Spain is of course the country south of France, the one that occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula. Its
fourth-largest city is Seville (“Sevilla” en español), located in the south on the Guadalquivir River. Seville is the
second-warmest city of 100,000 or more in Europe (after nearby Cordoba), with an average summer high temperature of
96° F. The evolution of the city’s name says something about its history: the earliest known name was Spal, which
came from the Phoenicians, after which the Romans turned it into Hispalis. The name “Sevilla” is a Spanish
interpretation of the Arabic version, which sounds something like Isbiliya. “Guadalquivir”, the name of the city’s
river, is a Spanish version of an Arabic expression sounding like al-wadi al-kabir, meaning “The Great River”.
So why all the Arabic? Isn’t Arabia really far away? After the Romans left, the Iberian Peninsula was taken over by
Vandals and Visigoths from the north. But the Vandals and Visigoths turned out not to be that organized, and in 712
A.D., Moors from the south (northern Africa) moved in and took over most of the peninsula. The people in charge of the
Moors were in Damascus, and later Baghdad. In 929 Abd al-Rahman III noted that Baghdad was far away and declared himself
Caliph, breaking ties with the Middle East. But Abd al-Rahman’s successors weren’t all that organized either, with the
Moorish holdings breaking up into multiple kingdoms over the ensuing centuries. This opened the door for Christians from
the north to move in and re-Christianize the peninsula, a process known as the Reconquista. Seville was captured in
1248, and the rest of the peninsula was retaken at around the same time, except for the kingdom of Granada. In the 15th
Century Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile married and combined their kingdoms, and were able to finish the
job in Granada in 1492. They also initiated the Spanish Inquisition, with the first heretic-burning taking place in
Seville in 1481.
1492 and Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are probably ringing other bells in your head, bells related to another name,
that of Christopher Columbus (known as Cristóbal Colón to Spaniards), whose first expedition to the New World (though not
recognized as a New World until later) took place in that year. Though Seville was not directly involved in this
expedition, it had great consequences for the city. Partly as a result of Seville’s position on the only navigable
river in Spain, later voyages of exploration in some cases were planned in the city, and sometimes actually departed from
Seville. The Magellan expedition was one such example. Seville was named the sole port of trade for the riches coming
from the New World, and its wealth and population soared for a time. But late in the 16th Century Cadíz was named as a
second port of trade, and a plague in 1649 decimated Seville’s population. Eventually Seville’s harbor silted up, and
its days of glory came to an end.
But this didn’t stop us. Our Transavia flight from Paris dropped us off at Seville’s San Pablo Airport after a little
more than two hours in the air, and we had no trouble getting a taxi to take us to the city center, to a spot near our hotel,
the El Rey Moro. Two things became immediately clear as the taxi
drove off: first, Seville is way warmer than Paris, even though we were already into the evening hours; and second, much
of the city center is pedestrianized, and we were going to have to do some navigating of our own through some very narrow
streets to find the hotel. Fortunately we’d printed a map, so this wasn’t too difficult, but we were happy to see the
air-conditioned lobby. We found ourselves to be more than satisfied with the hotel – the rates were reasonable (the lowest
of the trip), the rooms surrounded a very pleasant and atmospheric courtyard, and our room (called Casa 14), despite being
sort of a radioactive green color, was decent-sized and very comfortable.
Also, “free breakfast” turned out to mean there was an area adjoining the courtyard where breakfast cereal and pastries
and assorted snack foods and beverages and bottled water were available to guests 24 hours a day on a serve-yourself
basis. We were to take frequent advantage of this arrangement (particularly the bottled water) over the next few
First, though, we needed to find a proper dinner. We picked up a tourist map from the front desk (very helpful – this
part of the city is something of a maze) and went out in search of food. We walked past a number of places we would
have to examine further later, but were not having much luck finding a restaurant with reasonable prices that looked
appetizing. We headed in a direction that seemed to take us away from the main tourist attractions (and hopefully
toward lower prices) and eventually found a restaurant that looked promising.
This restaurant had outdoor seating and a good-looking deal on a paella and set of five tapas. For
the uninitiated, a paella is served in a flat pan and consists of saffron-infused rice topped with some sort of
topping (seafood in our case), and tapas are small snack-sized dishes that could consist of almost anything edible
one could think of. The tapas deal at this restaurant was for a 5-tapas sorpresa. We looked this up in our
Spanish dictionary and discovered this meant “surprise”. We decided to live dangerously, and our sorpresa turned out
to be very pleasant, as did our paella.
After dinner we checked the name of the restaurant and discovered it to be El Rey Moro, the same as our hotel’s name. As
it turns out, the hotel stretches between two parallel streets, with a restaurant at the far end from the front desk. At
this point we could’ve walked the 50 feet or so back to our room, but instead decided to walk around the city a little
more. It was past dark by this time (actually about 11 PM) and we got the sense from walking around of a night life that
was just getting started. Pitchers of sangria were advertised everywhere, and a younger generation was probably just
embarking on another night of disgraceful behavior.
Nella and I, on the other hand, eventually returned to our hotel, pulled a gelatin dessert from the cooler off the
courtyard and retired to our room to rest up for our first destination for the following morning – the Seville