“…No creas lo que tus ojos te dicen.
Todo lo que muestran son limitaciones.
Mira con tu comprensión,
encuentra lo que ya sabes,
y verás el camino para volar…”
Andalusia, a Paradise between Europe and Africa
Andalusia consists of 8 provinces: Seville, Cádiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaen, Almeria and Malaga; each one of them has very distinct charateristics and it is worth spending some time in .Being the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula and the Southernmost point of Europe, Andalusia boasts Several Microclimates and stunning and variegated Landscapes. Its coastline stretches for over 500 miles peppered with beaches overlooking both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic: from the The Costa del Sol to the The Costa de La Luz. Andalusia offers also imposing Mountain chains , such as the Sierra Morena, the Sierra Nevada, and the Sierra Madrona. Andalusia is a gem of nature, which provides Endless Nature Wanders , among which 24 Natural Parks, and the Tabernas , one of the most Wide World Known Desert for its International Cinematic Location ! The Tabernas is located in the barren interior of Costa de Almeria. It’s approximately 280 square kilometers, and since the 1950s Westerns, War Films and Fantasy Adventures have all been filmed in this Southeastern corner of Spain, such as the famous Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns”, Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones”, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, and so on.
I’m still looking for the reason why I’m so fascinated by Andalusia , going beyond the fact that it is damned extraordinary! Its similarity to Sicily, where I was born, could be a possible answer. I can say Andalusia and Sicily, are like twins, because they have much in common: Great Weather all the year long, Spectacular Nature, excellent Wine production and Gastronomy, Art, Passion, Strong Identity , a Sincere Sense of Hospitality, and above all a Mix of Cross-Cultural Heritage.
Being a gateway between Europe and Africa like Sicily, Andalusia attracted different Cultures and People over the past centuries: Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Christians, Vandals, Visigots, and Arabs. Since 711 AC the territory was ruled by Muslim caliphates and emirates under the name of “Al-Andalus“, from which Andalusia takes its name today. The Guadalquivir River Valley was the heart of the Kingdom and the city of Cordoba became the capital of the Islamic Empire. Moors were enlightened rulers, they contributed to the economical and social development of Andalusia and promoted a religious tolerance towards the Christian community and the Jewish one, something that was really revolutionary in the Middle Age. Arabs governed Andalusia till the 1492 , when the Catholic Kings Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile established the famous “Reconquesta”. In the same year the Italian Explorer Christopher Columbus sailed away from the harbor of Palos de la Frontera (in the Western coast of Andalusia ), and discovered the New World, establishing the beginning of the Spanish Colonial Empire in the overseas territory. This florid period was the “Golden Age” for Andalusia, whose fruits can still be seen today in its great buildings of the Gothic, the Renaissance and the early Baroque. Seville and Cádiz were the biggest and richest cities in the Iberian Peninsula. However, the overwhelming majority of the wealth that reached Andalusia after the Discovery of America did not concur to the enrichment of the whole territory. Indeed it was in part diverted in war and too much trade and finance came to be controlled by other areas of Spain and by other European States as well. The economic situation continued to deteriorate throughout the following period. The 18th and 19th centuries were turbulent times for Andalusia marked by the Spanish War of Succession, the Napoleonic Invasion, the Battle of Trafalgar, and social conflicts in the Andalusian countryside . The 20th century was firstly shaped by the conflict between Monarchists and Republicans, then the ensuing Civil War (1936-39) ended with the national government of General Franco, who maintained his power until his death in 1975. With the return to the Democracy under the popular monarch Juan Carlos I, Andalusia attained a new self-confidence and became an Autonomous Region in 1982.
Seville, My Second Time
I love exploring New places, Gathering New Experiences and Trying new Wine & Food, so I can write about them in my Travel Blog WeLoveItaly.eu.
Seville was only one of the several Must-See Places where to be Once in my Life for another Emotional and Useful Post. This was the reason why I made a 24 hours Trip there two months ago, but not yet knowing that Seville would have bewitched me Soul & Body! Seville made me feel like I was exactly where I needed to be. As I wanted to understand why I was so inspired by this passionate city, I decided to spend my Easter Holidays in this exotic metropolis , not only because spring was the best period for its mild warm temperature, but also because I had much more time. Therefore, I had the possibility to enjoy the Charm of Andalusia and its Hypnotic Atmosphere. I discovered other amazing cities too, such as Cádiz and Cordoba, which made me deeply aware of the complexity of this incredible land and off the “alma” (soul) of its inhabitants.
What to do in Seville
I arrived in Seville at the end of April between two important celebrations the “Semana Santa” (Holy week) and the “Feria de Abril” (April Fair), avoiding the busiest period of the year, but at the same time missing the most interesting events too. By the way these are some of the best Seville‘s Marvels which involed me more closely:
- Seville Cathedral: My first desire was to visit the Seville Cathedral or “Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede” , as its full name goes. It is the third largest church in the world and the largest of Gothic design. It was built during the 15th and 16th centuries, in the spot where the City’s Mosque once stood during the Moorish Occupation. While its Gothic architecture is impressive from the outside, its sheer detail and scale is best appreciated from inside. Besides its impressive architecture, you’ll also find works of art by famed Spanish Artists, an Incredible Choir and Altar, the tomb of Christopher Columbus and an an idyllic courtyard, called “Patio de los Naranjos” for its scented orange trees. Click here for Useful Tips for visiting the Seville Cathedral;
- “La Giralda”: After the Seville Cathedral, I made my way up its attached Bell Tower , “La Giralda”. Its name means “she who turns” ( “girar ” is “to turn” in Spanish) after the weathervane on top of the Tower, a statue representing Faith called “El Giraldillo”, which is probably the best known symbol of the city (it was once the largest bronze sculpture of the European Renaissance). Originally a Minaret and one of the few remaining parts of a Mosque built on this site by Muslims between 1184 and 1198, the Tower was unusual in that it had ramps that led you to the top rather than stairs. This was so animals could carry up the men , whose job it was to perform the call to prayer five times a day. After Seville was taken back by the Christians, “La Giralda” was converted into a Christian church and finally into the Seville’s Cathedral Bell tower . “La Giralda” is 101 metres high, which makes it higher than London’s “Big Ben” and the “Tower of Pisa”! In 1987 UNESCO declared “La Giralda” a World Heritage Site for its great artistic and architectural value and its rich history, which reflects its cultural melting-pot . “La Giralda” together with its 24 bells was always my extraordinary open-air show when viewed from the street. It was my Top Pick for the best view in Seville as well as the other rooftop bars dotted throughout the city. Click here for Useful Tips for visiting the “Giralda”;
- “Barrio de Santa Cruz “: Most of the time “de la Tarde” (afternoon) I walked through the Seville streets admiring the pictoresque facades of the magnificent buildings, and getting lost among elegant, fountains, squares, shops and old cafes. Tucked away in the side streets of Alfalfa street, I decided to submerge myself in the essence of Andalucían Culture, visiting the “Museo del Baile Flamenco” (Museum of Flamenco Dance). This museum is housed in a beautiful 18th century called “Casa de Palacio” (Palace House). The Museum opened its doors to the public in April 2006 and was masterminded by the renowned Flamenco dancer, Cristina Hoyos, who was born, and grew up in the very same streets where the Museum now stands. Cristina Hoyos is one of the most important and respected dancers of late and she has worked with many of the legends of Flamenco Dance, many of who are honoured in her museum. Different areas of the museum are dedicated to Cristina ’s teachers and associates who include Antonio Gades, Enrique el Coto and Pilar Lopez;
- “Boca Boca Restaurant”: The perfect way to end my evening was to have a tasteful dinner in the Old Town. While the classical guitars and soft singing by Flamenco Artists entertained me delightfully all around, I stumpled upon the “Boca Boca “ , a small but delicious Andalusian-Italian restaurant located between the Seville Cathedral and the “Plaza Nueva“. The attentive servers welcomed with a big smile . I ordered my favourite “tapas” and drinks: anchovies deep fried in oil, dried tomatos, “gazpacho” , and my usual Verdejo , a fantastic fruity White Wine produced in the Rueda region of Spain! I asked the owner the secrets of his recipes, and his answer was “semplice, Passione” (simply passion) . He was speaking my language, so he was Italian. We went on talking not only about the local culinary specialities, but also about his adventure in Andalusia. Gianfranco’s daughter, Veronica, went on holiday in Seville immediately after she graduated and it was love at first sight! She moved to Seville and opened the “Boca Boca “ restaurant in 2006, and Gianfranco was happy to help her with that immense challange. He was so kind with me all the night long, keeping me company with all his picaresque life stories led between Italy , Spain and South America. I highly recommend the gorgeous “Boca Boca Restaurant” , because of Gianfranco’s big heart and its special Andalusian Cuisine.
Cadiz & Cordoba
My Andalusian Itinerary included two great cities , Cádiz and Cordoba, which were connected to Seville by fast Renfe trains in about two hours. I found Cádiz andCordoba historic, quaint and seductive. Here you are some reasons why to go there:
- Exploring the remnants of a great Islamic Empire;
- Strolling the cobbled laneways and famous floral patios;
- Witnessing one of the Most Historically Fascinating Buildings in the World:
- Visiting the home of powerful kings;
- Tasting superb “tapas ” in cute squares;
Cádiz is the oldest city in Europe. It was founded in 1100 BC by the Phoenicians, who called it “Gadir” and traded Baltic amber and British tin, as well as Spanish silver.
The city became a naval base for the Romans until 1262, when it was taken from the Muslims by Alfonso X. It enjoyed a period of notable splendour with the Discovery of America, as Columbus sailed from this port on his second and fourth voyages. Much later the city had its “Golden Age” during the 18th century, when it had the monopoly of American trade with Spain to a large extent. From this time it grew into one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in Spain and most of the city’s fine buildings date from this time.
What to do in Cadiz
- Cádiz Cathedral: When I was in“Barrio del Pópulo”, I found myself contempling the majestic Cádiz Cathedral . Considered among Cadiz’s Most Famous Monuments, the golden dome of the Cádiz Cathedral represents everyone’s classic image of the city. Cádiz Cathedral, designed by Vicente de Acero, is a spectacular architectural work of art and is very original managing to combine the traditional Spanish Architecture with Baroque forms from Italy. Check out the inside of the cathedral for five euros or with a guided tour. You can also climb up the tower for another great view of the city;
- Tavira Tower: It is a Watchtower and witness to the trade and prosperity which the city experienced in the 18th century. It is situated in the centre of town, and It is also the highest point in the town at 45 meters above the sea level. The most known attraction of this Tower , apart from the beautiful panoramic view I had on the top floor of it, is the famous “Camera Oscura”. It consists of an optical system that reflects a live image on a white circular screen which functions as telescopes used in submarines, where visitors can enjoy an exhibition of approximately 15 minutes. These exposures are developed by guides that explain accurately and with sympathy all the historical data, interesting facts and curiosities;
- “La Caleta Beach”: this is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Cádiz , which has been made famous by the James Bond movie “007, Die Another Day”. It is located between two old castles, the “Castillo de Santa Catalina” and the “Castillo de San Sebastián” , where you can enjoy art exhibitions and colourful sunsets;
- “Calle Plocia” : It’s a street behind the “Plaza de Sevilla” full of restaurants and bar where to try the best of the Andalusian “tapas” and Wines.
Whilst Western European peasants worried that their wattle-and-daub might not see out the winter the Cordoba people were carving intricate vegetal friezes into their sandstone. Whilst wild Vikings were burning their boats, Cordoba’s Muslims were creating libraries! During its turbulent history, Cordoba was under Roman rule, then colonized by the Muslims in the 8th century, which led to it becoming a major Islamic center and the capital of the “Caliphate of Córdoba” in the Middle Ages. At that time it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest city in the world. During the “Reconquista” in the 13th century, it was recaptured by Christian forces.
What to do in Cordoba
One day was too short to experience all the magic things Cordoba had to offer, but It was enough to get an appreciable first impression. I arrived early in the morning so I didn’t have to stand in line to visit its main attractions.
The most important advice I can probly give you to visit Cordoba is: planning and research is everything! A lot of monuments are only open until 3 pm. So make sure to choose what you want to see in advance! Here My Top List of Things to do in Cordoba:
- “The Mosque–Cathedral Mezquita”: One of the World’s Greatest Works of Islamic Architecture, “Mezquita Mosque–Cathedral” is an astounding hybrid structure built as a Mosque in the 8th century by Umayyad Abd-ur-Rahman. At that time Cordoba was the leading city in terms of science and culture in Europe and the most important city in the Islamic Kingdom. At the beginning of the 13th century, Cordoba was retaken by Christians and the Mosque was converted into a church, culminating with the Renaissance Cathedral Nave in the 16th century. Click here for Useful Tips for visiting it ;
- “Patio De Los Naranjos”: an enchanting Orange Patio inside the “The Mosque–Cathedral Mezquita” . This former Caliphate Courtyard of Ablutions today houses the ticket office and is a great place to enjoy the shade of the trees and the subtle orange scent. Click here for Useful Tips for visiting it;
- Cordoba Historic Centre : Just around the corner North from the Mosque, you’ll find “Calleja de las Flores” , a narrow whitewashed alley filled with flowers and a great photo opportunity. The Historic Centre of Cordoba is famed for its hidden patios, large interior courtyards and twisting alleys;
- “La Judería” : The streets which are referred to as “La Judería” , that means the “Jewish Quarter”, are the ones where Jewish people once dwelled and it is still the most beautiful part of the city. There was a time several centuries ago when Cordoba was known as the city of three cultures, becasue Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in harmony with each other. Today, there are very very few Muslims and Jews comunities in Cordoba, but their influence remains in the Architecture and the Mosque and Synagogue (neither functioning religiously now) all around;
- “Paseo de la Ribera”: Cordoba‘s Promenade is an area filled with stylish restaurants, and it’s a perfect place where to stop for a break! I walked along the Roman Bridge to reach the other side of the city and I had nice views of the nature around the Guadalquivir River. The Roman Bridge dates from the 1st century BC, but was rebuilt in the 10th century during the Moorish occupation. The Roman Bridge leads to “Torre de la Calahorra” at South end , that is a fortified gate originally built by the Moors (Almohads) and extensively restored by King Enrique II of Castile in 1369 to defend the city from attack by his brother Pedro I the Cruel. The tower houses the “Museo Vivo de Andalus” , a living museum featuring waxworks and a model of the Alhambra;
- “Horno San Luis”: it’s a delicious resaturant in the Old Town , where I sheltered after I got caught unexpectedly in a downpour at lunch time. The staff was super friendly , its cocktails fantastic and the food even better! I had “salmorejo” , the typical dish from Cordoba – a “gazpacho” with eggs and Iberico ham, paired with my Verdejo ! The restaurant was also an attraction in itself. It consisted of different patios all decorated differently but with a lot of plants and flowers;
- “Plaza de La Tendillas”: it’s the modern business and financial core of the city, where I stopped before going back to Seville. Clouds gave way to splendid sunshine , so I sat on the edge of a fountain to take last photos in Cordoba. During my “siesta” my attention was attracted by a smiling lady while sketching a dome of a white Colonial House . Her drawing was simple and beautiful, absolutely clear, made only with a piece of charcoal. I congratulated her to be able to capture the magnificence of that old builduing in few essential lines. We started to talk each other, and we introduced ourselves . We had immediately felt a great liking each other. Her name was Lucila Veloz Gutierrez, a Well-Rounded Artist born in Guanajuato, Mexico, who moved for her job in Cordoba twenty years ago. To my great astonishment she invited me to go to her atelier in the heart of “Plaza de La Tendillas” at the second floor of an old and elegant palace. It was a fascinating laboratory of Architecture and Painting , where I admired her works dealing with the costant theme of the integration of Mexican Comunity in Andalusia. I’ll never forget the brightness of her watercolors depicting the Bicolored Arches of the Cordoba Mezquita. As I was heading to the train station, I knew that it wasn’t the last time I would see Lucila!
There’s no place like Andalusia! This is a mesmerizing Spanish region, which exudes style and flair whilst also steeped in hundreds of years of glorious history.
The true essence of Spain is in Andalusia, in the passionate Flamenco woven into the fabric of everyday life, along the intricate cobbled lanes of a blindingly whitewashed village, in a majestic cathedral that soars into the blue, or inside a crowded “tapas bar” where locals and visitors come for Top Food & Wine ! Whether it’s a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, a breathtaking nature scene, or a ravishing coastal town overflowing with old-world charm, there’s no better way to grab the soul of Southern Spain than by visiting these beautiful places in Andalusia. Definitely, Andalusia is a perfect idea for your next upcoming trip, because this buzzing land will give you that tingling sensation in your stomach and make your heart beat faster .
Andalusia is somewhere I’ll return to again and again!