419 steps. That’s what I figured. There were ramps not actual steps, but I took 12 steps for each inclining ramp, and there were 34 of them. 34 up, up, and more up. At the end, just when I thought I was done, there were 17 stair steps, steep stair steps, to the top of the tower. The views ... there was all of Sevilla. In all directions historic center, old city, new city, expanding city, the river that once was the gateway to the sea, a once thriving trade capital for the Iberian Peninsula and for all of Europe, and now still a growing city finding its new identity. Sevilla. Yes, it was worth the climb.
We had left Madrid Tuesday morning, and we had driven nearly 6 hours to arrive at our hotel in Sevilla, a grand city that is still the capital of the Andalucía region here in Spain. Our hotel, an actual palace in the 1700s, had been restored, refurbished, and transformed into a boutique hotel close to the historic center of Sevilla.
After we checked in, it was early enough to go exploring so off we went. We walked for nearly 2 hours and finally stopped at a delightful restaurant advertising tapas and wine. It was Michelin rated and the food was excellent. It was after 10:00 when we walked out into the cool crisp night air. A sliver moon over head and we were content. Fulfilled. We turned on the GPS on the iPhone and began our journey back to the hotel. Twisting and turning through the charming tiny streets, past tiny tapas bars and hidden courtyards, and soon we realized we were lost. The GPS voice kept talking but the directions made less and less sense and apparently we were getting further and further away from our hotel. When the GPS said we had 2 more kilometers to go, Enrique hailed a taxi. Our driver laughed and told us that it was impossible to find our hotel with Google Maps. I think he was just being polite. He drove us through a maze of alleyways and in roughly 2 kilometers we were home.
Wednesday: We walked the old town and spent the afternoon at Real Alcázar, the major Moorish and then Catholic palace that is still the Sevilla residence for the current royal family. The palace is breathtakingly beautiful with strong Moorish influences that remain from it inception and that were enhanced in the 15th Century, mainly by Charles V and Isabella, and again in the 16th and 17th Centuries by the Catholic Kings. I came away amazed and sad.
Amazed at the beauty of the Moorish and Muslim traditions expressed in the Royal Alcázar Palace. There was such a sense and respect for the romance of life and such a respect and honoring of beauty. The geometric elegance and excellence were fascinating and mesmerizing. I stood in this room and that one -- rooms meticulously measured and designed and adorned with intricate precise tile patterns or mosaics -- and just took in as much as I could. Almost overwhelmed.
Such beauty, such mysticism, such science, such mastery. My eyes often blurred with tears. “Beauty is eternal.” I remembered.
I also came away sad because of what has happened to that richness and that honoring of humanity and humankind that was so profoundly woven into that tradition. Ignorance, a lack of understanding, along with bigotry, anger, hate, and revenge have ravaged so much of human goodness and truth. I also walked away remembering. “Goodness and Truth shall prevail, and Beauty is eternal.” It’s important to remember. There’s magic in remembering.
Thursday: We spent much of Thursday exploring two churches: “El Salvador Divino” (The Divine Savior) and the Cathedral of Seville. In the 12th Century, the conquering Christians pushed the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. In Sevilla, the conquerors tore down the majestic Mosque and built an even more massive Cathedral. Not more majestic but more massive. The legend says they wanted to build a Cathedral so that (paraphrase) “All who saw it would think they were madmen.”
The smaller church was amazingly beautiful. Stunning. Currently they are cleaning and preparing the huge statutes that will be carried during next week’s Easter Week Processions. The men will be carrying massive statues that weight tons. The platforms rest on the men’s shoulders. Only their feet show as they march slowly and with precision through the streets of Sevilla from noon until 2:00 a.m. Yeah, 14 hours. Unbelievable, but it’s the tradition; it’s the ritual.
The Cathedral, not so beautiful, is huge. Gigantic. It is the third largest in the world next to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St Paul’s in London, and it’s the number one largest Gothic cathedral in the world. As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, we decided to climb the tower. It was initially the Mosque Tower. Rather than stairs, there were ramps so that the cleric could ride a horse to the top five times per day to call the people to prayer. The Christians didn’t destroy the tower. Instead they added height to it, and the two architectural styles are evident. As I walked I counted steps. Each ramp, 12 to 14 steps so I did the math at 12 steps. For someone young, eager, and naive, it probably would be 10 steps per ramp, but I am not young or naive, so 12 steps. It was a worthy and fitting finish to our church/Cathedral exploration.
Within that historic center there’s the Santa Cruz barrio which is notorious for its even narrower streets that interweave to create a seemingly endless maze. It’s easy to get lost; we did a couple of times. It’s an enchanting area of the city. Tiny shops, tapas bars, small houses with their interior courtyards normally hidden from view, little garden parks, and more tiny alleyways leading to who know where. We returned to this area several times in the daylight just to explore and to feel the energies and to get lost. So alive.
Friday we are on the road again heading to Arco de la Frontera, one of the “Pueblos Blancos” -- the white villages -- of the Andalucía region.