Seville Cathedral & Giralda / Seville, Spain / May 2016
On towers in and outside Seville, the hybrid Giralda and shady, inviting patios.
While driving outside Seville, we spotted a tall, silver tower in the middle of a field of sunflowers which was emitting a beam of light so intense it looked to be causing a space-time rip. Entranced and intrigued, we pulled off the highway, chasing a direct path to the silver tower on what rapidly turned into a dirt road. It was as if automatic pilot had taken over, as if we could not control the need to see the tower up close any more than insects can help being drawn to light. Soon we came to an enormous puddle in the center of the dirt road which looked passable. It transpired that it was not.
Hours later, our rental car’s tires had sunk into a foot of mud and we were trying to MacGyver ramps for the wheels out of whatever materials were lying around. We listened to the tires spinning helplessly, gaining no traction, while the sun beat down on us and the silver tower watched us from a tauntingly close distance like Sauron’s Eye. Eventually, we found a series of bamboo sticks improbably scattered in the surrounding farmland. With that under the tires, and some pushing while standing knee-deep in mud, the car finally loosened itself with a satisfying squelch and vaulted over a nearby hill. Back on the highway, we miraculously found a gas station with a power wash and rinsed off all evidence of our folly. Minutes later, on the outskirts of Seville, we passed a nondescript sign which revealed all. The giant magnifying glass was in fact a solar tower, a mere piece of electrical infrastructure.
Slightly dejected, we rolled into Seville only to be immediately enticed by another, much older and more worthy tower: the Giralda. About 103 meters tall, the Giralda stood as the tallest building in the city for over 800 years and took 12 years to build. The tower is now iconic in Seville, perhaps in part because the city’s (and the Andalusian region’s) very history is etched on its surface. Originally built as a minaret for a 12th-century Almohad mosque, the tower was later turned into a belltower following the Christian conquest and the construction of a massive cathedral on the former site of the mosque. The conversion’s fingerprints are still visible today: if you look at the Giralda you can see the exact point at which the Moorish minaret ends and the added Renaissance belltower begins. The trellised, weather-vaned tower forms a perfect counterpoint to the Gothic cathedral next to it. The cathedral’s architects wanted to make an impression with the immensity of their structure,1but it is the hybrid monument next to it that draws the eye wherever you are in the square or even the city.
Alluring towers included, Seville is a city of seductions. Our first night in town, I led us to Plaza d’España, a square I’d been to nearly a decade earlier and to which I drifted back as if following a path in a dream. Under the stars, we passed through parks with Spanish moss and tall, dark trees before rounding a corner where the buildings suddenly appeared like red fairy-tale castles guarded by moats and bridges. A series of horse-drawn carriages trotted around the center of the square as if awaiting the emergence of a princess. The next day, wandering the narrow streets of the old quarter, we came across patio after patio, a hidden sequence of courtyards shaded by trees and flowered vines, often with a fountain in the center and al fresco dining around the periphery. Each time you encounter it, the scene practically begs you to sit and stay a while. So we did.
And . . .