There’s nowhere in the world we’d rather be on a sunny spring morning in April, than in Seville, ready to celebrate its grand annual fair – the Feria de Abril. This year, to mark the festivities, we asked 12 local experts to share a favourite corner of their home city. Their choices range from hidden plazas to sumptuous palaces, from medieval streets charged with history, to secret church courtyards and glorious gardens exploding with colour. Together they prove true that old Spanish saying: “he who has not seen Seville, has not seen a marvel…”
1. El Muelle de la Sal (The Salt Wharf)
Suggested by Francesco Soriquez, tour guide at The Magic of Seville
My favourite corner of Seville is El Muelle de la Sal (the Salt Wharf), which can be found just below Triana Bridge (also known as Isabel II Bridge). It’s the perfect spot in the city for sitting in the sun, or relaxing beside the river and watching the kayaks and canoes drift past, or in May, you can take a walk beneath the blue jacaranda along the river path. It’s a magical place.
The wharf takes its name from the boats loaded with salt and fish that used to dock here on their return from the fishing ports of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Bahía de Cádiz. Above the heads of the passers-by, you can hear the bicycles as they glide across the bridge toward the birthplace of flamenco: Triana, my home.
Where: Triana Bridge (Isabel II Bridge).
2. Monastery of Santa Maria de Las Cuevas
Suggested by Marta Casals, tour guide at TourSevilla.com
The Monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas, also known as the Monastery of the Cartuja, is located at the site of the famous Expo of 1992. Founded in the year 1400, it housed a ceramics factory during the 19th century and today is home to the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Arts).
I love the contrast between the Mudéjar cloisters and the 19th century ceramics, the Renaissance tombs and contemporary art. I like wandering among the gardens and the huge kilns and chimneys, which give the building its unmistakable outline. I love the old ombú tree, which according to tradition was planted by the son of Christopher Columbus over 500 years ago.
I like riding a bicycle through the old orange orchards, and admiring the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. I like the quiet atmosphere, far away from the noise of the city, which must be the same as it once was for the monks of the monastery many centuries ago. And I love to cast my mind back with affection to the Expo of 1992, which left such an indelible mark on all us sevillanos aged 35 and over!
Where: Monasterio de Santa Maria de las Cuevas, Avenida Américo Vespucio, 2, 41092.
3. Plaza DE Santa Marta
Suggested by Sandra Huerga Gómez, tour guide at SevillaMía Tours
The first time you enter this out-of-the-way little plaza a feeling of calm takes hold of your senses. You also feel the strange conviction of having been in love with the place all your life. The Plaza de Santa Marta is corner of Seville unknown even to many locals. Located not far from the Cathedral, at the start of Calle Mateos Gago, you get there via a narrow passageway that appears to be going nowhere.
When you do reach the plaza, it’s a delightful surprise. A tiny, charming square with a cross in the centre, surrounded by orange trees and with a lovely cobbled surface, where you can hardly hear anything of the usual city noise. It’s a plaza for lovers, a place to sit and escape from the bustle of the day, or read a few pages of a book.
The square takes its name from an old 14th century hospital that was located here and which was dedicated to Saint Maria. In the 19th century the Convent de la Encarnación was established on the same site and at the beginning of the 20th century the plaza was remodeled and cobbled as part of the redevelopments in the barrio of Santa Cruz.
The central cross, with a crucifix on one side and and a “pietà” on the other, dates from the 16th century and comes from the Hospital of San Lázaro. It’s the details – the orange blossom, the doors, the soft light from the streetlamps – that make this plaza our favourite place in Seville – a place that will make you fall in love with this city of many corners even more!
Where: Plaza de Santa Marta, 41004
4. Gardens of the Alcázar
Suggested by Teresa Romero from the digital magazine Sal Por Sevilla
The architecture of the Real Alcázar combines wonderfully with its beautiful gardens. It’s a place that seems taken straight out of a tale from “One Thousand and One Nights”. A place where you can wander peacefully and let yourself be enveloped in coolness and sensuality. This corner of Seville was originally the site of orchards, which over time were transformed into the gardens that today delight the senses: flowers, trees, shrubs…always accompanied by the whisper of water in the fountains, creating an atmosphere of serenity and intimacy.
Located at the rear of the palace, the jardines contain Spanish-Moorish patios, Renaissance gardens from the 16th century, as well as more modern sections with French and English influence. The gorgeous, perfumed spectacle of the flowers, the green splendour of the lush vegetation, the vines that clamber the ancient walls….all combine with the special azure skies of Seville and the sound of singing birds to transmit an unforgettable sense of calm. You begin to miss the gardens, even before you’ve left.
Where: Real Alcázar de Sevilla, Patio de Banderas, 41004.
5. Calle Verde
Suggested by Belén Soto, tour guide at Sevilla en Ruta
Calle Verde is one of the least well-known streets in Seville. It forms part of the city’s old Jewish quarter (la Judería), also known as the barrio of Santa Cruz, and is located just behind the Church of Santa Maria la Blanca – which was formerly one of three synagogues that could be found in the neighbourhood in medieval times.
The street has still kept its historic appearance – it’s very long and narrow in a way that is typical of the barrio, and of Jewish quarters throughout Spain. But the most attractive thing about the street, particularly in spring and summer, are the colourful plants that can be seen hanging from the walls of the houses and which act as canopy of vegetation. Also located in same street is the Casa de los Padilla, one of the oldest residences in Seville, where we can peer across at its splendid Renaissance patios as we pass.
Where: Calle Verde, 41004
6. Hospital de la Caridad
In Seville’s Arenal neighbourhood, you can find the Hospital de la Santa Caridad, with its Church of San Jorge. The church’s decoration takes Charity as its theme, and it also contains two profound reflections on death, in the form of two paintings by the great Seville artist Juan de Valdés Leal, named in ictu oculi and finis gloria mundi.
My favourite corner is just inside the entrance to the church where in ictu oculi hangs. In the painting, Death is represented by a skeleton who carries a coffin on his arm, and a scythe in his hand, and is trampling on the trappings of earthly power and knowledge. Ecclesiastical symbols, royal crowns and jewels make clear that no one escape’s death’s clutches, and as he snuffs out a candle, representing life, with his right hand, we are reminded that death arrives “in ictu ocuili” (Latin for “in the blink of an eye”) and no one will be spared no matter how much they possess.
Where: Calle Temprado, 3, 41001.
7. PLAZA DE SANTA ISABEL
Suggested by José Becerra, author of the blog Leyendas de Sevilla
Seville is a city with a busy and crowded historic centre. Added to the multitudes of tourists that visit every year are the native sevillanos, who, for either work or pleasure, also wander through her streets and plazas. But one of the advantages for those of us who live here is that we always can always find a quiet nearby spot where you can sit down and recharge the batteries.
Whenever I find myself on Calle San Luis (site of the old Roman road Cardo Maximus) and feel a little weary, my favourite place for a moment of rest is the Plaza de Santa Isabel. Located behind the Church of San Marcos, and presided over by the doors of the Church of the Convent of Santa Isabel, the plaza has a beautiful fountain of white marble at its centre, and is surrounded by wrought iron benches. Trees and shrubs add to the plaza’s charm and offer cool shade in summer. These details perfectly compliment the silence of the square – which forms an island of tranquility among the commotion of the city.
Where: Plaza Sta. Isabel, 41003.
8. Church of El Salvador
Suggested by Elena, tour guide at All Sevilla Guided Tours
One of the places in Seville that tourists don’t often tend to visit, maybe because it’s found away from the usual tourist circuit, is the courtyard of orange trees at the Iglesia del Salvador: a haven of tranquility in the middle of the city, a garden which breathes the perfume of spring orange blossom, where you can enjoy a moment of reflection, either with yourself, or inside the chapel, with one of the great señores of Seville, the figure of Christ of the Passion (Cristo de la Pasión).
This little spot also gives you a glimpse into Seville’s hidden history…during the time of Al-Andalus the patio formed part of the city mosque, and the fountain was where worshippers performed their ablutions…over time the ground level has risen so far that the capitals of the columns have almost reached the floor!
Where: Iglesia del Salvador, Plaza del Salvador, 41004.
9. El Rincón del Búho
Seville is a city were things aren’t done in small measures. It wouldn’t be out of turn to call it grand and majestic, but away from the imposing landmarks and entrenched traditions, there’s a more bohemian side to the city that as a visitor is easily missed.
My current counter-culture crush is ‘El Rincón de Búho‘, a cultural association just north of trendy district ‘La Alameda de Hércules’. Once a ‘Corral de vecinos’ and then a Hermandad Rociero (brotherhood for the religious pilgrimage El Rocio), it now houses a crumbling alcove dedicated to the arts and serving the local community.
On entering down its long passageway, there is a sense of decaying splendour and one is immediately transported to another world, free from the sanitized version of Seville sold to tourists.
Head there any lunchtime and you’ll find the cheapest Menu del Día in town, little wonder then it’s a favourite haunt of musicians and artists from the neighbourhood. There are also regular live music concerts from its petite and bijoux theatre.
For me it’s the small things in Seville that make the city great and el Rincón de Búho is one such hidden gem not to be missed.
Where: El Rincón del Buho, Calle Parras 31
10. Mudéjar Palace (real Alcázar)
Suggested by Paloma de los Santos Guerreo, founder of Visitar Sevilla and author of a guide to the Real Alcázar of Seville.
This magnificent palace is one of the most extraordinary buildings in Spain. The Mudéjar style is unique in the world, and emerged during the time of the reconquista: the artistic expression of a society where Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted. The term Mudéjar originated from the Spanish-Moorish term mudáǧǧan, meaning “tamed”, which referred to Muslims who were allowed to continue living in reconquered Christian territory. This led to a fusing of two cultures: Christian and Islamic.
The Mudéjar Palace is the inheritor of that unique tradition, both in its beautiful architectural composition and the materials used in its construction: brick, ceramics, wood and gypsum, leaving marble for the columns and capitals.
11. Calle judería
A majestic street. From the Patio de Banderas you pass through an evocative white passage, through a silence that feels as concealed and secret as the Jewish history of the Seville itself.
As you walk along the walls of the Alcázar you can’t help but be enchanted by the magical qualities of the light and colour, the fragrance of the flowers that hang from the balconies and the jasmine next to the fountain and the music of its trickling waters .
Among the streets of Vida, Muerte and Agua and the remains of walls and fortifications you find yourself in an almost unreal world, a place where you can almost still hear the echo of the Jewish people who once lived and walked here, and who left such an imprint on this marvelous city, before they were made to leave.
Where: Calle Judería, 41004.
12. Maria luisa park
Suggested by Antonio Bejarano, founder of Sevilla Misterios y Leyendas.
My favourite corner of Seville is Maria Luisa Park. I still remember when my parents would take me there at the weekends to enjoy the beautiful gardens, the plants and flowers, monuments and pavilions.
It is the city’s lung, and contains a number of important buildings such as the Plaza de España and Plaza de America and the Mudejar Pavilion, now home to the Museum of Arts and Traditions of Sevilla.
The park contains many groves of trees, artificial lakes, fountains and plazas decorated with the typical azulejo tiles of Seville. The Fountain of the Lions, the Island of Ducks and the Lotus Pond are particularly beautiful.
With its combination of nature and art, the park is a wonderful place to take children, who love to feed the pigeons in the Plaza de America, just as I did when I was young. You can even make your visit in a horse and carriage, the perfect way to see this majestic corner of Seville!
13. Plaza de españa
Suggested by Alvaro Carmona Contreras, tour guide at Monumental Sevilla
The Plaza de España is without doubt one of the most unique and spectacular sights in Spain.
Originally created for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, it was designed by Aníbal González, in the so called Neo-Mudejar (Moorish Revival) style, taking structural and ornamental inspiration from the great Mudéjar palaces built in Seville during medieval times.
It features brick, coffered wooden ceilings, Roman style columns and ceramics hand painted by local artisans. Along the main facade plaza are a series of alcoves, all magnificently decorated with ceramic tiles, representing each of the 48 Spanish provinces, from Álava through to Zaragoza.
From the balconies, visitors can enjoy an unforgettable view of the plaza enclosed within the great Maria Luisa Park. You can also hire a boat and row across the canal that runs around the perimeter.
There are currently campaigns underway to have the Plaza designated a UNESCO world heritage site, an honour which would be much deserved
14. CASA DE PILATOS
Suggested by the Love of Spain team.
Just like the city of Seville itself, the Casa de Pilatos is a bewitching blend of styles and influences. Building first began in the 16th century, but continued over hundreds of years, combining Renaissance, Mudéjar and Gothic elements in a way that created the template for the Andalusian palace.
It’s the perfect retreat for when you need to escape from the hot Seville afternoon. Find a bench in the cool of its magnificent marble courtyard and admire the craftsmanship of the elegant Mudéjar arches, the brilliant multicoloured azulejo tiles that cover the walls.
Then head out into its heavenly gardens, sit within ear shot of a fountain and breathe in the unmistakable scent of Sevilla in bloom – the bougainvillea, Spanish jasmine, wisteria and roses.
Where: Plaza de Pilatos, 1, 41003 Sevilla.