Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spain: Seville and Cordoba

By Melissa at 4:03 PM
We decided to spend a total of 12 days in Andalusia, the southernmost province in Spain, visiting four cities. Andalusia is said to be the most quintessentially Spanish part of Spain, the source of bullfighting, flamenco, sherry and old castles.

Our first stop was Seville, where we arrived in time for the last half of the annual Semana Santa (Holy Week or Easter) celebration. Several cities in Andalusia host elaborate processions in which local churches parade carved statues of Jesus and Mary set on top of platforms lavishly decorated in velvet, gold, candles and flowers. The huge and incredibly heavy floats are carried through the streets along a prescribed route by 'costaleros.' Also part of each procession are the 'nazarenos,' or followers, who've devoted themselves to a particular church, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, and carry crucifixes or candles. Marching bands cap off the procession on both ends. The processions leave their respective churches anywhere between 11pm and 1am in the morning and last up to 10 hours. The floats are so heavy that the processions must stop every once in a while to give the costaleros time to rest. Some of the processions have been happening since the 1300s. The processions in Seville's are supposed to be the most elaborate, with over 50 processions planned throughout the week.

Unless of course it rains, which it did... a lot.

The statues are considered works of art and as such, the processions are cancelled if it rains. But the atmosphere on the street was still quite festive. The city was packed with tourists and many of the Sevillanos were dressed to the nines--men in smart suits and the women in black dresses wearing their finest mantillas. Starting around 10pm the streets took on a surreal atmosphere as the nazarenos, whose outfits clearly inspired the Klu Klux Klan, walk in silence from their homes to their respective churches and report for duty. The decision to take out the floats (due to the current weather conditions) are made at the last minute, so everyone involved in the procession still show up. Having hundreds of people walking around in long robes with hoods covering their heads towards some unknown location makes you feel like you're in a movie about a secret society who gathers to perform human sacrifice or some other secret ritual. It was like Eyes Wide Shut meets the Da Vinci Code.

Virgin Mary float
From Seville, Spain

Nazarenos in the procession
From Seville, Spain

More Nazarenos going to where they need to be
From Seville, Spain

We saw a grand total of one procession in the four days we were there, but it was quite an impressive sight and we fortunately did get to see some of the most famous floats on display in their respective churches, the day after their processions were cancelled.

The other main attraction in Andalusia are the impressive Moorish monuments. In Seville we saw the Alcazar, a medieval palace that has undergone many renovations and expansions, but is still a prime example of Mudejar architecture. There has been a palace or citadel on the site currently occupied by the Alcazar since Roman times. The gardens in the back are equally impressive and home to several peacocks.

Patio de las Doncellas within the Alcazar
From Seville, Spain

Fountain in the gardens of the Alcazar
From Seville, Spain

A peacock chillin' in the gardens of the Alcazar
From Seville, Spain

Also impressive is Seville's cathedral, which took a century to complete (1402-1506) and is the largest Gothic church in the world. Inside you'll find a monument to Christopher Columbus, which houses his remains, and an impressive altar, the largest in the world, consisting of 45 carved scenes from the bible. Inside the cathedral you can gain access to La Giralda, or the cathedral's bell tower. The structure was originally built as a minaret and watch tower and is considered the culmination of Almohad architecture. It was used as a model for minarets built in Rabat and Marrakkech. We climbed to the top of the tower for a great view of the city.

The top of the Cathedral and the Giralda
From Seville, Spain

Christopher Columbus's tomb
From Seville, Spain

La Giralda
From Seville, Spain

Seville was one of our favorite cities so far to just walk around in and relax. In the city are hundreds of orange trees lining the streets and at this time of year they are full of dozens of ripe oranges.

Next up was Cordoba, another beautiful city, located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River and filled with great parks and plazas. It was the largest city in Roman Spain and the Islamic Caliphate during the Middle Ages.

The main, and really one of the only attractions in Cordoba is the Mezquita, a mosque completed in the 10th century, considered the greatest mosque in Spain. It has a beautiful mihrab, or prayer niche, and over 1200 columns. After the Reconquista, the building was used as a church and in the early 1500s the Catholic church was granted permission to build a cathedral nave and chorus in the center of the prayer hall. When the renovations were complete, King Carlos of Spain commented that "You have built what you or others might have built anywhere in the world, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world" and we have to agree. The architecture of the cathedral is really at odds with that of the mosque and subsequent renovations and have certainly taken away from the grandness of the original form. But it is still quite an impressive building and Brian spent a lot of time trying to perfect his pictures in the low lighted halls.

The many columns and arches of the Mezquita
From Cordoba, Spain

Extended exposure in the Mezquita
From Cordoba, Spain

Outside of the Mezquita is La Juderia, the old Jewish quarter, which has many cute narrow streets to wander around in the afternoons. We rented bikes for an afternoon and took advantage of all of the great bike lanes, parks and riverfront views.

Street with flowers in the Juderia
From Cordoba, Spain

Biking
From Cordoba, Spain

The Mezquita and the Roman Bridge at sunset
From Cordoba, Spain

Fun with extended exposures
From Cordoba, Spain

After two days in Cordoba we headed to Ronda, an adorable mountain town and Granada, home of the exquisite Alhambra. We'll write about those towns in a later post.