered meat tortellini and I even received my own (large!) gluten free roll and crunchy bread stick things. Drew got spaghetti and his was OK – mine was fabulous – but anytime I can get gluten free pasta safely prepared is an amazing moment, so it no longer takes as much to impress me. I guess my standards are lower – if I can eat it I am excited!
GF place mat to alert servers I need GF food!
My gluten free tortellini!
On our walk home from dinner we started to hear music. We quickly came upon a procession. The streets were flooded with people again and our route home was blocked. We managed to get around it for a moment, but quickly realized that they were heading in the direction we needed to go and we would simply have to follow them! And so we did. It was a long, drawn out walk until we got to the plaza where they split off from us. It was exhausting, crowded and a bit frustrating, but overall a pretty special experience.
During our next day in the city we ran into processionals two more times and saw robed people several additional times, walking from point A to B. It seemed that their outfits changed day to day, with the colors evolving and seemingly having some type of important symbolism that was unclear to us.

The next day we walked some more, visiting the famous Plaza de Espana and later the Plaza de Toros where we took a tour and learned about the history and current controversial practice of bullfighting (which is now illegal in several parts of Spain). Little did we know, six bulls are killed in every bullfight, and occasionally horses (and humans) get killed as well. That night we went to a local bar to get a taste of flamenco that is so famous here!
Plaza de Espana

One of the bulls who was a casualty - notice the ear missing - this is part of the "game"
The blur of a flamenco dancer in motion!
Overall, our time in the city was fun, exciting, and varied. We got to experience firsthand the importance of religion to the people, and we also got to see the way they gathered and celebrated post-processional. We watched a flamenco show, enjoyed gluten free food. We walked a lot and didn't find any use for the public transportation available. At one point Drew asked me if I had to pick RIGHT NOW to live in Madrid, Toledo or Sevilla which would I pick? I picked Sevilla; preferring its medium size over the hugeness of Madrid and the slightness of Toledo. Madrid was cool but didn't have a real character of its own – it could be anywhere in Europe to me. Toledo had a ton of character, but everything is almost too similar. Sevilla has character, but variety. It meshes the old and new well and seems to be a great place to live, not just to be a tourist.

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