I played softball as a young girl. And my coach regularly told me to “stop smelling the flowers out there in the outfield and pay attention to the game.” So it should come as little surprise that one of my favorite childhood books is The Story of Ferdinand. Ferdinand is a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in a bullring. I can totally relate.
Thus, when Bob suggested we tour Sevilla’s Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla, Spain’s oldest bullring, you know why I was hesitant. I didn’t want to imagine bulls like my sweet Ferdinand being stabbed, or worse, see the gory photos. But in the interest of a happy marriage, I went along and found that I quite enjoyed our tour (sorry Ferdinand). Bull fights take place in Sevilla during the spring, and thankfully we visited in the fall, so we couldn’t go to a fight. Instead we enjoyed a 45-minute guided tour of the beautiful and historic Plaza de toros, which was built over a 100-year period and finished in the late 1800s.
Our tour included a look in the museum, where intricate costumes of famous matadors are on display, along with the heads of several bulls, and quite a few paintings by Spanish artists depicting noble matadors, majestic bulls and frenzied fight scenes. We also stopped in the chapel, where to this day matadors go before each match to pray for the bull. (More likely, they are praying for their own safety, but a Ferdinand fan can dream.) Finally, we stepped into the middle of the 12,000 seat arena, on the dirt bullring floor, to admire the view that matadors and bulls have when they enter. Other than the dirt floor, there’s not much to a bullring. I’m guessing that’s because this sport is all about the matador and the bull. There are several burladeros (wooden half walls) on the outskirts of the ring that one can step behind to avoid a charging bull, which I would totally do. I’d fly a white flag over the burladero to surrender before having to kill the bull too, which is why I am not a matador. The arena really is beautiful though, and it is a fascinating look at a sport incredibly popular in Spain.
Sevilla offers many delights in addition to the Plaza de toros bullring. We spent two entertaining days there, strolling the atmospheric old quarter, visiting the Catedral de Sevilla—Europe’s third largest church, and paying our respects to the Weeping Virgin at the Basílica de la Macarena. Of course, we found time to eat some delectable tapas at a few hidden tapas bars as well. With Rick Steves as our go-pilot (or Rick Steves Snapshot Sevilla anyway), our self-guided tour of Sevilla went off without a hitch. Here are our highlights.
We took Rick’s advice, and saved our walking tour of the Barrio Santa Cruz, also known as the Old Quarter, for the cool, late afternoon. The many tiny alleys and walkways—so tiny that people in buildings on either side of the lanes could reach across from their windows and shake hands—have hidden delights around just about every corner. Whether it’s a secret garden behind an ornate gate, a classical guitarist playing outside a bar, or even a rooftop view of the Catedral de Sevilla lit up at night from a free museum, the Old Quarter is made for wandering. We walked the neighborhood three different times and discovered new things on each occasion.
Another not-to-be-missed sight is the Catedral de Sevilla. Thanks to excellent advice from our man Rick, we bought tickets for the Catedral at another church, and were able to bypass the Catedral’s long ticket line and walk right in to the grand church. The church is impressive and features a high altar, an organ made of more than 7,000 pipes, the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the 330-foot Giralda Bell Tower, which you can climb to the top of via a series of 35 ramps and 17 steps at the very end.
Perhaps my favorite sight was the Basílica de la Macarena—just under two miles from Sevilla’s city center—home of the Weeping Virgin of Macarena. During Holy Week, which is the week leading up to Easter, Spaniards flock to Sevilla to see more than 100 religious floats parade through the city. The most popular float is that Virgin Macarena. She is also known as the Weeping Virgin because of the crystal teardrops cascading down her cheeks, and Spaniards see her as a symbol of hope. You can visit her at the Basílica, and also view two of the massive and stunning Holy Week floats on display as well. And in case you’re wondering, the Macarena neighborhood is indeed where the song “La Macarena” comes from. But we won’t hold that against them.
Delicious tapas bars abound in Sevilla. Some spots we discovered by walking down alleys and simply stopping anywhere the locals were crowded in, drinking and eating. Others we found based on recommendations from Rick Steves. All shared the same features, cheap and delicious tapas, along with good beer. We tried hard to fit in with the locals, and if drinking beer with lunch was one way to do so, we blended right in.