In the beginning of the year at the height of my crippling winter depression I decided that I needed something fun to look out to. A short, sunny and warm vacation would just do the trick. I presented my idea to Ellen, who also longed for some sunshine, and she said: “Great! Perhaps the South of Spain is an option? A good chance of fine weather there?” I had been in the North in Barcelona before but that was it, so I was open to her suggestion. “Málaga?” I Googled a bit and nah.. Pretty nice but not quite what I was looking for. Then I noticed Seville on the map, “Ah yes, of course!” I said out loud with a smile to Ellen. “Darling, I know where we are going to.”
Seville is the capital of Andalucia and without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities of Spain. It has often been described as a feminine city and one that is not afraid to expose her charms. I fully agree with that. At the beginning of the vibrant Triana neighbourhood is a statue of a fierce, attractive woman with her hands on a guitar and one foot on an anvil. For me she typifies Seville. I came to know the Sevillians as extremely proud and passionate people. To many Seville is not just a place, it is a way of life. Semana Santa, the April Feria, Don Juan, Carmen, flamenco, tapas, bullfights… The city assaults the senses with its sounds, smells (the divine omnipresent orange blossom) and bright colours. Seville is beautiful and above all, it is passionate. It is a city that must be seen and must be experienced. And so Ellen and I did.
The history of Seville has been dominated by its proximity to the Guadalquivir river. First and foremost Seville has been a river port. As with so many cities in Andalucia, the exact origins of Seville are not clear. It is widely believed that the city was founded by Iberians, later becoming a Greek, Phoenician and finally a Roman colony called Hispalis. The first part of the Roman rule was characterised by a series of internal disputes until Julius Caesar conquered the city In 42 BC. Under Caesar’s rule Seville flourished, eventually becoming one of the main cities in Baetica. Nearly all of the fortifications in Seville were constructed during this period. In 5 AD the Vandals invaded the region and were subsequently expelled by the Visigoths. They made Seville the capital of their kingdom until the court was transferred to Toledo.
Following the Moorish conquest in 712 AD, Seville came under a long period of Moorish rule which really shaped the city. It was originally under the control of Córdoba. Upon the fall of the Caliphate in 1031, Seville became a taifa kingdom. It was during the reign of Al Mutamid that Seville experienced the greatest cultural developments. Towards the end of the Moorish era around the 12th century, the Almohads eventually took control of Seville. It was during this period that the Giralda tower (the city’s most well-known symbol) and the mosque were built. Later the mosque was torn down for the biggest part and the Seville cathedral (the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world) arose on the site. On the 23rd of November 1248, Fernando III reconquered Seville. Alfonso X the wise was responsible for giving the city its coat of arms to commemorate the loyalty and support he received from the city. The figure of eight in the emblem, creates the motto “No madeja do” or “No me ha dejado”, which translates as “It (Seville) has not forsaken me”.
Things really started to happen with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Seville developed a monopoly on trade with the New World with the founding of the Casa de Contratación. It became the arrival and departure point for every expedition to the newly discovered continent. Seville began to gather a great wealth, palaces were built and expanded (like the jaw-dropping, magnificent Royal Alcázar of Seville), new industries were created and the whole city was a buzzing hive of activity. All financed by American gold.
In 1649 Seville suffered from a massive plague that decimated the local population. The silting of the Guadalquivir river lead to the transfer of all shipping expeditions to Cádiz. Too bad they did not have the Dutch dredging companies in those years.. In 1717 the Casa de Contratación was formerly relocated to Cádiz. The beginning of the 20th century were characterised by hardship. Plagues, crop failures and the Spanish Civil War all took their toll on the local population. In 1929 Sevilla hosted the Ibero-American Exhibition and in 1992, the Expo. Both of these events had a significant impact on the layout of the city. Seville’s most famous Park, Parque de Maria Luisa, was re-designed just before the Ibero-American exhibition. Also the otherworldly beautiful Plaza de España was build. The 1992 Expo lead to the construction of the Isla de la Cartuja, the site on which the Expo was held. Today it houses both the Isla Mágica theme park and the centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo.
One of the new products coming from the New World was tobacco. When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas, the natives handed him a gift of dried tobacco leaves. This is documented in Columbus’ journal, he saw a man in a canoe sailing down the river. The entry is dated October 15, 1492: He had a little of their bread, about the size of a fist, a calabash of water, a piece of brown earth (pigment) powdered and then kneaded, and some dried leaves, which must be a thing highly valued by them, for they bartered with it at San Salvador. Of course Columbus brought the plant that resulted in these “dried leaves” back to Spain.
Toward the end of 1492 another story describes how two Spaniards sent by Columbus, walking through a village on the eastern coast of Cuba, observed how men carried in their hands a lighted firebrand and “certain herbs whose fumes they savoured.” “Dried herbs placed in a certain dry leaf, in the form of a musket barrel. And one end is lit and through the other the smoke is drawn or sucked or taken in with inhaled breath. This has the effect of sending the flesh to sleep, almost causing drunkenness, and they say that they do not then feel fatigue. These muskets, or whatever we should call them, they call tobaccos.” The two men discovered the plant, which locals called cohiba or cojiba. One of the Spaniards, Rodrigo de Jerez, brought some back home to the port of Ayamonte, west of Seville and was credited with being the first European smoker.
Spain became the main importer of tobacco from the Americas. In 1614 King Philip III declared the selling of tobacco grown in the Spanish New World that went for sale in Europe a state monopoly and made Seville the “tobacco capital of the world”. This was underlined by the fact that in 1684 Seville got the sole right to manufacture tobacco and that all leaves had to be shipped to a central location. Initially the first tobacco manufacturers were scattered through the city but were eventually concentrated in one place for health reasons and to facilitate state control of the activities. Seville’s (and Spain’s) first tobacco factory was in the Plaza de San Pedro in the heart of the medieval city. It was more or less dedicated to the production of snuff which originally made by grinding the tobacco using a pestle and mortar and later by mills. Milling was heavy and skilled work and was done by men. The factory was expanded in 1687 and 1714. Finally, in 1725, it was decided to build a new, bigger factory to meet the booming demand throughout Europe…
Click here for part 2 which features the famous cigarreras, places where to buy pipe-tobacco, a meeting with a Sevillian pipe-smoker and general tips about Seville.