February 2005 issue

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Seville: heart of the real Spain

Fiestas, tapas, bullfights and flamenco - Seville really is a picture postcard experience of Spanish culture. Jane Vernon Smith reports from this southern Spanish city.

Seville is the third most visited city in Spain, drawing thousands of international tourists every year. Among the attractions that bring them to this historic, southern Spanish city are the warm climate, excellent location, exciting festivals, varied nightlife scene and extensive local cuisine, which, according to Joanna Wandycz Mejias of Seville's Universidad Pablo de Olavide, all ''combine to make for an unforgettable experience.''

As Pedro Bugallal of Linc Escuela de Español points out, ''The climate is good. Summer is quite hot, but winter is short and mild. [There are] many hours of sun, so people tend to live outdoors and to be open and communicative.'' Francisco Diez, Director of Programmes at World Endeavors, highlights the ''fun-loving, exuberant atmosphere of the city'', which is exemplified above all by the flamenco dancing and music for which it is famous. ''Seville is the birthplace of the flamenco,'' states Diez. ''Flamenco shows abound in Seville. The shows are high quality and are often free.'' Another famous Spanish spectacle - the bullfight - may also be experienced at the city's local bullring, while springtime visitors can enjoy some spectacular fiestas.

''You cannot miss the Seville spring,'' says Diez, ''with the Semana Santa and Feria de Abril where you can see people dancing the typical Spanish flamenco dance.'' The Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a week-long festival, which although religious in character, combines processions with scenes from the passion of Christ with more secular celebration and jollity. In the Feria de Abril, which follows 14 days later, the streets are lined with marquees, and taken over by colourful displays of flamenco dancing and singing. ''Seville is internationally known as a festive city,'' affirms Diez. ''People here know how to enjoy life.'' This is not confined to festival periods, so it is not surprising to learn that the food is delicious and the nightlife is always very lively, according to Christian Kratzer of Academia Lenguaviva. Students can dance into the night at a Spanish discoteca, and there are endless possibilities around the clock for trying the native tapas at the lively restaurants and bars.

For those who wish to take these interests a stage further, many language schools offer Spanish dance and cookery classes as part of their activities programme. At Linc, for example, students can choose from a wine seminar and tasting session, and flamenco or salsa dancing classes. According to Bugallal, these are very popular with students, proving excellent ''ice-breakers'' and helping students to communicate among themselves. Seville also offers plenty of choice for those keen on sport. Attractions include top league football and basketball matches, while the city has recently played host to tennis's Davis Cup.

According to Kratzer, ''Seville is one of the friendliest cities in Spain. The people never get impatient with the endless questions on how to get somewhere. They are always ready to talk and explain.'' They are, furthermore, very open to other cultures, as Diez points out, and like to have contact with overseas students, which makes it easier to learn the language. One activity offered by a number of language schools is intercambios, in which students take part in a one-to-one cultural and language exchange with a local Spanish student. ''Not only is this a great way for students to reinforce their Spanish skills, but it is an excellent way for students to make friends with people who grew up in the city and culture,'' notes Diez.

The openness of the people is a likely result of the fact that Seville represents a meeting point of several cultures. In the course of its more than 3,000 years of history, Seville has been settled by Tartesians, Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and, finally, Christians. Diez observes, ''Students will be able to see the place where significant historical and cultural figures were born - from greatest Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian, to painters such as Velazquez and Murillo, or [poets such] as Becquer. They will also be able to walk around the city of Don Juan Tenorio, the greatest lover; places that inspired Cervantes'They can walk around the Guadalquivir River, where Hernán Cortés departed to America.''

The tangible legacy of Seville's Muslim past may be seen in all its splendour at the Alcázar Palace (1), whose Moorish and Mudéjar architecture dates from 14th-century rebuilding of the original Roman structure. By way of contrast is the 15th-century cathedral - the world's largest gothic church - with its monument to Christopher
Columbus, said to contain the bones of the explorer. Also not to be missed is the stunning Giralda tower (2), which offers excellent views of the city.

A prime focus of outdoor life in Seville is the spectacular Plaza de España (3) and adjoining Maria Luisa Park (4). Created in 1929 as part of a 'Fair of the Americas', the Plaza, which is formed in a huge semi-circle with fountains and monumental stairways, featured as the Queen's Palace in the film Star Wars II. A number of museums are located on the edge of the park, while one of the country's leading art galleries, the Museo de Bellas Artes, is located in a former convent close to one of the main bus stations.

The capital of the Andalusia region, Seville is well served in terms of communications, with a modern train station, two bus stations and an airport that can be reached by bus in just 30 minutes. As Wandycz Mejias points out, this provides endless possibilities for weekend and day trips out of town. Close at hand, approximately nine kilometres north of the city, are the ruins of the Roman town of Italica, where the emperors Trajan and Hadrian were both born. The city is an hour away from a number of beaches, 90 minutes from the mountains of Cádiz, an hour by air from Barcelona and just over two hours by high-speed train from Madrid. Popular excursions at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide include a day trip to the nearby Moorish town of Carmona and a full day's hiking trip through a national park in the mountains of Grazalema. Meanwhile, Morocco proves a very popular excursion for Linc's European students, says Bugallal.

Not only is the city a good base for discovering Andalusia and beyond; also, as Bugallal highlights, ''The size is good for a student. With 800,000 people and [being] the capital of Andalusia, it is big enough to offer many leisure and cultural options, but small enough to be manageable.''

Agent viewpoint

''The reason Japanese students choose to [visit and study Spanish] in Seville [is that] they think that Seville is the centre of flamenco culture, and [they also believe that] the security of the city is better than the other big cities in Spain. The students want to study flamenco dance or guitar [in their spare time]. They enjoy [watching] the flamenco shows; [they like visiting the] national park of Doñana and [taking] short trips to the other cities in Andalusia.''
Akira Hino, Sun-Rise International Company, Japan

''Seville has become one of our most popular destinations in Spain during the last years' I think the city attracts our clients because it is big enough to offer a wide variety of activities and small enough to get familiar with. The festivals, the beautiful architecture and the historical atmosphere are also very important features to give the city its colour. And finally, Seville is quite off the tourist track compared with many cities along the coast, which also is attractive for our clients.''
Ingvar Dyrseth, Managing Director, Språkreisebyrået, Norway

''I believe that Seville is the heart of Andalusia. It's worth visiting it at least once in your life. Besides, it has very good communications. It's very easy to travel from Seville to other parts of Andalusia. It's a city of flamenco. You can enjoy a good experience with this typical and famous dance. It's a great experience to see and learn about it. Moreover, [Seville has] a mixture of European and Arab culture.''
Namshi Jung, BENE, Korea

''Seville offers world-class nightlife. Students fall in love with the locals. Cafés, bars, discos are filled with young people socialising, dancing, singing, celebrating life. Although public drunkenness is frowned upon, that doesn't stop the night scene from continuing on until daylight. Students also rave about the wonderful public transportation. Students spend just about every weekend on the go' and ultimately find that they really understand the far extremes of this diverse, thriving country.''
Mary Alice Soriero, Resident Co-ordinator, Adelante, Seville

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