Thursday, 02-04-2015. Day 225.
Saints, Explorers, and Mantillas.
The morning after our Seville arrival adventure, we all slept in late (a habit that we'd keep up for pretty much the entire time we were in Spain), showered (a rare moment when all four of us are showered on the same day), and checked out of the hotel.
Before we got on the road to Granada, we wanted to see the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, more commonly known as the Seville Cathedral. It's the largest cathedral in the world (as well as the third largest church) and it is, of course, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (officially known as Cathedral, Alcázar and, Archivo de Indias in Seville).
The cathedral was only open for limited hours because of the upcoming Semana Santa services, so we took in a light lunch at a café near the hotel and started the short walk toward the cathedral. As we made our way through the twisting side streets of Seville toward the Cathedral, we came upon the statue of Ferdinand III of Castile.
Ferdinand III of Castile
This is not the Ferdinand of Ferdinand and Isabella (who together are known as the Reyes Católicos and ruled in the 15th century—and whom streets are named after). Ferdinand III was king of Castile and Léon (Toledo) in the early 1200s, and since 1671 he's also been known as Saint Ferdinand, the patron of engineers, and his body still rests in the Seville Cathedral. San Fernando (the city and the valley) in California is named for him.
He also carried a magic sword named Lobera (which means wolf-slayer in Spanish) instead of the rods that other Spanish monarchs favored. This, too, is hanging in the Seville Cathedral, but I didn't learn that until after we'd left. I am a little bummed that I missed it. It's not everyday you get to see a magic sword.
As we got closer to the Cathedral, there were signs that the city was gearing up for another celebration, like rows and rows of chairs lining the streets. It was Maundy Thursday (the night of the Last Supper), after all, and one of the biggest parades of Semana Santa would take to the streets of Seville in a few hours.
This impressive cathedral was initially built to be a mosque in the 12th century, but this changed when Ferdinand III took Seville back from the Moors. In 1401, the decision was made to replace the former partially built mosque with a cathedral, and after it was completed in 1506 (yes, it took more than 100 years to build) it was the largest cathedral in the world, a distinction previously held by the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.
The cathedral famously has 15 doors, but the main one that tourists enter is the Door of the Prince on the south side of the building.
Outside the door stands a huge bronze statue, which is a replica of El Giraldillo, the statue that stands on top of the cathedral's belltower (called La Giralda).
After we paid our entrance fee and walked through a small art gallery, we entered the spacious center of the Seville Cathedral. The room is stunningly large with a lofty nave—the longest of any Spanish cathedral—held up by tall, thick stone pillars.
The center of the cathedral there is a huge choir loft.
The central dome of the cathedral has collapsed many times over the course of history, first in 1511, again in 1888 (after an earthquake), and again in 1903 (as repairs from the previous collapse were underway. So standing under the dome requires a certain level of ignorance, bravery, or blind faith.
In our case it was ignorance. We didn't learn about the architectural instability of the dome untl after we'd left. Though in all fairness, it has held up fine for more than 100 years.
There were a lot of tourists there when we arrived (I'm sure that's always the case), but there were also a lot of people working to get ready for that afternoon's service.
We walked around for a bit, taking in the sights. Inside the cathedral, one can find numerous sacristies and burial tombs of a few famous Spaniards, like Christopher Columbus, his son Ferdinand, the aforementioned Ferdinand III, Ferdinand's son Alfonso X (Alfonso the wise), and Pedro I (Pedro the Cruel; we learned about him during our stop in Toledo).
We're told that we know the remains in this sarcophogus is really Christopher Columbus beuase they did DNA matching with the remains of his son, Ferdinand (who is also interred here). Yay science!
La Giralda (The Belltower)
After walking around the cathedral for a little while and checking out many of the sacristies that line the nave, we climbed the cathedral's belltower, known as La Giralda. This tower, which today it stands 105 meters tall, was originally built as the mosque's minaret. It took us about 15 minutes to walk up the 85 (I think) turns of the inclined ramp that leads to the top.
La Giralda is one of the tallest things in Seville, so once we were at the top, we had great views of Seville in every direction.
Speaking of bullfights, we didn't attend one. We did have a little discussion about it, though. We all agreed it was cruel, but we still had some residual curiosity about it, mainly on a cultural level. Jackie didn't want to go at all because she didn't want to support the the practice, so we had pretty much decided against it. As it turns out, we were there before bullfighting season started—and kids aren't allowed at bullfights anyway—so our decision was made for us.
After we walked back down the 85 levels of La Giralda, we took one more pass through the cathedral, then exited via the Patio de los Naranjos with its fragrant orange trees and through the Door of Forgiveness, which is constructed in the Moorish style and was part of the ancient mosque.
As we walked back down to retrieve the car from the parking structure (we were surprised than an all-night parking spot only cost us €17 with the hotel discount!) we passed by many people dressed in black who were heading up toward the cathedral to get ready for that evenin's services. Many of the women wore mantillas draped with black veils. We'd never seen them worn in person before, and they looked pretty striking.
So there it was. About 20 hours after we entered Seville, we left, heading toward Granada, where we would certainly encounter another parade. But after our ordeal the night before, we thought we were ready for for anything a Semana Santa parade could throw at us.
We were wrong.