Friday, June 17, 2016

Seville Day 1 - Semana Santa

If you are in Seville during the Semana Santa week, its almost impossible to miss the sheer excitement in the city. Its almost like the whole city comes to the halt for the evening procession.
So what is “Semana Santa”? “Semana Santa” means “Holy Week”. Starting with Palm Sunday, the last week of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday is a pretty big deal in Spain, but especially in Seville. Even if you aren’t religious, it is impossible to miss the incredible celebrations.
What’s the celebration about?  So the churches have hermandades (“brotherhoods”), which are like religious organizations/clubs that people can join. In Seville, the 55 or so brotherhoods take part in the processions carrying over 105 pasos (floats) that carry imageries of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, etc. The icons are cared for all year long and then during Semana Santa they’re carried through the streets in grand parades/processions. The processions are managed by the city, which sets very specific schedules and provides other kinds of preparation and assistance, including police officers, barricades, blocking off streets and public transportation, etc.
How to view it? First thing to do is choose a procession to try and see, and then try to get there early so you can get a good spot. In some areas, we saw stadium-style seats which I am told are booked in advance and are pretty expensive. Husband and I were pretty tired due to the 300 am start and we didn’t intend to see the full procession. So we found a spot near the cathedral but it was a free spot – meaning people could just stand on the road and view the procession pass. It important to go a bit in advance of the schedule because by the time of the procession, it was pretty packed.
The Marching Order – We noticed that in the procession, the first thing was the Cruz de Guía (the guiding cross) and then followed the ‘nazarenos’. These are people that march in front of the pasos, and are members of the brotherhood who have volunteered to do this. Some carry small crosses or rosaries, candles, and some even hand out candy to kids that are in the crowds watching them pass by.
The nazarenos wear long robes and capirotes: pointed caps, along with hoods that cover their faces, except where there are slits for their eyes. The colour can vary with the brotherhood but we mostly saw either black or white. It can invoke an image of the Ku Klux Klan however let me reassure that there is no connection whatsoever. The people who wear the capirotes are respected for their religious devotion and commitment.
Then comes the “paso” – am image or a set of images set up on a movable wooden float. The structure is richly carved, ornately decorated, colorful, covered with flowers and magnificent to the viewer. Most hermandades have a paso with Jesus, and one with Mary, but some have an additional paso depicting a scene from the Bible. Many of these pasos are kept on display inside their churches so they can be enjoyed throughout the year.
The pasos were moving and stopping at intervals and that is when we realized that they weren’t actually moving on wheels. They were actually carried by members of the hermandades! I later found out that the pasos usually weigh around 4,000 pounds and between 25 and 50 people, called costaleros, carry the pasos on their back and shoulders. People volunteer to do this job! The team of men called the costaleros (literally "sack men", for their distinctive - and functional - headdress), supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks, lift, move and lower the paso. As they are all inside the structure and hidden from the external view by a curtain, the paso seems to move by itself. 
As each procession leaves its home church, (an event known as the salida), at its return (the entrada), and along the march route, improvised flamenco-style songs may be offered by individuals in the crowd or from a balcony. These songs are generically calledsaetas (arrows). The high point of the procession is when the float exits and enters the respective church. 

For the people of Seville, it was generally just a time to be social. Kids enjoy holding out their hands to try and get candy from the nazarenos. The entire scene is alive with colour and sound, thanks to the polychromatic variety of tunics, hoods, ensigns and banners, in short, its one of a kind of experience.

The marching band



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Seville Day 1 - Will the Real Alcazar please stand up !

By now, it was well past 300 pm and we managed to claim our right to the room. As we were heading out, we stopped by the reception to pick up a city centre map but mostly to see if we can get a few tips on where we can stand to get a perfect glimpse of the evening Semana Santa procession. During half english and half dumb-charades type banter, she told us that the ticket line to the Real Alcazar is usually massive and it’s important to book it online, we promptly agreed her advice and later found out how true it was.

Originally founded as a fort governors of Seville in 913, the Alcázar has been expanded or reconstructed many times in its existence. The history goes that in the 11th century, Seville’s prosperous Muslim rulers developed the original fort by building a palace called Al-Muwarak. Later on, in the 12th-century, the Almohad rulers added another palace. However, in 1248, the Christian monarch, Fernando III captured Seville and moved into the Alcázar. Fernando’s son then replaced much of the Almohad palace with a Gothic one. The credit for the best part of Alcazar however goes to Pedro who between 1364 and 1366 created the Alcázar’s crown jewel, the sumptuous Mudéjar Palacio de Don Pedro. Needless to say, this is a UNESCO world heritage site and the palace is still used by the Spanish royal family when they are in Seville

The palace can be entered from the Plaza del Triunfo through the Puerta del León or Lion's Gate. From the ticket office inside the Puerta del León (Lion Gate) you emerge into the Patio del León (Lion Patio), which was the start of the original Al-Muwarak palace. Off to the left of the Patio del León one can enter the Sala de Justica (“Hall of Justice”). This room was likely used as a residence of Peter I during the construction of his palace.  Also, it is said that Peter’s step-brother, Don Fadrique, was murdered in this room by order of Peter himself.
Passing through the rear arch of the Patio del León, one enters the heart of the complex which is called the Patio de la Montería.
Patios De La Monteria

Patios de la Monteria is named after the hunters (monteros) who met here with the King before they went out hunting. 
In front is the Palacio del Ray Pedro I de Castilla (“Palace of King Peter I of Castille”), built in 1364. On the left is the Palacio Gótico (“Gothic Palace”), built in the mid-13th century.  On the right is the Casa de la Contratación (“House of Trade”) where Columbus signed his contract with Queen Isabella.

At this point the husband needs a restroom break. It is extremely important that the husbands visits every bathroom at every place – be it a restaurant, a café, a theatre, a cinema or any other location so why leave out the Real Alcazar. Once the husband is back, we continue on the most magnificent part of the Alcazar - Palacio del Ray Pedro I

Palacio del Ray Pedro I

The Palace of King Don Pedro I starts with a facade which harmoniously marries Moorish features - horseshoe arches, Arabic lettering ("No one is victorious but Allah") - with Christian words (the very noble... Don Pedro... ordered ordered these Alcazares built"). It is amazing how the both co-exist.

Hall of Ambassadors – This was the main hall of the palace and the throne room of the king Pedro I. It’s a sqaure room similar to Muslin “Quba” where the square represents the earth and the dome represents the universe. A decoration of the combed muquarnas forming a star joins the square to the circle.

Patio De La Doncellas

The Courtyard of the Damsels was the centre of public area of the king Peter I palace. Its surrounded by the poly lobed arches, one of the most characteristic motifs of the Almohad dynasty. This was named for the legend that the Moorish rulers of Andalusia would demand 100 virgins from the Christian kingdoms each year.  This story was used to spur  the Christian reconquest of the Moorish territories that took place during the Middle Ages.

Patio de las Muñecas (“Court of the Dolls”)

Private life in the Palace of Pedro I revolved around the Patio de las Muñecas, which leads to the bedrooms and private halls. The small hall is enclosed by a gallery with marble columns and lobed arches. The name of the Patio de las Muñecas - Patio of the Dolls - is derived from four small heads that decorate one of the arches.

From the Mudéjar Palace we passed without realizing it into the Gothic Palace, and entered the Gothic Palace Chapel. From the palace we passed out into the massive Gardens of the Alcázar.

The Gardens
A visit to the Royal Alcazar also allows entry into the royal gardens. The expansive area is divided into a number of separate gardens some of which are terraced. 

The first thing that caught our eye was the lovely Pond of Mercury. It is said that the This pond was originally an irrigation reservoir that was fed by a Roman aqueduct!  In 1575, it was converted into a more decorative pool with a theme based on the Roman god Mercury, the messenger of the God.
From the pond you have a view over a walled-in section of the garden, laid out in a formal style. To the right of the pond are a number of smaller terraced gardens all connected to each other via gates and small staircases. The gardens are decorated with fountains, grottos, a labyrinth and even a small artificial mountain.
The arch is connected to a gallery - the Galeria del Grutesco - which was once part of the original Moorish palace. 

Mercury Pond with the Galeria del Grutesco in the background

Garden View from the Gallery 

All in all, the Alcazar is a must visit when you are in Seville and specially if you want to avoid going all the way to Granada to see the Alhambra. 

Few weeks later, when husband and I are watching Game Of Thrones season 6, we will get excited to see that the Alcazar gardens are the gallery are being used to show 'Dorne'.
Perhaps, this will make us go back again !


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