Sevilla-Cathedral versus Alcazar

Sevilla is 2000 years old with the usual group of defining influences Romans, Moors and Christians. The city sits on the Guadalquivir river, which is very difficult to pronounce, but which provided navigatable access to the sea so that vessels could dock in the port of Sevilla.

Sevilla has a Cathedral and an Alcazar which are its two major attractions. But which is the best?  Here they go head to head.

The Cathedral took eighty or a hundred years of construction effort, depending on your source (say 1434- to say 1511), it is enormous and it’s very gothic. It has the thickest supporting stone pillars I think I’ve ever seen and is decorated with extreme wooden carvings inside.

The Alcazar is a palace which was first built in 913 as a fort. The Moors worked on it for a couple of hundred years from sometime in the 1000’s. The Christians arrived in 1248 and used it as their main palace and continued with the building works.

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The cathedral has the biggest altarpiece in the world. Created between 1482 and 1564 it contains over a thousand carved figures !

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Seville gained great wealth from having sole Castillian rights to trade with the American colonies. Fitting, therefore, that Christopher Columbus ashes are held in this large box in the cathedral.

The cathedral is certainly very large, it is still the largest cathedral in the World, the two churches that are larger don’t have an Archbishop so they aren’t cathedrals. The big churches are St Peter’s at the Vatican and a church with a long name in Brazil that can hold 70,000 worshippers. In particular, the Sevilla cathedral is tall. I can imagine the effort that it took to move all those enormous stones and place them one on top of another until they finished up 42 metres high in the main churchy drag, called the central nave. The tower is an even more impressive 105 metres tall that has been built with ramp access so horses can be ridden up there, which we did not attempt. An incredible feat for the age. Perhaps more impressive if it had been engineered sufficiently to prevent the roof falling in. Firstly, in 1511, shortly after version 1.0 had been completed and secondly after an earthquake in 1888.

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Great big stone pillars holding up a great big stone roof over a great big stone floor.

The Alcazar is light and bright and adorned with carved arches, stucco and many courtyards that reflect a different Moorish mindset. It is joyous to walk around and at 17,000 square metres it has also been built on quite a scale. I say this to compare with the the cathedral which was deliberately done large, but which is, by my calculations, 1,500 square metres smaller in footprint.

 

The visit to the Alcazar is made all the more delightful by the sounds of running water and the various ponds stocked with fish and the extraordinary underground baths.

 

Just when you have decided that this is a most fabulous experience, there’s more:imageimage

Seven hectares of gardens by the side of the Alcazar. They are well maintained and again feature many pools, plus shaded walkways and elevated viewing corridors.

Judgement:

I found the cathedral to be dark and oppressive. During the last sixty years of the cathedrals construction the Catholics were ramping up the Inquisition. Torturing people (Jews and Arabs and others) and burning them to death with both Papal and Royal support. This suggests to me the Catholics of the time liked their religion to be served with a lot of suffering (mostly of non Catholics but not exclusively so). With this context, for me the Cathedral’s architecture reflects and captures the brutal misery of those times.

During the last twenty years of the cathedral’s build “trade” was starting with the new lands of the Americas and bringing great wealth to Sevilla. I place the word trade between rabbits ears as I understood that much of the bounty from the new lands was extracted forcibly, an activity similar to theft. Upshot was, Sevilla and the royal family had increasingly large amounts of cash to splash. Behind every great fortune there is a great crime. In this instance a slice of the great fortune was spent on, what I think is, an ugly cathedral, with a funding model that was also ugly.

The Alacazar and its gardens were light and bright, joyous expressions of the people who designed them, the Moors. Altogether a happier, more uplifting place to be.

As a cheapskate I occasionally stand next to tour guides without subscribing. The tour leader I stood next to for five minutes at the Alcazar was pointing out the Star of David incorporated into a window design. She explained how the Moors thought that everyone should get along famously for mutual benefit. As a result the Moors didn’t persecute Jews or Christians. As a result I have awarded contextual moral high ground points to the Alcazar.

At the Alhambra, and from my free audience at the Alcazar, I learnt the Moors were highly advanced in architecture and engineering, they were navigating using the stars and were great educators. I chose to see this advancement reflected in a more aesthetically designed edifice than the cathedral, more points.

The Spanish royal family have rooms at the Alcazar which they use. I decided Felipe VI and his family would like me to allocate liveability points to the Alcazar on their behalf. Finally, at Euros 9, the Alcazar has an entrance fee that is 50 cents cheaper than the Cathedral. That Cathedral just cannot take a trick.

Final score: Alcazar awarded bags full of points from many perspectives. The Cathedral many points also, but many negative ones which nets it out under water. The Alcazar is a must visit while in Sevilla.

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Sevilla-The City

Sevilla is a city whose attraction is not entirely the “things” it contains. Its greatest attraction is the layout and physical appearance of the city itself. It is a city that rewards walking. The streets are consistently cobbled, by small stones. The streets are narrow and winding and completely impractical for modern vehicles, for which they were not designed. The streets are completely practical for the meandering tourist on foot.

The narrowness protects against the sun and the considerate folks at the Town Hall have also strung textiles between many buildings to provide further shade. It was 38 degrees each day when we were here in early July hence the need for this protection.

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There are certain themes that repeat in the architecture through the city and work to tie it together. In this instance it is these strange narrow mud coloured bricks. They are laid to create the niches/cut outs along the horizontal length of buildings. I hadn’t seen it before and enjoyed seeing the trait repeated as we toured the streets.

Many modern cities have historic origins and have often allowed new buildings that are inconsistent with the originals. Geometric concrete for example would jar if set against Sevilla’s historical architecture. So it looks to me that such developments have been prevented. I think I saw one ugly modern thing, no more than that.

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We saw lots of this. Facadism it may be. Developments obliged to retain the original streetscape appearance, developers may create whatever horrors they create, hidden from consumption of the strolling Sevillian. A great idea, well done the Ayuntamiento de Sevilla, if that was your doing.

Much of the life of the city is provided by the many bars and restaurants. So many it’s difficult to understand how they all survive. Many are located in tiled establishments whose outsides look to have been unchanged for a hundred years.

There is one thing that has been built here in recent times that is a marvel. It’s official name is Metropol Parasol. Commonly referred as Las Setas, the mushrooms, because, well the because is obvious when you look at them. Built of wood….. concrete footings and supporting columns, concrete reinforcing and metal jointing…the rest is wood. The largest wooden building in the world, they say, with a slightly blind eye set towards the concrete. It looks incredible. For 3 euros you go up to the walkway on level 2, and stroll across the top. Roman ruins were identified in the construction and have been preserved within the basement. I thought it was a lovely original piece of architecture:

Finally, to repeat the point about enjoying the city without using wheels. We watched the poor man below for a few minutes until we got bored. He had got his delivery van jammed in a narrow street. He was last seem attempting to reverse back the way he had come. Good luck. Sevilla is a great city to discover on foot.image

 

 

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