Today was Alcazar day as far as we were concerned. Two years ago we tried to go to the Alcazar but the queue was horrendous and not worth joining. This time I bought tickets in advance. We still had to queue but for about ten minutes and we knew we’d get in.
Our plan had us going for coffee at 9-ish. I’d picked a place that I’ll swear had a sign outside yesterday saying it sold churros and chocolate (something Denise really wants to try). When I asked the waiter if they had churros he shook his head in a fashion that declared not only did they not sell churros but they had never sold churros in the 348 years they’d been open nor were they ever likely to sell them. We had coffee and tea instead.
Tomorrow we’ll go to the tapas place near the cathedral which has a permanent churros available here sign. Hopefully that will prove to be real rather than in my fevered imagination.
Having had some brain aid we sauntered down, walking with an air of superiority by the very long queue of non pre-booked tourists and joined the much shorter queue just outside the Lion Gate.
It was shortly before 9:30 so I told Mirinda and Denise they could go for a wander and I’d keep our space. They’d been gone about three minutes when the gates opened and the line started moving forward. I managed to contact Mirinda but Denise was nowhere to be seen. Mirinda then said she’d go and find her and no sooner had she disappeared than Denise turned up. It was one of those crazy things that are sent to try me.
Eventually we were once more together and started to move forwards. Then a woman in an official jacket scanned our tickets and told us to leave the line and wait for three minutes. I thought we were being given preferential treatment because I had a walking stick. I was wrong. We were early and had to wait for the 10am part of the queue to start.
Eventually we were through the gate, through the security, collected listening sticks and were into the beginning of the Alcazar. There was, as it turned out, very little hassle. We settled in for the next few hours.
“The Real Alcazar de Sevilla is the extraordinary result of a continuous process of construction, destruction and adaptation of buildings which came as the consequence of historical developments.” Official Guidebook
The Alcazar was possibly started in 929AD by the then emir of Cordoba and bad boy of the Umayyad dynasty, Abd al-Rahman. He decided to dump the rest of the Islamic world and proclaimed his kingdom as the Caliphate of Cordoba which included Seville. He had built the so-called Governor’s Alcazar which was (possibly) the beginnings of what we see today.
There was a bit of peace for a while and then a sequence of invaders decided to take over lots of places in Andalucia including poor Seville. And so the Alcazar grew and fell and grew some more, was adapted, destroyed, rebuilt and redesigned many, many times over the centuries.
What remains is an amazing mish-mash and clash of styles that reek of the many inhabitants of the city over its long and almost always violent history. Thankfully the only violence at present comes from the thousands of tourists stepping on feet and posing for photos every few seconds.
The place reminded me of a little Alhambra (or an even smaller Forbidden City) in that it was all housed behind a huge wall to keep the hoi polloi out. Now the hoi polloi are allowed in to run rampant and they take complete and utter joy in doing just that.
Actually the Alcazar is still used as a royal residence. They live on the second floor. Because they were in today, we weren’t allowed to go upstairs. At least that’s what I reckon.
I could carry on for (digital) pages about the Alcazar but I’ll only talk about what was possibly my favourite bit: The Fuente de la Fama (the Fountain of Fame). The reason it is so special is because it plays music every hour and we just happened to accidentally be there when it did.
It is what’s called a fountain-organ. The music played every hour is generated by water flowing through various pipes. It’s sort of like a normal organ but uses water rather than air to make the noise.
Fountain-organs have been around a long time. The first known one was in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, invented and created by Ctesibius, a genius of Ancient Greece. The one at the Real Alcazar was built in the 17th century and is the only one still working in Spain and one of only four working in the entire world.
The entire mechanism was repaired and restored in 2006 and now the whole thing starts playing every hour, on the hour. There are rows of seats set out in front of the fountain, sort of like a church, and people start to gather, expectantly waiting. And then it starts. And it’s an absolute hoot.
The tune is unrecognisable and somewhat tinny but even so, it is brilliant. I just loved it. We sat and listened to the entire recital before moving on, everyone with smiles plastered on their faces.
A wonderful fact about the organ is that there is only one person in the entire world who has the ability to fix it if it breaks down. He is a Brit called Rodney Briscoe so I’m wondering whether they’ll let him fix it post-Brexit.
I thought I’d taken a video of the fountain in action but, unfortunately and due to terrible planning, my phone was full. The situation has since been rectified but it doesn’t help me much. However, below is a link to someone else’s video on Youtube so at least the sound can be heard. It goes on for over four minutes. There’s no need to listen for that long.
According to the guidebook, the organ plays two pieces of music from the period. One is a religious piece while the other is right off the hit parade and called Glosa al canto Ilano. That really had us tapping our toes, I can tell you.
We spent a lot of time in the Real Alcazar, wandering to and fro, getting in as many photos as possible, dodging the huge tour groups as they swept into rooms and out the other side in an effort to see as much as humanly possible in the shortest time.
One tour group is the infamous Tour Group #2. The group is so large you can wait at least half an hour before you can safely cross a path they are on. Diabolical. I know because I ran foul of them while trying to take a photo. I never did get to take the photo though I stood, ready for over an hour.
However, not even the efforts of the awful Tour Group 2 could dampen my ardour for the Real Alcazar. I quite simply loved it.
I also loved the tapas we then indulged in at a small cafe on the road that leads down to the cathedral. As well as some delicious and varied tapas, Denise and Mirinda had a bucket of sangria each while I devoured an ice cold beer.
After a jolly good foot rest and tummy fill, we headed slowly and meandering back to the hotel for our now traditional siesta though we did stop for an ice cream from the worst sales woman in Seville. I was amazed how abrupt and rude she was. Still, the ice cream was yum.
Back at the hotel we had our siesta while Denise braved the streets of Seville. We were worried about her being on her own in a strange city but we hadn’t figured on her running into the always helpful Polly. Okay Dennis was with her but he was quiet and therefore didn’t managed to confuse things with his usual talk about famous queues he’s joined.
With Polly as a navigation aid, Denise managed to do some shopping of some kind then successfully found the hotel again in time for a siesta of her own.
Tonight Mirinda had found us a jazz club. It is a very small jazz club though it’s surprising exactly how small a jazz club can actually be and still be a jazz club. We walked over via streets we’d never been down. It was all fascinating.
The shops had all opened after siesta and the streets were abuzz with people dodging taxis and scooters. Groups, singles, couples, everyone was awake and roaming the streets of Seville. It was wonderful feeling a part of such a night full of life.
We found the jazz club but it was yet to open so we had a drink in a nearby bar, sitting outside enjoying the football and the passing populace. This part of the city was very much awake and enjoying it. After our single drinks we headed back to the jazz club which was now open and empty.
For some reason we thought the jazz club served food but, on close inspection this proved not to be so. Apart from it being remarkably small, there appeared to be nothing but a bar, three tables, four bar stools and a floor. There was also a rather strange smell.
Mirinda wrinkled her nose and we all went next door to the Middle Eastern restaurant and had a fantastic meal of various Lebanese, Jordanian and Moroccan food. Denise also had another five gallons of sangria to wash it all down with.
The food was lovely as were the serving staff. It was all very friendly and in sharp contrast to the jazz club which we popped a head in before deciding there was no room (there were already eight people and the band and the bar man there) and headed back to the hotel through the still busy streets.
There was a bit of a treat for Denise on the way back. We stopped at the Giralda tower to show her the lights. It always looks particularly good at night.
Then, finally, back to the hotel. Tomorrow is our Roman day with a trip out to Italica. Hopefully it won’t be as hot as today.