Spain Travel – Cordova To Seville

Before leaving Cordova, we made some excursions in the neighborhood. Though the only vehicles which could be had were of the most primitive kind, and the roads were rough and dusty, yet the beauty of the views in the translucent air of Spain, the wealth of flowers and flowering shrubs, and the handsome faces of the peasants of Andalusia were adequate compensation for the miseries of the ride. We crossed the bridge over the swift gray waters of the Guadalquivir, then passed the Alcazar, once a palace and now a wretched prison, and then took a road leading to a range of distant hills, on which many beautiful villas have been built. Our destination was the house of a member of the Cortes, a Spanish marquis. The road was upward for a number of miles, through walled gardens and orchards. Roses and orange-blossoms scented the air, the day was mild and clear; along the road, at the little restaurants, were gayly dressed peasants, men with smart leather buskins, and sombreros on their heads, and women with bright-colored dresses, and roses in their black hair. Long lines of mules, with heavy packs upon their saddles, and donkeys, entirely eclipsed by their overshadowing loads, were coming towards the town, as we climbed up the heights.

At length we stopped at an iron gate, which was opened by the porter, and an attendant appeared to conduct us through the garden and villa. Terrace rose above terrace, clad with orange-trees and rosetrees, and geraniums and heliotropes grown to the size of bushes, with palm-trees and clustering vines. There the gentle murmur of fountains allured to repose. On the terrace above this garden was a modern imitation of a Moorish house, with all its furniture and interior decorations. Attention had been paid to every detail, and the illusion was complete. We were borne back to the seventh century, as we lounged on these rich divans, and looked out over the valley of the Guadalquivir and the beautiful hills and plains of Andalusia to the snowy summits of the Sierra Nevada, glittering like crystal on the far horizon line. A bridegroom in the garden was making a huge bouquet of roses for his bride, a few of the gardeners were standing about with the idle ease of the Spanish peasant of the South, the song of the nightingale trembled on the air, and every sense drank in the loveliness and beauty of landscape, sky, flowers, fruits, and music. It was an agreeable farewell to Cordova.

From Cordova to Seville, the distance was short, but the beauties of the country showed us that we were in a different region from the stern and cold Castile and Aragon. Olive groves with their gray shimmering foliage, orange orchards with the golden fruit and the white blossoms on the selfsame trees, fields full of flowers, rose vines wreathing the walls, hedges of aloes and flowering shrubs, fig-trees, and palm-trees, and groves of pines alternated with rich green fields. On lofty rocks we saw castles and towers, and on the way we passed the town of Palma, a white jewel in a setting of emerald. Other villages were scattered about among the hills, and all along the road were country houses with an enclosed garden, a whitewashed wall broken by a door with some arabesques over it, and horseshoe windows on either side. Many people were in the fields, dressed in quaint costume, a broad-brimmed hat with pointed crown, a zouave jacket and vest, knee-breeches and gaiters, and often a silk sash around the waist. The snuff-colored cloak was no longer seen, and all sombre dress and cast of countenance and solemn mien had passed away. We were in the country of music, and laughter, and gayety.

At a long distance from Seville we first caught sight of the Giralda, rising over the green plains; and as we drew near, all of the principal buildings came into view, for the railway runs alongside of the town, while beyond the Guadalquivir are hills covered with olive groves, below which lie the ruins of Italica, which have enriched so many public and private places in Seville. From the railway we drove to the Hotel de Madrid, the most charming hotel which Spain offers in any of its cities or towns to the weary traveller. In its marble courts and beautiful gardens, where there are shade and coolness and refreshment during the noontide hours, in its spacious and well appointed dining-rooms and well furnished and comfortable saloons and bedrooms, we passed many delightful days, making morning visits to those celebrated places of interest with which the city is filled, and driving in the afternoon in the Delicias, lounging in the gardens of the Alcazar, or watching the festive crowds in the Calle de las Sierpes or the Alameda.

It may be cold in January at Seville, and if it is cold in Spain one must put on extra garments and go out into the sun. But in springtime the climate is perfect, the air is dry and clear, sunshine floods the city, the courtyards of the houses bloom with choicest flowers, the markets are full of delicacies, the outdoor life is novel and entertaining, and if one is fortunate enough to have pleasant friends and no anxieties of mind, the days pass in a circle of pleasure and restful delight.

Seville is a charming city, abounding in warmth and gayety and life, entirely different from other Spanish towns and full of delightful reminiscences of the Moors who once dwelt here and lived in beautiful palaces unlike those of any other part of the world. The Alcazar, with its courtyards and fountains and gardens, is an earthly paradise, and the Cathedral, with its Moorish Giralda, is a wonder of architecture, of which latter structure New York has now a partial copy. In this Moorish minaret there are thirty-five bells, which are rung by a blind man many times a day. The palace of the Alcazar is full of lovely rooms, decorated in the most perfect style, with wonderful tiles, and courtyards with marble columns and fountains of waters, and gardens full of orange and citron and pomegranate and oleander trees, and roses innumerable, and flowers of all hues and fragrance, and vines and fruits, and shady bowers, and mazes of box, and all that can delight the eye and fascinate the soul. The streets are clean and healthful, and the people beautiful after the Spanish types of beauty; there are pictures of pleasing subjects by Murillo, and a charming drive in the “Paseo,” an avenue extending for several miles along the Cxuadalquivir, under old trees and between gardens of trees and flowers. We made some pleasant expedition each morning, and drove two hours in the afternoon for a dollar, in a neat victoria, seeing the life and style of this Andalusian town. The bells, and the cries in the streets, and the perpetual hand-organs playing Spanish dance music would perhaps weary a nervous person, but in other respects even an invalid would enjoy Seville. Our hotel was formed of several courtyards, in two of which palm-trees and oleanders and banana-trees were growing; and a fountain played in the centre, into a basin full of goldfishes. Under the arches of the marble colonnade around the courtyard the walls are wainscoted with marble, and the floor beautifully tiled. Here we sat and chatted and read and took our coffee, and saw the passing life. When the sun grows hot, huge brown linen screens are drawn over the court from roof to roof, leaving spaces between for the air to circulate and shutting out the vertical rays of the sun, so that it is always cool and pleasant within. We had a little suite of rooms on the quiet court, which has no plants in it, but only a marble floor, and rooms opening on the two galleries above. We went up one flight of marble steps, and had two bedrooms and a little salon, for which, with all of our meals and everything except wine, we paid twenty francs a day. Travelling is expensive in Spain, but living in its towns is not costly. The hotels are all upon the American plan, and that is rather pleasant to American tastes. But the table is not on the American plan, and the things which we got to eat were of the most remarkable description, and sometimes one could not tell at all what was at hand. I followed Paul’s advice, and ate what was set before me, asking no questions. We did not always drink water, for the wine of the country is good and healthful, if taken in moderation, not sour like the French, and not heavy if properly selected. We always had also a bottle of some kind of aerated water. We met many people, some of our own nation and some English but mostly Spanish and French travellers. We heard little news, and found few English papers except the London Times, which was usually a week old. But, speaking of news, it is worthy of notice how greatly the world has changed within the past twenty years as respects the American continent. Columns of the Times are now occupied with American news, and the financial articles are about equally divided between Europe and America; whereas, twenty years ago, a few brief paragraphs of no public interest embraced the entire American exhibit. Still, there is something yet to be done, for many curious mistakes in topography and in political matters are made even in British papers about the United States.

Not only is Seville a beautiful city, but I appreciated also the country in which the city stands. The orchards are pleasant places, with charming paths through them; on one side, and sometimes on both, crystal waters flow with a pleasant murmur. The banks are covered with fragrant herbs and flowers of many different hues. One can gather a bouquet of poppies or a bunch of violets in a little time. Majestic trees overshadow the paths; the olive, the walnut, and the fig interlace their branches, and hedges made of rose-bushes, blackberry vines, pomegranate, and honeysuckle divide the fields. Through this beautiful Andalusia, in these serene nights of spring, the heavens are full of stars, and the smiling fields are covered with verdure. The cool and pleasant gardens abound in shady and delightful walks, in gently flowing streams and rivulets, in sequestered nooks, in multitudes of birds that enliven the air with sweet songs. The weather is clear and warm, yet with a bracing air; and one would be content to live always in such an atmosphere, and with such pleasant surroundings. With choice company we explored the treasure-houses of the Cathedral, enjoyed the delights of the Alcazar and its lovely gardens, studied the pictures of Murillo, visited the ruins of Italica, and drove in the afternoons through the Delicias, beautiful promenades along the banks of Guadalquivir, where Spanish beauties and the gilded youth of Seville gather to hold their daily court.

If Seville and its surroundings are so fascinating now, what must they have been in all the brightness, elegance, and splendor of its Moorish period? It was the sacred city of the Moor, filled with all that could exalt and embellish his luxurious life. Everything that wealth could purchase, or taste design, or bravery win, was gathered here. On these green savannas, surrounded by groves of orange-trees and watered by the Guadalquivir, had arisen an Oriental city. Its noble mosque was filled with worshippers of the Prophet when from the lofty Giralda the muezzin called the faithful to prayer. Its schools were thronged with eager and intelligent students in science and the arts; and in the glorious palace of the Alcazar, where the magnificence of architectural designs united with exquisite beauties of decorative art, were gathered all the statesmen, the warriors, and the courtiers of a great and powerful people. Palaces and villas rose in the midst of groves of palms and gardens of delight within whose courts the varied types of Moorish and Spanish beauty were hidden from the vulgar gaze; and throughout the whole region a brilliant life, which filled the senses and satisfied the imagination, reigned supreme. These glories have passed away and this brightness has become dim, but the climate, situation, and fertility of Seville assure its prosperity; and though the cultivated and noble Moors are gone, they have left an indelible impression upon the people, which makes the place one of the most delightful which the traveller sees in Spain.