The last two days were pretty much devoted to sightseeing with a goal of polishing off a couple of big landmarks before the weekend. Because we all know what happens in a tourist city when the trains and planes start dumping people on Friday night. Things become unvisitable.
The earnest phase of our exploration (post camera shop) began yesterday morning with coffee and napolitano at a nice little shop just off the cathedral square. Small, just five or ten tables out on the sidewalk and clearly not one of those recommended by the guidebooks. Our waiter was attentive and pleasant and we had a nice vista of the mingling crowds of tourists and the passing stream of carriages. Our first goal of the day was the Casa de Pilatos, a small palace tucked away on the edge of the Barrio Santa Cruz. Built in 1518 by the Marquess de Tarifa, it celebrated his return from a 2 year pilgrimage to the Holy Land and his newly discovered love for all things Mideastern and Italian. I stopped to take a photo of the most amazing Bougainvillea, bright red and covering half the side of a courtyard, before realizing that it was inside the museum. Before moving on I offered and took photos of 4 Spanish sisters, juntas.
Here it’s often difficult to first find your way somewhere and second, realize you’ve arrived. Most of the maps of these old cities are really only caricatures, more “guidelines” than actual representations of what’s on the ground with streets and names missing and the orientation and sizes of squares and buildings more off than on. It was a lot of twisting and turning and discussing to get from the coffee to the palace, and to the credit of the residents, many people stopped and asked if we needed help. As expected, the actual lay of the land only bore a slight resemblance to how it looked on the map. But we found it and paid the fee and had a good look.
The “House of Pilate” as it translates was purportedly built on the style of the home of that nefarious character in Jerusalem. It turned out to be a gem, sort of a “mini-Alcazar,” with tranquil courtyards, carved arches, some beautiful gardens all done on a smaller scale. Like its bigger cousin, every major room had a ceiling worth the price of admission as well as a staggering array of tiles on the walls, just about every regional motif we’d encountered. The main courtyard was surrounded by Mudejar arches and had a wonderfully simple fountain at the center. Greek and Roman statues stood at each of the four corners and under the portico, busts of Roman emperors sat in niches and looked down with disdain on the milling tourists. There was a private, second floor tour which we decided to pass on, spending out time instead wandering through the outer reaches of the gardens where little things presented themselves, like a reclining nude in a plaster grotto, a spider plant lined stairway to nowhere, a Cupid in a niche, smiling down with a mischievous grin and small alcove filled with the bases of dozens of marble columns. It was a great place and truly worth the time it took for find and visit it.
After lunch, it was on to the Cathedral, yet another giant pile of tan sandstone and in this case, the third biggest in the world after St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. I love these giant churches, but having been now to 3 others (Segovia, Toledo and Madrid,) I have to say I don’t have much to say. You can only crane your neck back and marvel so many times at the vastness and the overabundance of stuff. Every time I walk in the door, I realize why there was a Protestant Reformation, the Church of St. Peter clearly went so far off the rails in its mission of tending to the souls of the faithful that something pretty much had to be done.
Built on the site of a 12th century Almohad mosque, the cathedral was begun in 1401 and took more than 100 years to complete. The Giralda bell tower is the main sight from the outside, originally the minaret for the mosque, it rises 336 feet in the air and was later capped by a more Christian bell tower between 1557 and 1568. The tower is quite striking in both the day and when lit at night, serving as the locus in a giant spinning wheel of Swifts that nest in its nooks. However, its most interesting feature lies inside where instead of stairs, the Muezzins rode horses up 35 ramps 5 times a day to call the faithful to prayer. We took a look, climbed 3 and decided that a 10% sample was adequate.
Built pretty much on the style of every giant cathedral, you have an cavernous space in the center surrounded by many small chapels to the sides. These were surprisingly less fancy and ornate that those in Toledo, considering the importance of the place. The treasury held a bounty of gold and silver artifacts, again driving home the wealth that the Church had amassed. The Sacrista Mayor, off to the side of the main altar was quite spectacular both in side and appointments. Lots of significant art and a giant dome of carved and decorated white plaster featuring an occulus in the center for the purpose of lighting.
Beyond the grandeur, my favorite sight was the Tomb of Christopher Columbus. His body finally came to rest here, after residing in Santo Domingo, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. His coffin is suspended on 2 poles, shouldered by the Kings of Navarre, Aragon, Leon and Castille. Seeing it was a nice little out of place treat.
The exit from the church was through the Court of the Orange Trees, the only remains of the mosque and the place where the Caliph most likely wandered around wondering when the Catholic Kings were going to come for his head. For some reason, I expected more but it was nice enough with an interesting brick patio formed of little canals that watered the trees. In a nice touch, the managers of the place put a quiet set of bathrooms off the courtyard, down in an old crypt lined with Roman amphorae. The view of the Giralda from the orange trees was quite striking.