Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with
more of the Best of Europe.
This time we're deep in the south of Spain,
This is Sevilla.
Hold on to your castanets.
Sevilla does festivals with gusto.
It's a flamboyant city of larger-than-life
lovers like Carmen and Don Juan,
where bullfighting is still politically correct,
and where little girls still dream of
growing up to become flamenco dancers.
Sevilla has soul and a contagious love of life.
Sevilla, or Seville in English,
has its share of impressive sights.
And we'll see its Grand Cathedral
and plush Moorish palace.
But the real magic is the city itself
with its labyrinthine Jewish quarter...
Riveting flamenco shows,
and teeming festivals.
From Sevilla we head into the hills of Andalusia
to explore the region's finest hill town,
Arcos de la Frontera.
Located in the southwest corner of Europe,
Spain dominates the Iberian Peninsula.
Its southern province is Andalusia
and the region's leading city is Sevilla.
From there we travel to Arcos de la Frontera.
Sevilla was Europe's gateway to the new world
in the 16th century.
It flourished during the age of discovery.
The explorers Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan,
and Amerigo Vespucci all sailed from right here.
The Golden Tower was the starting and ending point
for trade with the new world.
For centuries, part of the city's fortifications,
it came with a heavy chain draped across the river
to protect the harbor.
In the 16th century,
Sevilla's Golden Age was powered by new world riches.
In the 17th century, all that money made the city
an important center of arts and culture.
In the 18th century, as its harbor silted up
and the Spanish Empire crumbled.
Sevilla's power faded, and in the 19th century
the once powerful, now quaint, Sevilla
became an important stop
on the Romantic-era grand tour of Europe.
In the 20th century, 1992 to be exact,
Sevilla hosted a World's Fair that left the city
with today's striking 21st-century infrastructure,
dramatic bridges, a sleek new train system
and even a new airport.
Today, with 700,000 people,
it's Spain's fourth largest city,
an exuberant Andalusian capital.
[ Clapping and yelling ]
But the charm of Sevilla is best enjoyed in its traditions,
Spaniards consider Andalusia the home of flamenco.
While impromptu flamenco still erupts spontaneously
in old-world bars, most tourists
attend a show like this.
The men do most of the machine-gun footwork.
[ Rhythmic tapping ]
The women concentrate on graceful turns
and a smooth, dramatic step.
[ Guitar strum ]
with their lightning-fast finger-roll strums
are among the best in the world.
[ Fast clicking ]
The intricate rhythms are set by castanets and hand-clapping.
[ Singing in Spanish ]
In the raspy-voiced wails of the singers,
you'll hear echoes of the Muslim call to prayer,
an evocative reminder of centuries of Moorish rule.
[ Single clapping ]
[ Applause ]
The town square is Plaza Nueva.
It honors King Ferdinand III,
fondly remembered for freeing Sevilla from the Moors
in the 13th century.
From here, wander into Sevilla's
pedestrian-zone shopping center,
which Spaniards prefer to the suburban mall.
This is the place for traditional Spanish fashions.
But I couldn't know my manchego from my mantilla
without a little local help.
My friend and local tour guide, Concepción Delgado,
has agreed to be my personal shopper.
So there's all these traditional things to buy.
Isn't it just for tourists that they sell these?
No way. These are for locals. We love our things.
We have preserved our traditions for centuries.
So these traditions are healthy?
This is one of my favorite shops.
Here, now let me show you
the three most traditional accessories
that women wear in Spain:
Shawls, mantillas and fans.
Starting with the shawls that you can see here,
the display of beautiful colors and embroideries,
which are very practical for us, too.
We would use them as accessories,
but they also have a function,
which is warming you when you're cold.
This is what we wear on top of the
beautiful, nice flamenco dresses
to attend to the April "feria".
On top of the flamenco dress,
you cannot wear a simple coat. You have to wear
something more distinguished, which is a shawl.
You can leave it like that, it's more sexy.
Here we've got the mantilla.
The mantilla is another accessory,
which can be in two colors: White or black.
It's always combined with this comb,
which is incorporated in the mantilla like this,
and then we wear that on our heads. Okay.
The white one, it's only for the "feria",
for the festival in April,
when women wear them to attend the bullfights.
Let's have a look at the fans now.
As you can see, very different colors,
but they are mostly made in wood.
Remember that Sevilla gets very hot during the summer,
and women, all ladies use them,
especially when they attend services.
Very old churches, no air condition,
and they are cooling themselves like this.
Sometimes you hardly hear the priest,
just [ Thumping ].
That's all around you.
In the old days, there was a language with fans,
which is disappearing, but in the love game,
it was very useful, too.
For example, you were looking at someone
that you weren't interested at,
- ha, ha. - You can go away
because I don't like you much.
But if you were really interested,
that movement could tell him something, don't you think?
Anyway, the most common movement for a fan is...
[ Click, thump, thump, thump ]
In the year 711 the Muslim Moors swept in from Africa
and conquered the Iberian Peninsula.
They ruled Spain for five centuries,
inspiring a Europe-wide crusade among Christians
to reconquer this land.
Muslim rule stretched as far as France,
but bit by bit the Moors were pushed back,
expelled from Sevilla in 1248
and finally pushed entirely out of Western Europe by 1492.
The Moors left a distinct mark on Andalusian culture.
While in Sevilla, they ruled from here, the Alcazar.
More than six centuries later, this magnificent building
still functions as a Royal Palace.
The Alcazar provides a thought-provoking glimpse
of a graceful Moorish world
that might have survived its Christian conquerors
What you see today is a 14th-century rebuild
done in mudéjar style.
This was a Moorish style done by Moorish craftsmen
but for Christian rulers after the reconquest.
This became the king's palace.
Its centerpiece was the elegantly proportioned
court of the maidens.
It was decorated mudéjar below and Renaissance above.
The king hired Muslim workers to give Moorish elegance
to what was a stark fortress.
They built what's considered the finest mudéjar building
in all of Spain.
The intimate dolls' court was the king's living quarters.
Imagine the royal family lounging
around a reflecting pool in this courtyard.
The stylized Arabic script, a standard feature of mosques,
created a visual chant of Koranic verses,
but the decor is clearly Christian.
You'll see animals,
buildings and kings
that you wouldn't find in religious Muslim ornamentation,
which forbids images.
A century or so later,
just after Columbus' new world discoveries,
Queen Isabel built a more European-style wing to the palace.
Anticipating a big business in plunder and trade,
she built this to administer Spain's new world ventures.
The chapel is dedicated
to Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires.
St. Mary of the Good Winds
was the patron saint of navigators
and a favorite of Columbus.
This altar painting dates from
shortly after Columbus died and features what's considered
the first and most accurate
portrait of the great explorer on the left.
It's also thought to be the first painting of Indians done in Europe.
The Virgin's cape seems to protect everyone under it,
even the Indians.
Like the palace, the gardens reflect a mix of cultures.
The intimate geometric Moorish gardens
lead to the later, much more expansive
backyard of Spanish kings.
The gardens are full of tropical flowers, cool fountains
and, in the summer, hot tourists.
I'm thankful we're here in late April,
beating the brutal heat of the Andalusian summer.
The Moors were relatively tolerant of other religions.
During their rule, Christians, Jews and Muslims
shared the city peacefully.
After the Christian reconquest,
Sevilla's thriving Jewish community
was concentrated here in the Barrio de Santa Cruz.
Today only a few peaceful squares
surrounded by a tangled web of alleys survives from the days
when this was Sevilla's Jewish quarter.
Explore, wander among lanes too narrow for cars,
whitewashed houses corralling peaceful squares
and wrought-iron latticework.
Regardless of who lived here, the design of the neighborhood
seems to have one goal: Stay cool.
The narrow streets, some with buildings so close
they're called kissing lanes,
were designed to maximize shade.
Concepción: These orange trees are great for shade.
They never lose their leaves.
Rick: And refreshing,
too, on a hot day.
Well, not to eat.
These are sour orange trees.
We just use them for vitamins, perfume
or that kind of marmalade the british like.
Oh, that bitter English marmalade, yeah.
It's made with our oranges.
The Santa Cruz neighborhood comes with a timeless beauty.
Savor the simple elegance of Sevilla.
The delicate charms of Santa Cruz
are just a few steps from Sevilla's immense cathedral.
It's the third largest church in Europe,
after St. Peter's in the Vatican
and St. Paul's in London,
and the largest Gothic church anywhere.
When they ripped down the mosque that stood on this site
in 1401, the Reconquista Christians bragged,
"we'll build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it
will take us for madmen."
You could fit a soccer field in here.
Everything is super-sized.
The towering main altarpiece is covered in gold leaf.
Constructed in the 1480s,
it's composed of hundreds of figures.
It tells the story of the life of Jesus
in 40 scenes from his birth to his resurrection.
The choir, an enclosure within the cathedral
for more intimate services,
surrounds a spinnable music rack.
It held giant hymnals,
large enough for all to chant from
in an age when there weren't enough for everyone.
In the transept,
four pallbearers carry the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
They represent the four medieval kingdoms
that became Spain:
Aragon, Navarre, Castile and Leon,
each identified by their team shirts.
Columbus even traveled a lot after he died.
He was buried first in Sevilla, then
moved to Santo Domingo, then to Cuba.
And after Cuba earned its
independence from Spain around 1900,
he sailed all the way back here to Sevilla.
Is he really in there?
Sevillanos like to think so.
All that survives of Moorish Sevilla's main mosque
is its courtyard of orange trees and a towering minaret.
The tower offers a brief recap of the city's
history, sitting on a Roman foundation,
a long Moorish period capped by the Christian age.
The Moors built its spiraling ramp
to accommodate a rider on horseback.
Somebody climbed this tower five times a day
to call Sevilla's Muslims to prayer.
Today tourists gallop up for fine city views.
And the former minaret functions
as the cathedral's bell tower.
It's topped with a bronze weathervane,
a statue that symbolizes the triumph of faith.
Some of Spain's best bullfighting
is done right here in Sevilla's 14,000-seat Plaza de Toros.
Bullfights are scheduled most sundays,
Easter through october.
While bullfighting is controversial
and many believe that the patronage of tourists
just helps keep a brutal spectacle alive,
others see bullfighting as a real
and vivid part of Spanish culture.
Whether or not you actually
attend a bullfight is up to you.
To learn about this tradition without actually supporting it,
you can tour Sevilla's Plaza de Toros
and check out its Bullfighting Museum.
Your visit starts with a tour through
the strangely quiet and empty arena.
In the museum you'll learn more.
A few special bulls are honored here,
each awarded the bovine equivalent of an Oscar
for putting up the best fight of the year.
This one's missing an ear.
It was awarded to the matador, who also performed well.
Matadors dress to kill, elegant in their tight-fitting
and richly-ornamented suits of light.
The first-aid room is where injured fighters are rushed.
Hoping not to end up there,
matadors pray here in the chapel.
The Virgin of Macarena is a protector of matadors
and the favorite among sevillanos.
While her images are everywhere,
you can see the actual darling of Sevilla
nearby at the...
Grab a pew and study the Weeping Virgin.
She's a 17th-century doll,
complete with articulated arms and human hair.
She's even dressed with underclothes.
With crystal teardrops, her beautiful expression,
halfway between ecstasy and sorrow, touches pilgrims.
Sevilla's Semana Santa, or holy week, celebrations
are the most magnificent in Spain.
During the week leading up to Easter, the city's
packed with pilgrims witnessing grand processions,
carrying elaborate floats through the streets.
The two most impressive floats of the festivities
are parked behind the altar.
The biggest float, slathered in gold leaf,
shows the sentencing of Christ.
Pontius Pilate is about to wash his hands.
His wife cries as a man reads the death sentence.
While pious Sevillan women wail in the streets,
relays of 48 men carry this three-ton float
on the backs of their necks.
Only their feet show from under these drapes
as they shuffle through the streets from about
midnight until two in the afternoon each good friday.
This float, with the Weeping Virgin from the church's altar
placed regally in the center, is the hit of the parade.
It's festooned with wax flowers and candelabra.
It seems fragile, all silver and candles.
Locals explain, it's strong enough to support the roof
while delicate enough to quiver in the soft night breeze.
Rick: Have you actually seen this
one going through the streets?
Concepción: The queen of the city, you mean? Yes. Of course.
She even wears her crown, and that
day she looks absolutely beautiful.
When she goes through the streets,
people get crazy.
They can't explain all those emotions
and they clap or they cry
or they throw petals from balconies.
What's so special about this particular Mary?
She knows everything about us
because we have been telling her
our problems for centuries.
Her name is hope, which is what we all need.
Sevilla's passion for religious art is preserved
and displayed in its museum of fine art:
The top Spanish artists Valesquez, Murillo, Zurbaran
all called Sevilla home.
Sevilla was Spain's commercial and
material capital it's New York City.
While Madrid was a newly built center of government,
like Washington, D.C.
In the early 1800s, Spain's liberal government
disbanded many of the monasteries and convents
and secular fanatics were looting the churches.
Thankfully, the most important religious art was rescued
and hung safely here in this convent-turned-museum.
Spain's economic Golden Age, the 1500s,
blossomed into the Golden Age of Spanish painting, the 1600s.
Artists such as Francesco de Zurbaran
combined realism with mysticism.
Under a protective Mary, he painted balding saints
and monks with wrinkled faces and sunburned hands.
This inspirational style fit Spain's spiritual climate
during an age when the Catholic Church
was waging its Counter-Reformation battle
against the Protestant Rebellion.
The "Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas" is considered
Zurbaran's most beautiful and important work.
It was done at the height of his career,
when stark realism was all the rage.
Zurbaran presents the miraculous
in a believable, down-to-earth way.
Eventually, the soft and accessible
style of Bartolome Murillo
became more popular than Zurbaran's harsher realism.
Murillo became the rage in Spain
and through much of the Catholic world.
This madonna and child shows how Murillo
wraps everything in warm colors and soft light.
Murillo's favorite subject is the Virgin Mary,
shown young and pure.
The painting is called "The Immaculate Conception,"
one of dozens Murillo painted on this subject.
Catholics believe that not only was Jesus born of a virgin
but that Mary herself was completely pure,
With all this religiosity, it's no surprise that Sevilla
is also famous for letting loose in vibrant festivals,
and we're here for the biggest of all, the April Fair.
For seven days each April, it seems much of Sevilla
is packed into its vast fairgrounds.
The fair feels friendly, spontaneous, very real.
The Andalusian passion for horses, flamenco...
[ Singing in Spanish ]
And sherry is clear.
Riders are ramrod straight,
colorfully-clad senoritas ride sidesaddle
and everyone's drinking sherry spritzers.
Women sport outlandish dresses
that would look clownish all alone,
but somehow brilliant here en masse.
Over a thousand private party tents,
or casetas, line the lanes.
Each striped tent is a private party zone
of a family, club or association.
To get in, you need to know someone in the group,
or make friends quickly.
Concepción's well connected and, as a friend of a friend,
[ Speaking Spanish ]
Rick: This is your caseta?
This is my caseta.
Because of this exclusivity,
it has a real family-affair feeling.
Everyone seems to know everyone in what
seems like a thousand wedding parties
being celebrated all at the same time.
It's time to say adiós to Concepción.
She's got more celebrating to do,
and we're heading an hour south of Sevilla
for a dose of small-town Andalusia.
The route of the Pueblos Blancos, or White Towns,
is a charm bracelet of characteristic towns
perched in the hills and mountains of Andalusia.
The Queen of the White Towns is...
Arcos smothers its hilltop, tumbling down its back
like the train of a wedding dress.
The old town center is a delight to explore.
Viewpoint-hop through town.
The people of Arcos boast that only they
see the backs of the birds as they fly.
Feel the wind funnel through the narrow streets
as cars inch around tight corners.
Driving is tricky. It's a one-way system.
If you miss your hotel, you'll drive all around again.
Under the castle and facing the church
is the town's main square which once doubled as a bullring.
Towns like Arcos, with
de la frontera in their names,
were established on the frontier;
that was, on the front lines during that centuries-long fight
to take Spain back from the Muslims.
As the Moors were slowly pushed back into North Africa,
the towns, while no longer of any strategic importance,
kept "on the frontier" in their names.
The main church is a reminder of that reconquest.
After Christian forces retook Arcos from the Moors
in the 13th century, it was the same old story.
The mosque was demolished
and a church was built on its site.
There are historical curiosities everywhere.
This stone was scavenged from an Ancient Roman temple.
You can just make out the Latin inscription
and this 2,000-year-old Tree of Life.
But the mysterious highlight is
this 15th-century magic circle,
12 red and 12 white stones,
the white ones with various constellations marked.
Back then, on a child's day of baptism,
the parents would stop here first for a good exorcism.
The exorcist would stand within this protective circle
and cleanse the baby of any evil spirits.
Then they could proceed into the church.
The flying buttresses were added to shore up the church
after it was weakened by an earthquake in 1696.
Arches prop up earthquake-damaged
buildings all over town.
Peek politely into private patios.
Cool and inviting family courtyards
are typical of Arcos.
While the old wells now generally hold flowerpots,
they're reminders that these courtyards
oncefunctioned as water catchment systems.
They funneled rainwater into a drain in the middle,
which filled the well.
Explore the narrow, whitewashed and flower-lined lanes
of this charming hill town,
and while you're at it, work up an appetite.
We're eating at Restaurante El Convento,
where senora Maria Moreno-Moreno and her husband
serve the best of traditional local cuisine.
Throughout Europe I find that mom-and-pop places like this
offer the best values, and to dine well on a budget,
I eat better for less in a small town
rather than in a big city.
Their refreshing gazpacho, a chilled tomato garlic soup,
is a great starter.
Ask about seasonal specialties.
The wild asparagus dish is just right in springtime,
as are the artichokes.
They're served with shrimp.
Spanish wine has moved up on the
respectability ladder lately.
Our full-bodied red is "mucho delicioso".
This is a good opportunity for game.
Well, small game.
I'm having pigeon.
Whether finding new ways to stay cool,
checking out a new dance,
learning how the Moors made their mark,
appreciating a new artist
or just joining the party,
travel shows me how life can be enjoyed to its fullest
in ways I haven't even considered.
Enjoying life with abandon comes easy here in the south of Spain.
I hope you've enjoyed our taste of Sevilla and Andalusia.
I'm Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin'.
As the Muslims were slowly pushed back into North Africa,
the towns really lost any of their strategic importance
and they just decided to keep ha, ha, ha...
Were established... On the front corner
put a veil over your face 'cuz if you're laughin', i'm
this is stupid; This is sophomoric.
I shouldn't be
I should be able to do this.
Ha, ha, ha, ha.