Away from the Alcázar and Alhambra, Seville and Granada have much to offer.
Be it Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum or Santiago de Compostela’s dazzling cathedral, it’s fair to say that the cities of Spain are each synonymous with a distinctive piece of iconic architectural design that sets them apart from their neighbouring counterparts. And the cities of Andalucia are no exception, with Granada’s mighty Alhambra and Seville’s royal Alcázar, both striking examples of Moorish architecture, the starting point on any sightseeing itinerary in these two cities. Yet once you’ve ticked off these must-see landmarks, move beyond the Moorish and there are a plethora of delights in both cities waiting to be discovered. Here’s a look at some of our favourites…
Whilst they might not have the architectural wow factor of their respective Alcázar and Alhambra, the cathedrals of Seville and Granada still pack a punch when it comes to the tourist trail. Third largest church in the world, the Catedral de Sevilla boasts a number of plaudits including the country’s largest ecclesiastic building and the largest Gothic church worldwide. Built in the 15th century on the site of a 12th-century mosque, this mighty cathedral has no shortage of appealing factors, from its spectacular interior golden altarpiece and tomb of Christopher Columbus, to its royal chapel and bell tower, La Giralda, soaring almost 100 metres into the Seville skyline. Its setting, the lively Plaza de Virgen de los Reyes, is without doubt another highlight.
In Granada meanwhile, the city’s imposing cathedral represents a melting pot of architectural styles, with a Baroque façade, a vaulted Gothic roof and an impressive Renaissance interior. Commissioned by Queen Isabella in the 16th century, the cathedral’s star attraction must surely be the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) containing the tombs of several Catholic monarchs, including King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella themselves.
Whilst talking about religious edifices, a short distance to the north of Granada lies the Carthusian monastery of La Cartuja, originally a Roman cemetery until 1506 when it passed into monastic hands. With construction taking over 300 years to complete, the monastery has been described as the Christian Alhambra and whilst the exterior is quite a sombre affair, pass through the doors and you’ll discover an interior bedecked in intricate stuccowork, marble columns of gold, silver and ivory and wonderful trompe l’oeil murals.
On the subject of gold, be sure to see the 13th-century Torre del Oro, a distinctive watchtower that once formed part of Seville’s defensive walls and served as a control point for the city’s port and a storage facility for gold and other spoils. Situated close to the Guadalquivir River near Seville’s historic centre, the Torre del Oro today plays host to the city’s Naval Museum and is a popular and much-photographed landmark.
Another Seville sightseeing essential is the Casa de Pilatos, officially known as the Royal Ducal House of Medinaceli, so-named as it was reputedly modelled on the house of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Dating back to the 14th century, the Casa de Pilatos is one of the city’s finest mansion houses, boasting an eclectic mix of Renaissance, Gothic and Mudéjar architectural styles.
If you’re after authentic Andalucian atmosphere whilst in Granada, the Albayzín, Granada’s old Muslim quarter, is a must. Set atop a hill overlooking the Alhambra and Darro Valley, the Albayzín is home to a picturesque, labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and fabulous whitewashed cármenes (mansion houses) set amidst lovely plazas, Arab minarets, Renaissance palaces and old Baroque churches. Highlights include the Plaza del Salvador, the lively Placeta de San Miguel Bajo, the Alminar de San José and the Mirador San Nicolas.
Neighbouring Albayzín meanwhile is the bohemian district of Sacromonte, named after the nearby Abbey of Sacromonte and for centuries the thriving home of Roma gypsies and Flemish artists. Renowned for its abundance of cave dwellings, built into the sides of the hills, Sacromonte is also famous for its zambra shows, a flamenco-style dance with an Oriental flavour, as well as for its magnificent views over the Alhambra and the Albayzín.
For those fascinated by flamenco, the art of flamenco dancing is celebrated and explored in Seville’s Museo del Baile Flamenco. Founded by the world-famous flamenco dancer, Cristina Hoyos, the museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of flamenco and its many varieties of style. Visit in the evening and you’ll be rewarded with a live flamenco; classes are also available.
Another Andalucian essential is the historic pastime of bullfighting and, Seville’s historic bullring, the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, is perhaps the most famous in all of Spain. Still regularly playing host to bullfights, whatever your view on this national pastime, a tour of the bullring makes for an interesting visit. In addition to the (bull-free) arena, you’ll also see the chapel in which the matadors pray before their flights, as well as the Museum of the History of Bullfights displaying paintings, costumes and other artefacts.