Sunday, November 26, 2006
This summer we went to Spain to visit our daughter Sara, who was studying Spanish in Sevilla. Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia the most southern province in Spain. To see a map of Spain you can go to Google Maps. We traveled with Spanair from Stockholm to Malaga. The direct flight took 4 hours.
We had a rental car from AurigaCrown car hire waiting for us at the Malaga Airport, a dark blue Seat Leon, good-looking sporty car. It was too late to drive that far so we decided to stay the first night in Malaga at Hotel Los Naranjos. The second day we planned to arrive in Sevilla late in the afternoon. On the way to Sevilla we wanted to make a stop in Ronda. We took the route E15/A7 driving west from Malaga. Along the way we passed the famous resorts Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Marbella. We didn't see much of Costa del Sol but we saw a lot of ugly looking hotel complex. From Marbella we turned right and drove A-376 towards Ronda. The road started to climb up the mountain and would take us more than 1000 meters up.
Ronda is one of Andalucia's loveliest towns, steeped in history. It stands on a towering plateau in the mountains of Malaga Province, and is famous through Spain for the plunging river gorge which divides the medieval from the 18th century parts of the town. This gorge is known as "El Tajo" - The Cliff and is spanned by a stone bridge, which once housed a prison. Visitors love to peer down into the gorge, to see the waters of the River Guadalevín.
We walked around in Ronda for several hours in the heat and burning sun. We visited the bullring, one of the oldest in Spain and we climbed down all the stairs to the bottom of the gorge. We had lunch in a beautiful restaurant, Restaurante Santa Casa Pola that is built in to the mountain side of the gorge. Here are more photos from Ronda. After this fantastic start of our journey through Andalucia it was time to get back on the road again and head for Sevilla. On our way to Sevilla we passed Alogodonales a famous center for paragliding and hang gliding in Southern Spain.
Sevilla is a big city with a population of more than 1 million, ranking as the fourth-largest metropolitan area of Spain. We had a hard time finding our hotel without a good map and not knowing where we were. After we got lost several times in the old town with all its narrow one way streets we at last found our hotel, Catalonia Giralda. When we got out of our car the heat almost knocked us. The thermometer displayed 46 Celcius (115 Farenheit) and we hesitated to leave the air-conditioned car. When we entered the hotel lobby it was 20C (68F) inside. The hotel was nice and perfectly located close to the oldest part of Sevilla. There are so many things to see in Sevilla you could easily spend several week here. The main attractions are the Cathedral with the Giralda bell tower and the Alcazar royal palace.
The Cathedral of Sevilla, formally Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See) was begun in 1402, with construction continuing into the 16th century.It is the largest of all Roman Catholic cathedrals and also the largest Medieval Gothic religious building, in terms of both area and volume. It is 76 by 115 meters, and was built to cover the land previously occupied by the Almohad Mosque. Its central nave rises to an awesome 42 metres and even the side chapels seem tall enough to contain an ordinary church. Its main altarpiece is considered the largest in the Christian world.
The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville one of the largest churches in the world and an outstanding example of the Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. The tower is a former Almohad minaret which, when built, was the tallest tower in the world at 97.5 m (320 ft) in height. It was one of the most important symbols in the medieval city.
The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace. Originally a Moorish fort, the Alcázar(from the Arabic القصر al-qasr, meaning "palace") has been expanded several times. The Almohades were the first to build a palace, called Al-Muwarak, on the site. Most of the modern Alcázar was built over Moorish ruins for King Pedro of Castile with construction beginning in 1364. Pedro used Moorish workers to build his palace giving it a distinctly Islamic design. The palace is one of the best remaining examples of mudéjar architecture, a style under Christian rule in Spain but using Islamic architectural influence.
The city sits well inland, but a mere 6 metres above sea level. Seville was long an important sea port, prior to the silting up of the Guadalquivir. From Seville Ferdinand Magellan obtained the ships for his circumnavigation. Much of the Spanish Empire's silver from the New World came to Europe in the Spanish treasure fleet that landed in Seville.
Sevilla is especially known for its Flamenco artists. The best Spanish Guitar players are from Andalusia, and many of them from Sevilla. You can also find in Sevilla many Flamenco Shows, with dancers and singers. Here are some photos from Sevilla. The barrio of Triana, across the Rio Guadalquivir from central Sevilla, used to be the quarter of the city's gitanos and the home of Sevillian ceramics. This is also where Sara lives. She share an appartement together with three other students.
The first week we used Sevilla as our starting-point for excursion to exciting places in the south-west of Spain. In a few hours time we can reach Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera, Gibraltar and Costa de la Luz. One of the most beautiful beaches in Spain is Los Caños de Meca, located 10 km north of Barbate.
After one week in Sevilla we take road A4 to Cordoba. On the way we make a stop in Carmona. Carmona stands on a low hill just off A4, 38km east of Sevilla. It is a charming old town with impressive monuments from many different epochs and with fine views.
We arrive in the afternoon in Cordoba and find our hotel Macia Alfaros a beautiful place with a refreshing outdoor swimming pool. Cordoba is famous for a single architectural treasure, the Mezquita symbol of the sophisticated Islamic culture. Cordoba's medieval quarter, once the home of the Jewish community, is called "La Judería" (The Jewry), a labyrinth of winding, narrow streets, shady flower-filled courtyards and picturesque squares such as La Plaza del Potro. That night we are having a exquiste diner at restaurant Casa PePe. We are sitting outside at 11 pm and it is still 30 C and it feels cool compared to the 43 C in the middle of the day.
Our next stop on our Spanish tour is Granada. There is no doubt about it - Granada does enchant. The Alhambra palace-fortress stretched along the top of the Sabika hill amid its sumptuos gardens, and the warrenlike Albayzin, Granada's old Islamic quarter, are highlights of any visit to Andalucia. There's no other city in Andalucia where the Islamic past feels so recent. We have booked a room at Parador de Granada Hotel San Fransisco which is part of the famous Palace of Alhambra. We were told we had to make reservations many month in advance but we were lucky and could get a room just a few weeks in advance. Parador hotels can be found all over Spain and they are operated by the Paradores de Turismo de Espana, S.A. which is state owned. Parador hotels are normally found in beautifully restored castles, palaces, fortresses, convents and other fine locations.
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