SEVILLE - NEIGHBORHOODS
The Barrio de Santa Cruz was formerly the Jewish quarter; some of the churches, like the Iglesia de Santa María la Blanca, were originally synagogues. (As anti-Semitic sentiment rose in the fourteenth century, many of these synagogues were hastily converted into churches.) Wandering around the small squares lined with orange trees (especially Plazas Doña Elvira and Santa Cruz), getting lost in the maze of improbably narrow alleys, where the ancient houses lean so far towards each other that they almost seem to touch, and admiring the leafy patios of private mansions through their iron gates, will be one of the best experiences of your visit to Seville.
The main sights in terms of buildings are Seville Cathedral, perhaps the most noteworthy sight in the city, and La Giralda, the Cathedral`s bell tower which once served as the minaret tower which broadcasted the call to prayers at the Mosque of Seville, and is the only portion of the Moorish-era mosque left standing. Nearby, you will find the Real Alcázar, built in the fourteenth century on the site of a former Moorish fortress as a residence for King Peter of Castile, and the Archivo de Indias, the archival building of historical records relating to Spanish conquest in the Americas and the Philippine Archipelago. The aforementioned sights are all deemed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Insider tip: The covered passageway heading off the Patio de Banderas (part of the Alcázar) called the Judería is worth visiting; enter the Patio from here and you'll get an unforgettable view of the cathedral.
Centro (Old Quarter)
The Old Quarter (referred to as the casco antiguo or the casco histórico) is the most picturesque and delightful part of the city, with narrow winding cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, where you can sit outside a bar, enjoy some tapas and watch the world go by, or wander through centuries-old gardens and relax on beautiful tiled benches. The Old Quarter was the first part of Seville to be built that is still extant today, and all other neighborhoods afterwards grew around it. During the time of the Moors, it was walled, but by the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the early twentieth centuries, these walls were removed. Sights in this area of town include the 15th-century Renaissance-era Casa de Pilatos and the Palacio de las Dueñas, the Convento de Santa Paula, the Iglesia de Santa Catalina, and the newest addition to the Old Quarter, the Metropol Parasol structure. Completely built out of timber and completed just in the past decade, it has found its way onto Seville`s must-see sights list, and clashes only minimally with the old-town surroundings.
La Alameda is the area surrounding La Alameda de Hércules, a broad avenue flanked by poplar trees (called `los alamos` in Spanish, hence `la alameda`) built on marshland in 1574. The impressive Roman columns at the southern end hold statues of Caesar and Hercules, erstwhile governor and founder of Seville, respectively. Originally a popular meeting place for Seville`s moneyed classes, it fell into disrepute in the 20th century as it became a red-light district. Today, after a massive clean-up effort spurred by Expo 92, it is one of the most popular nightlife districts in the city, home to trendy bars and vegetarian restaurants. You`ll even find sushi and Asian-fusion restaurants here, while yoga studios abound. It`s also hugely popular with families, and the playgrounds are heaving in the afternoons and evenings, late into the night in the hot summer. Buildings of note in this area include the Convento de Santa Clara, with its magnificent cloister that is used for exhibitions - don't miss the Torre de Don Fadrique, while the Convento de San Clemente, is decorated with superb frescoes and 16th century azulejos, and sells pastries made by the nuns; it also houses an arts center, ICAS (Instituto de las Artes y Cultura de Sevilla).
Tucked in between Avenida de la Constitución and the Guadalquivir River, El Arenal was home to the city`s port, where ships sailed to the New World. These days, it`s a well-heeled barrio with abacerias (shops selling conservas, tins and jars of food, and cheese), freidurias (fried fish takeaways) and some good bars and restaurants. El Arenal`s main attractions are the bullring, the Moorish Torre del Oro, and the modern Maestranza theatre as well as the Hospital de Caridad with its macabre paintings. The Reales Atarazanas, 14th century Royal Shipyards, are being converted into a cultural center, and there are plans to build a visitors` center on the riverside walkway next to Almohad Tower, which now houses a naval museum. The Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza (bullring), one of the most famous in the world, was featured in Carmen, whose bronze statue stands opposite the building.
Nervión lies to the east of the old quarter. Prior to 1911, the land was owned by the Marques of Nervión, who donated it to the city. The remains of Roman aqueducts that brought water in from the hills of Carmona are here. The district is an important commercial area of the city where much of the regional capital`s business takes place. It is the second focal point of the city, and is home to the Santa Justa, Seville's major train station, with high-speed links via the AVE to Madrid, Córdoba, and Cádiz, The Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, home to Sevilla FC, Nervión Plaza, a commercial shopping complex with many chain stores, an ice skating rink and a large cinema with 20 screens. The Plaza is a huge shopping center with El Corte Inglés and many other department stores. The Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales (School of Business) of the University of Seville is located in this neighborhood as well.
Plaza de España (El Porvenir)
The Plaza de España is a majestic architectural complex built as the central office for the Ibero-American Exposition, a world`s fair held in Seville in 1929. It is located in the Maria Luisa Park, just south of Seville's historic center. It is a harmonious complex in a typical regional revival style, which was very popular at the time. The red brick structure is decorated with colorful painted ceramic tiles. Two tall towers at each end are connected to a central structure by a long colonnaded gallery. Its curved facade follows the contours of a semicircular plaza with a large central fountain. The plaza is surrounded by a canal, and beautiful bridges decorated with ceramic tiles connect the plaza with the wide promenade that runs along the front of the building. The showpiece is the series of fifty-eight benches that line the facade of the main structure. The benches, completely covered with panels of azulejos, depict allegorical paintings representing the provinces of Spain. The Plaza is situated inside Maria Luisa Park, next to Avenida Isabella La Catolica, a pedestrian avenue with ice cream sellers and bike rental stands.
The neighborhood to the east of the Plaza and the Park and south of San Bernardo train station is called El Porvenir, and is home to schools and campuses from a number of secondary and tertiary-level institutions, such as the University of Seville and the training campus of the Seville chamber of commerce. Many of these institutions can be found along or close to Calle Porvenir.
The area north and east of the Caños de Carmona is called Santa Justa. It is one of the easternmost areas in central Seville and isn`t particularly known for its sightseeing, although you should take a look at the Caños de Carmona if you have a chance; it is a Roman-era aqueduct which provided water for buildings in the city until 1912. The water was piped in from Carmona, located approximately 10 miles away. In 1912, the aqueduct was demolished, and only three five-arch segments exist today (one of which you can see just off Calle Luis Montoto).
The neighborhood`s largest point of interest is the imposing Santa Justa train station, which opened in 1991 in the run-up to Expo 92, one of Seville`s biggest and most noteworthy moments in modern history. The high-speed AVE line connected Madrid with Seville for the first time beginning in April 1992. Today, it is possible to travel by AVE train from Seville down to Cádiz and all the way north and east to Barcelona, Girona, and Figueres on the French border.
Next to La Alameda, La Macarena covers the northeastern area of the old city, up to the site of the old Moorish city walls. This area is full of character with many churches to visit as well as interesting palaces and plazas. The area is home to a number of artists` corrals, where artisans and performers have small premises in shared courtyards, hosting workshops and performances, and communal workspaces for architects, translators and writers. The oldest and busiest flea market in Seville, El Jueves, is held on Calle Feria every Thursday, while the Calle Feria food market has great fruit and vegetable stalls, as well as organic goods, and fresh artisan bread and cakes.
At the top of Calle San Luis is the Basilica de la Macarena, where you can see one of Seville`s best-loved virgins, La Macarena de la Esperanza. The much-venerated Virgin statue was made by Luisa Roldán in the late 17th century. Her departure from the church on Thursday night (La Madrugada) is the Semana Santa`s high point! Carried on a solid silver paso (float) and dressed in this year`s new outfit, she is greeted by ecstatic weeping and wailing from her thousands of adoring followers. You`ll see her golden-haloed image in hotels, bars, shops and taxis all over the city. The bullfighter Joselito adored her and bestowed upon her the five emeralds she wears. When he died, she was dressed in black for the following Semana Santa to mourn him.
Home to Expo 92, this area to the north of Triana now houses a technology park (Cartuja 93) and the Monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas, a 15th century monastery (former home to the Carthusian order, from which the area`s name derives) where Christopher Columbus planned his voyages of discovery, which is why the area was chosen to hold the Expo. It is also home to the CAAC, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo, university departments, a theme park, Isla Mágica, and some excellent concert venues. You can visit some of the Expo 92 pavilions, such as the Moroccan Pavilion, now the Fundación Tres Culturas, as well as the Pabellón de Navegación, an interactive center themed around voyages of exploration. Near La Cartuja you'll find some great riverside parks dating from the Expo 92 like the Jardin Americano, a botanical garden, and the Jardines del Guadalquivir.
Famous for having its own strong identity - it`s known as `The Independent Republic of Triana,` it used to be home to Seville`s famous tile workshops and potteries and almost any tile you see in Seville`s churches, hotels, bars and private houses, as well as Plaza de España, will have been made here. Countless artists, bullfighters and flamenco performers, both past and present, were born here as it was the old gitano (gypsy) quarter until the 1950s and is considered the spiritual heart of flamenco. You can experience some of the most authentic performances in the city here, in tiny, dark bars.
Triana`s rich past has turned into a lively present, with a great tapas and flamenco scene among its narrow streets, and buzzing nightlife along Calle Betis, which also boasts some superb riverfront restaurant terraces looking towards the Torre del Oro across the water. Like Barrio Santa Cruz, Triana also has narrow cobbled streets and winding alleys, but it is less picture-book pretty than Santa Cruz, and therefore feels more real; it`s also not as packed with tourists. Look out for the old communal patios, where the gitano families used to live, called corrales de vecinos, with many small rooms centered around a courtyard, which was used for washing and cooking, and often singing and dancing too (Castilla 16 is a good example).
To the south of Triana and La Cartuja, Los Remedios is an area of wide, straight avenues and large blocks of modern flats inhabited by the smarter end of society - this is the city`s only purpose-built residential district. Chock full of clothing boutiques whose windows show carefully color-coordinated outfits, and American-style diners, this area comes into its own during the Feria de Abril, which takes place in the huge fairground nearby. Los Remedios also has a pleasant park, Parque de los Principes, and exclusive riverside sports clubs.