You may (or indeed, may not) have noticed that lately, my blogging has been sporadic at best – not that I’ve ever been a strict twice-a-week kind of girl, if you know what I mean. Over the past few months, a variety of work commitments, including a Social Media course which I’m teaching to American university students, have left me with very little time to do what I love most: writing about topics of my own choosing. Lately, my posts have had a long, slow, agonising birth; finally pushing them out is a nothing short of a miracle. (As a mother who had two babies without pain relief, I am allowed to use such melodramatic metaphors.)
This one has been nudging me for a while now. Being a long-term resident of Seville, and working in several fields including journalism, tourism, social media, I see and hear lots of conflicting information about the city, provided both by the well-informed (should know better) and the less so (we’ll let you off). These are some of the commonest myths I’ve come across.
1) Siestas are unnecessary Anyone who has ever lived in Seville all year round, with its stiflingly hot summers, will know how energy-sapping the temperatures are from June to September. Between around midday and 8pm, the heat hits you like a solid wall when you walk outside – we’re talking 40 degrees C (that’s 104F for you non-decimals), with none of those delightful sea breezes which make the coastal climate so much more bearable. So what do you do? You hit the sack. There’s no other reasonable option. Spaniards who come from anywhere other than Andalucia, think that the southerners are lazy and work-shy – “What is this siesta nonsense?” they huff. “What kind of part-timer takes a sleep in the middle of the day?”
I remember one of my first English students, a delightful Sevillano insurance manager named Carlos, was exasperated with his Madrid bosses who failed to understand the need for summer working hours (8am to 3pm). My (and his) response to them is: I challenge you to function like a normal human being on a summer afternoon in Seville. See how well your brain works, and how far you go before you collapse on the nearest sofa/bed/shady park bench.. Not to mention the fact that numerous scientific studies have proved that naps can help our physical and mental wellbeing. QED.
2) The Alcazar was built by the Moors OK, so one of the patios was built by Seville’s Moorish rulers (the exquisite Patio de Yeso – Plaster Patio), but the rest of the palace was built for King Pedro the Cruel by Moorish craftsmen, in a style called Mudejar – Muslim style under Christian rulers. Some of the Christian monarchs who ruled Seville from 1248, when the Moors were expelled from the city, wanted to remove all traces of their Arabic predecessors, destroying mosques and their minarets – thankfully sparing the Giralda and a few other such towers. Other, more enlightened rulers, like Pedro, relished the blend of cultures and architectural styles in their city. And we love him for his plurality and open-mindedness – admiration shared by the makers of Game of Thrones, who filmed the latest season here – the Alcazar is the Martells’ palace in Sunspear, the capital of Dorne. You can see season five on TV next month – but I’d visit this exquisite palace now before it gets overrun by die-hard GOT fans.
3) Triana is quaint but has no attractions
I was astonished to read this the other day. What about the new Ceramics museum, and the wonderful shops full of colourful tiles, one of the city’s most famous products? And all the religious and social history – the Inquisition museum? And the corrales? If you’re a history geek, like me, you’re a fan of traditional handicrafts, and you prefer an area that isn’t heaving with tourists, then this home of flamenco and sailors is for you. It also has Seville’s oldest church, Santa Ana, dating from 1278. I take clients around Triana and they are charmed by its character and quirkiness – more awed and horrified by the Castillo San Jorge, seat of the Inquisition from 1481, perhaps – but certainly fascinated.
4) No one speaks English here, no one will understand me.
No, we’re not cosmopolitan Madrid or Barcelona, but I can tell you that the standard of spoken English has improved immeasurably since I arrived nearly 12 years ago. Then, you were lucky to get faltering English, even in the smartest joints. Now, fluent grasp is standard. A frontline employee in a five-star landmark property told me recently that the raised standard is, in part, due to more Sevillanos going to study abroad. Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would be able to get by at some level in Spanish. But being realistic, English is the international tourism language.
5) Seville cathedral is the biggest in the world
It’s not – it’s the third-biggest, after St Peter’s in Rome, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil. But it is the biggest Gothic cathedral in the world, at upwards of 500,000m3. As it takes up a whole city block, you can get a good sense of the scale from walking around the outside. Santa Maria de la Sede – its official name – is also seriously impressive as an interior space, with soaring 37m-high ceilings (though the vast, much-admired blingy gold altar piece doesn’t do it for me personally). The Cathedral is recognised as UNESCO World Heritage, along with the Alcazar and Archivo de Indias.
6) Staged flamenco shows are not authentic and therefore not worth going to
Unless you want to sit in a bar till 3am where someone may or may not burst into song or pick up a guitar, these shows are well worth checking out, especially Flamenco Esencia in the town of Salteras, the Flamenco Museum and the Casa de la Memoria. The standard of the performers is excellent. Purists may poo-poo the idea of buying a ticket for a scheduled performance, saying it goes against the very essence of duende and the spontaneity of the art form, but if like many people you only have two or three days to visit Seville, it would be madness not to.
7) The Expo 29 was cancelled
One travel blog/vlog/film I watched the other day stated that the 1929 Ibero-American Exposicion never took place due to economic problems. Oh yes it did. The Expo lasted from May 1929 to June 1930; the Wall Street crash took place in October 1929, which may have caused the confusion. But the buildings from Seville’s first 20th-century Expo (the second was in 1992), which you can see in and around Maria Luisa Park, are testament to the excellent planning and superb quality of the constructions – they’ve lasted better than many buildings which are decades younger.
8) Everything closes at lunch time
One of the hardest things to get used to when living in Spain is the opening hours – many attractions and monuments close from around 2pm-5pm. If you’re visiting and have children who need entertaining, especially during the less sweltering months when there’s no need to retreat from the heat, this can be highly inconvenient. Fortunately a surprising number of places do stay open – apart from major monuments such as the Cathedral and Alcazar, Casa de Pilatos, the CAAC contemporary art centre, the Museo de Baile Flamenco, and family attractions such as the Aquarium, Pabellon de Navegacion and Casa de la Ciencia – a ticket for one of these three will get you discounted entrance into the others.
8) All Sevillanos love Semana Santa, Feria, and bullfighting
While Holy Week and the April Fair are both hugely famous throughout Spain and beyond, events which inspire great pride among Sevillanos, drawing thousands of visitors, not everyone wants to stand in the street for hours waiting to catch a glimpse of the favourite Virgin, or dance the night away in a frilly frock, when you can only enjoy the party if you know the right people and are invited to private casetas. Those who are not capillistas or feriantes, or who object to the exclusivity of the casetas (peculiar to Sevilla; in every other feria all casetas are open to the public) can rent out their city-centre apartments (or balconies) at inflated prices during these events, and leave the chaos for a quiet few days at the beach, or in the mountains. And as the seat of bullfighting, afternoon activities in the Real Maestranza have a devoted following, although the younger generation are less likely to be aficionados of la corrida, with some actively against it – the animal rights group, PACMA (Partido Animalista), even has a candidate standing for president of the Junta de Andalucia in this Sunday’s regional elections.
9) Everyone drinks sangria
I can honestly say I’ve never drunk sangria in a bar or restaurant since I’ve been in Seville. Tinto de verano, yes, especially in summer. This is red wine with casera – a fizzy drink which can be flavourless, like soda water, or lemon-flavoured like 7UP. It’s a tasty, refreshing drink, perfect for hot days if, like me, you’re not a beer drinker. TdV is also weaker than sangria, which often has spirits added, and a cool, pale glass is a perfect choice if you’re the designated driver (or you just live in the sticks).
10) Sevillanos love noise, night and day
A new law, dating from last summer, states that a number of excessively noisy activities, from standing to eat outside a bar, to talking too loudly, are now banned, and infractions of the “Ordenanza Contra la Contaminacion Acustica, Ruidos y Vibraciones” can be punished with a fine. Many bars which used to have live music, such as La Carboneria in Barrio Santa Cruz, a favourite flamenco venue for many, are no longer permitted to host performances due to the noise levels. Outside tables, and licences needed to have them, are a hot potato too – read my fellow blogger Mary’s look at both sides of the noise issue in her recent post. We all know that the Ayuntamiento have empty coffers, so I’ll bet this is partly yet another ruse to top them up again. And yet botellones, street parties which involve young people drinking, shouting and relieving themselves in the street until the small hours, preventing residents from sleeping and making their front doors extremely malodorous, are allowed to continue; Semana Santa, with its loud bands and the all-night revelry of the Feria are also excluded. Go figure.
Do you agree with my list? Or do you think I’ve got it all wrong? Tell me what you think.