Voyage of a Lifetime 40—Madrid, Spain

By: @EsteeKessler |

Europe travel


Our final port of call as tourists was Cadiz, the primary port city en route to our scheduled tour of Seville. Cadiz today is somewhat shopworn, but in its heyday was wealthier than London. With verifiable archeological evidence to show Cadiz the oldest continuously inhabited city in Western Europe. Settled by the Phoenicians, and sharing invasions with its neighbor Barcelona--Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Moorish invasions, the city became the capital and primary port for trade with the New World. The Spanish Armada sailed from Cadiz to the defeat by the English at Trafalgar. Cadiz was a diocese of the Catholic Church in the thirteenth century and the local Cardinal was Juan de Torquemada of Inquisition fame.

We did not spend much time, but motored out into a rather mundane agricultural area to Seville 80 miles east and inland. Also in Andalucía, Seville is the city most reflecting the blend of Spanish and Moorish architecture during the period of Moorish occupation. For a number of years, the local prince often donned Moorish clothing and built his palace in the Arab style. We drove the Plaza de Espana and the building, which once functioned as a set in Lawrence of Arabia and other films. We left the coach in the barrio of Santa Cruz which once housed the Jewish quarter during the days of the before the Castilian conquest. The streets are narrow and cobblestones making a casual walk more challenging. Every street was a foodies dream with all varieties of cuisine and a Starbucks.

Our goal was to explore El Alcazar, once the palace of the sultan and later taken over by Prince Pedro for his residence. The palace shows the best of the architectural style—the use of water, the gardens, the multiple curved arches, and remarkable mosaics and tiles. The hidden virtue of the building is the climate control and designed for dealing with the hot summers, the lower floor features cool dark interiors and the upper floors ventilation. An earthquake made rebuilding necessary and the initial reception halls in only a few hundred years old. Ornate and interspersed with verses in Arabic, the building has an Islamic no-no in the decorations on the arches, small statues of bears. The Muslim faith does not permit images of men or animals, hence the fractals repetition in tile and the multiple depictions of flowers. Some experts say El Alcazar is more authentic than the Alhambra as minimal change occurred since the time of Ferdinand and Isabella (earthquake excepted.)

We made the mandatory tour of the cathedral said to contain a portion of the multi-relocated bones of Christopher Columbus, the local boy made good. This is a huge gothic cathedral, which claims to be the largest Gothic in the world. If the richest interior is a competition category, this church would rank high—silver, gold, carved wood, stained glass, marble. A mosque once stood on the site and a nearby minaret over 300 foot high now functioning as a campanile.

The end of our stay was an authentic Spanish lunch, which included a cheese, an antipasto, a spinach garbanzo dish, potato salad, and a plate of marinated beef tender enough to cut with a fork. They served dishes family style and a single bowl or plate would feed our table—we got three. Two types of deserts followed with each plate sufficient for us to try both. I was glad for the twenty minute back to the bus and the rest of an hour and a half bus ride.

Our next stop will be as former tourists heading home.