“Seville,” wrote Byron, “is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women.” And for its heat, he might perhaps have added, since SEVILLE’s summers are intense and start early, in May. Seville has three important monuments and an illustrious history, but what it’s essentially famous for is its own living self – the greatest city of the Spanish south, of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro, and the archetype of Andalucian promise. This reputation for gaiety and brilliance, for theatricality and intensity of life does seem deserved. It’s expressed on a phenomenally grand scale at the city’s two great festivals – Semana Santa (Holy Week at Easter) and the Feria de Abril (which starts two weeks after Easter Sunday and lasts a week). Either is worth considerable effort to get to. Seville is also Spain’s second most important centre for bullfighting, after Madrid.
Despite its elegance and charm, and its wealth, based on food processing, shipbuilding, aircraft construction and a thriving tourist industry, Seville lies at the centre of a depressed agricultural area and has an unemployment rate of nearly twenty percent – one of the highest in Spain. The total refurbishment of the infrastructure boosted by the 1992 Expo – including impressive new roads, seven bridges, a high-speed rail link and a revamped airport – was intended to regenerate the city’s (and the region’s) economic fortunes, but has hardly turned out to be the catalyst for growth and prosperity promised at the time. Indeed, some of the colossal debts are still unpaid two decades later.
Seville’s old city – where you’ll want to spend most of your time – is sited along the east bank of the Guadalquivir. At its heart, side by side, stand the three great monuments: the Giralda tower, the Catedral and the Alcázar, with the cramped alleyways of the Barrio Santa Cruz, the medieval Jewish quarter and now the heart of tourist life, extending east of them.
North of here is the main shopping and commercial district, its most obvious landmarks Plaza Nueva, Plaza Duque de la Victoria and the smart, pedestrianized c/Sierpes, which runs roughly between them. From La Campana, the small square at the northern end of c/Sierpes, c/Alfonso XII runs down towards the river by way of the Museo de Bellas Artes, second in importance in Spain only to the Prado in Madrid. Across the river is the earthier, traditionally working-class district of Triana, flanked to the south by the Los Remedios
barrio, the city’s wealthier residential zone where the great April feria takes place.