Seville, Caordoba, and Granada: A Cultural History

Seville, Caordoba, and Granada: A Cultural History

Seville, Caordoba, and Granada: A Cultural History

Seville, Caordoba, and Granada: A Cultural History

Synopsis

Spain's southern city of Seville basks in romantic myths and legends, evoking the scent of jasmine and orange blossom. But there is an ascetic core to its sybaritic spirit. For all their fame as passionate performers, the poet Unamuno called Sevillanos "finos y frios"-refined and cool. Once Europe's most cosmopolitan metropolis, bridging cultures of East and West and hub of a sea-borne empire, Seville was defined by Spain's great seventeenth-century playwright Lope de Vega as "port and gateway to the Indies". The city retains both the swagger of its seafaring heyday, and the sensual flavor of Moorish al-Andalus. Seville produced Spain's lowest ruffians, grandest grandees and a seductive gypsy culture that colors our wider perception of Spain. Elizabeth Nash explores the palaces, the mosques, the patios, fountains and wrought-iron balconies of Seville, Córdoba and Granada, cities celebrated for centuries by Europe's finest painters, poets, satirists and travel writers for their voluptuous beauty and vibrant cultural mix.

Excerpt

In November 1830 Richard Ford and his family embarked in Cadiz on the British-built paddle-steamer that was to bear them up the meandering River Guadalquivir to Seville, a distance of some sixty miles. Ford knew the rest of Europe inside out, but this was his first visit to Spain and he expected to be surprised. He was. The journey to Seville took several hours, and the light was fading by the time the Giralda tower, the tallest building in Spain, was sighted soaring high over the famed city. The reason for coming to Andalusia was the poor health of Ford’s wife, Harriet, but why he opted to make Seville their base rather than, say, Malaga with its sea breezes, is not clear. Perhaps because he had decided that the city offered three outstanding advantages: it enjoyed a mild winter climate, it was the unchallenged capital of Andalusia and, should anything go wrong, Gibraltar was near at hand. At all events he never regretted the decision, nor should we. Although the original plan was to spend a year in Spain, the family remained for three, by which time Ford had travelled over much of the country. The result was the wittily entitled A Hand-Book for Travellers ín Spain and Readers at Home, published by John Murray in two small-format volumes in 1845. It was, and it remains, one of greatest books ever written on another country by an Englishman, and in many ways, despite Ford’s prejudices, it as valid today as when written.

If by the time the Hand-Book appeared Washington Irving had already put Granada on the map with his Tales of the Alhambra, it fell to Ford to make widely known the charms and peculiarities of Seville, termed “the marvel of Andalucía” in his opening phrase on the city. Since then Seville has never failed to exert her magic over travellers from the north, many of whom have felt the need to publish their impressions of the place and its people. Elizabeth Nash is the latest in a long line of enthusiasts, and her book, which pays due homage to Ford, will be found extremely useful and engaging by the modern tourist contemplating a visit.

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