Though steeped in Moorish history, Andalusia, in the sun-baked deep-south, is the quintessential Spain. Dorothy Veitch recalls how Seville and Granada left her wanting more
Seville, the capital, is the life and soul of the Andalusian region. In this spirited and passionate city, the atmosphere – rather like a good flamenco performance – creeps up and taps you on the shoulder when you least expect it. Oozing history and a whole lot of charm, the beautifully preserved old town (Barrio Santa Cruz) is rooted in the Middle Ages when the Moors controlled the whole of the Iberian Peninsula.
Catedral de Sevilla
Built in the early 16th century, Catedral de Sevilla is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world. Its lavishly gilded nave rises to a height of 42 metres and houses some truly inspirational devotional paintings. Further highlights include the monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the Giralda, the mighty bell tower, which incorporates the former mosque’s original minaret.
Opposite the cathedral is the Alcázar: The oldest and possibly the most beautiful royal palace still in use in Europe today. Originally built by Moorish kings in the 12th century, it’s rich in Islamic influences but it’s been remodelled over the years and now presents a unique blend of architectural styles – Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque.
Parque de María Luisa
Stretching along one bank of the Guadalquivir River, the orange trees, palms, Mediterranean pines and stylised flower beds of Parque de María Luisa were first planted in 1911. There’s 800 metres of parkland and botanic garden to explore, dotted with lakes, fountains, bowers and pavilions. The park is also home to the Plaza de España, which film buffs will recognise from both Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002).
Getting to know Granada
Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Granada was the last stronghold of the Spanish Moors and their legacy lies all around – particularly in the horseshoe-shaped arches, street stalls and teterías (teahouses) of the historic Arab quarter. As the sun sets, make your way up to the Mirador San Nicolás lookout point for fabled views of the Alhambra served up with a tasty side of tapas.
A grand, sprawling hilltop fortress dating back to the 11th century, the Alhambra is one of the most visited national monuments in Spain. First developed as a walled town and military stronghold, it enjoyed its heyday in the 13th century, when it grew into a Nasrid-designed citadel and fortress, home to sultans and their entourage. Check out the beautiful palaces before exploring the ornamental gardens built on the Hill of the Sun.
Unearthed at the bottom of a private house, at the foot of the Alhambra, the Bañuelo hamman (steam baths) date back to the 11th century. You can’t take a dip in this painstakingly restored national monument but you can admire the beautiful Arabic porticos, and the dazzling vaulted ceilings, which are studded with star-shaped skylights.
Sacromonte has been home to Granada’s Romani inhabitants since the 16th century. Located on the hillside at Valparaíso, northeast of the Arab quarter, it’s renowned for its cave dwellings, flamenco clubs and music schools. Climb the hill to explore the catacombs and underground cave chapels, and stay on ‘til late to enjoy some of the best flamenco in all of Spain.