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The Arenal District - Indian Chief Travel
SPAIN  |  Sevilla, Spain Travel Guide
Sunday, September 22, 2019
5 Of 8

The Arenal District

The Arenal District

Farther north along the banks of the Guadalquivir is Sevilla’s “Cathedral of Bullfighting,” the 18th-century Plaza de Toros Maestranza. Writers Lope de Vega and Cervantes were taken with this area in the days when its reputation as a “mariners’ neighborhood” was giving way to its reputation as a “bullfighters’ neighborhood.” The bullring is one of Spain’s two most celebrated, the other being in Ronda. Both maintain the country’s best bullfighting schools. The bullring took over 100 years to complete. To walk through its iron Prince’s Gate is a lifelong goal of many an aspiring bullfighter. Here the revered bullfighter Juan Belmonte (born just outside of Sevilla) began to revolutionize the sport. Hemingway said he could “wind a bull around him like a belt.” Rather than rely on fancy footwork to evade the charging bull (as had been the method used until then), Belmonte remained motionless and allowed the careful manipulation of his cape to deceive the bull into rushing past.

The season begins on Easter Sunday. Weekly fights become daily spectacles during the Fería de Abril and Corpus Christi, before the season ends in September with the Fería de San Miguel. Tickets range from 7i to 110i and can be purchased at the arena at least a few days in advance, or at one of the ticket offices on C/ Sierpes or Tetuán. Scalpers will be on hand as well. The guided tour passes through the bullfighting museum and the chapel, where it is traditional for bullfighters to say a prayer before departing to slay a bull (that is, if all goes as planned).

Across from the bullring on the opposite side of Paseo de Cristobal Colón you’ll notice the statue of Carmen de La Cigarrera (Carmen the cigarette girl), whose fictional presence pervades the city and the writing on it. Carmen was the heroine of a story written by the French writer Prosper Merimée. It was later turned into an operatic phenomenon when it was reinterpreted by Georges Bizet and first staged in 1875. In this version, Carmen, a poor gypsy girl, works in Sevilla’s Fábrica de Tabacos, not in Arenal but near the Plaza de España (C/ San Fernando; entry free), where she meets and captivates Don Jóse. When originally built in the 18th century, this neoclassical tobacco factory was Spain’s second-largest structure after the Monastery of El Escorial near Madrid. Now it houses part of Sevilla’s university. Carmen was murdered by Jóse on the site of the statue while a great bullfight was underway and the roar of the crowd drowned out the heroine’s pleas, or so the story goes.

Hospital de la Caridad

The financier of this church/hospital, Don Miguel de Mañara, may or may not have served as the inspiration for Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina’s fanciful play El Burlador de Sevilla, more commonly known as The Seducer of Sevilla and, moreover, as the play that introduced the enduring fictitious romantic Don Juan. It is said the founder was a playboy and the early death of his beautiful wife and an unhealthy lifestyle hastened his turning point – when supposedly Mañara emerged from a lascivious ball into a vision of his own funeral procession. Whatever his motivations, Mañara did seek to reverse his fortunes; he joined and became head of the Santa Carídad Brotherhood (Brotherhood of Charity) and in 1672 founded this charity hospital, a handsome white Baroque affair trimmed in ocher tones.

What may seem lighthearted outside delves into the fatalistic once you are inside. The main Baroque altarpiece by Sevillano Pedro Roldán is a shining gold beauty and a heartfelt nod to the “seventh work of compassion,” the burying of Christ. Paintings by Murillo depict the sick being tended, while painter Valdéz Leal preferred to render the morbid results of infirmity. The body in flesh gives way to frightening skeletons casting a leery gaze. If you need a respite from it all, move into open air the double courtyard, plain white and trimmed in yellow. The burial place of the original Don can then be visited in the Iglesia de San Jorge, which he founded in 1674.

Plaza de España

This semicircular plaza was built as part of a widespread city beautification project in anticipation of the Ibero-American exposition, which Sevilla would host in 1929. The half-moon-shaped edifice shadowing it wraps for over 200 m (640 feet) between twin towers. It is mostly brick and decorated with ceramic friezes dedicated to Spain’s provinces. A moat ripples in front, connected to the inner plaza by a series of gently arching pedestrian bridges. Rowboats can be rented to ply its waters from morning to evening. With nightfall, the central fountain next to the moat becomes an entertaining spectacle of alternating shapes and colors.

Parque de María Louisa

The Plaza looks out on the Parque de María Louisa (Avda de María Louisa, s/n), also created for the exposition on lands that had been previously donated by the child Princess Louisa Fenanda de Orleans in 1893. It is a pleasure to lie in the shade of the park’s trees, maybe magnolia, orange or palm, and watch young Spaniards kick around a soccer ball until it gets lodged in one of the canopies and must be retrieved. Don’t hesitate to join in or, if you’re flat footed and a good aim, bring a Frisbee. Lovers prefer to lie around and listen to the fountains or pluck rose petals. In the square dedicated to the poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer is a statue perfectly suited to them; it depicts three young women, each in a posture representing a different stage of love, sweet and bitter love.

The Plaza de América at the park’s south end presents a cluster of pavilions of different architectural styles (plateresque, Mudéjar, Gothic). These were built for the exposition and now house various novelty exhibitions and museums. The largest of these pavilions, formerly devoted to fine arts, is now Sevilla’s Museo Arqueológico Provincial. On display is ancient Iberian jewelry, Phoenician sculptures such as that of the god Astarte, Roman relics that have been retrieved from nearby Italíca, as well as others from the little- known Tartessos civilization. The Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares (Pabellón Mudéjar, Plaza de América,   95 423 25 76) is nearby and houses an oddball assortment of traditional outfits, and furniture dating from the 18th and 19th century. It also hosts workshops devoted to traditionally Spanish crafts, such as flamenco, guitar gluing and rug weaving.

Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes

This is a fine art museum that pays credit to the notable Sevillan painter Valdéz Leal and his peers Murillo and Zurbarán, as well as to the work of other Spanish schools of the Siglo de Oro (Golden Age). The portrait of “Jorge Manuel,” was painted by the model’s father, El Greco. The museum was founded in 1839 in this, the former Convent of Merced Calzada. Some say its representation of Spanish painters is eclipsed only by that of the Prado.

Last updated March 28, 2012
Posted in   Spain  |  Sevilla
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