Royal Alcázar, Museo Palacio de la Condessa de Lebrija, Basilica de la Macarena, and a flamenco performance
Today in Sevilla, I visited Royal Alcázar (warning: rather lengthy section ahead), Museo Palacio de la Condessa de Lebrija, and Basilica de la Macarena, and took in a flamenco performance.
Rick Steves’ Spain tour book suggests that the biggest crowds at the Royal Alcázar (Real Alcázar) are on Tuesdays, when a lot of tour groups come. Why Tuesdays, you may ask? I don’t know. Ask someone else.
Yesterday was Tuesday. I figured, because it’s off-season, almost the end of October, the crowds would probably be smaller.
My plan yesterday was to go to the Royal Alcázar and, if the lines were too long, visit Sevilla’s Cathedral instead. It’s almost next door.
If you haven’t yet figured out if there was a long line yesterday, you’re not paying attention at all, are you? I don’t know why I even bother. Well, never mind. I didn’t go yesterday. Let’s move along, shall we.
When I stopped by yesterday, signs told me I could skip the line by buying a ticket online. That sounded like a plan to me.
When I got back to my hotel later, I tried to buy a ticket online. I could only buy tickets for a specific date and time. The earliest available slot was a few days after I leave Sevilla. Time for a new plan.
I came back to Royal Alcázar today. The line was just as long, if not longer. I decided to wait anyway. It’s the big attraction of the city.
The Tour Guide
Shortly after I joined the line, a young man (young to my old eyes) came by calling out for anyone who wanted to join an English guided tour and skip the line. The price was not much more than ten euros over the admission price. If I didn’t go on the guided tour, but rented an audioguide instead, the cost of the guided tour wouldn’t have been all that much more.
However, I’ve seen such offers at major attractions in other cities. I was always too suspicious that they were hucksters who wanted to take my money and skip town. Hence, I never took advantage of the offers. My angst was no less at the Royal Alcázar.
I probably should have trusted him. He was wearing a lanyard with an embossed card displaying a picture of him and some text. If he had a lanyard, he must be official, right? But, no, my neuroses didn’t allow me to trust him.
About ten or 15 minutes later, the line had, without exaggeration, shuffled maybe 20 or so steps. There was still the equivalent of about two blocks between me and the ticket booth. I figured the remaining wait was likely at least an hour. Probably closer to two.
The guy offering English tours came by again. Neuroses be damned. I trusted him.
If my writing skills are at all existent, at this point, you don’t know if that was a wise decision or not. Much to my surprise, it was.
Avoiding the Queue at Royal Alcázar
Abraham (I’ll call him that because that’s what he said his name was) led me and a couple of other people to a spot near the entrance. Some people he’d corralled previously were already there.
At this point, I began to trust Abraham a little. For one thing, he corralled us under a sign that said, in Spanish and English, “Official Guides.” For another, he hadn’t yet taken my money.
Abraham then engaged in some negotiations with the guards at the entrance. That done, his lovely assistant handed us small wireless boxes with earbuds and ear-hangers so we could listen to his commentary. Abraham then collected ID cards from students and seniors (me and a couple of others) so we could get discounts.
He then went to the ticket office with our documents, paid the admissions for the whole group, handed back the IDs of the people who gave them to him, and led us inside. Only then did he collect our money.
I’ll never be distrustful again. Yeah, ok, that’s a lie.
Inside Royal Alcázar
Over the course of well over an hour, Abraham led us through a number of rooms and courtyards, stopping frequently to tell us about the history, architecture and the decorations in the various locations.
I don’t know why I bother with live tours, or audioguides for that matter. I often find them informative, interesting and enjoyable. That was particularly true this time. However, within a few minutes I typically forget most of what I heard. Again, this was true this time.
The following are some of the things I do remember. At least, I think I remember them. They might be false memories. If you’re interested, you’d be best to Google it. Everything you find through Google is totally trustworthy. I seem to remember reading that on one website or another.
Royal Alcázar is the oldest palace in Europe still functioning as a royal palace. The Spanish king is allowed to stay there whenever he wants to. The last time he did so was three years ago. They shut down the whole palace for a few days. According to Abraham, the guides, who appear to be freelancers, were furious.
The Moors built the oldest part of the palace. It dates from the tenth century. Over the next several centuries new wings were added and some of the existing sections were reconstructed.
The construction and decorations are, therefore, varied. Moorish as well as Medieval and Renaissance Christian architecture are both represented, along with a fusion of the two in some places.
At one point in our walk through the very crowded palace, we had to wait outside a room until another group left. Abraham apologized, explaining that happens in high season like this. One of our group protested that it’s not high season. (It’s late October.)
Abraham responded that high season used to be April and May. Now it’s all year long. Um, what?
Game of Thrones
In one courtyard, Abraham stopped and asked if any of us were fans of the Game of Thrones tv show. He seemed truly crestfallen when no one responded in the affirmative. Some scenes in Game of Thrones were filmed in that courtyard.
After leading us through a number of attractive old rooms and halls, Abraham brought us to a particularly beautiful room. There, he again asked us if any of us were Game of Thrones fans. Did he think some of us became fans in the interim?
It seems they filmed a key scene in that room. “No computers!,” Abraham exclaimed. “All filmed exactly as it is.” Abraham then opened his iPad and showed us the relevant clip.
I can now say I’ve seen 15 or 20 seconds of the Game of Thrones.
The Gardens of Royal Alcázar
After guiding us through some more rooms and a courtyard, Abraham led us to the garden path or, rather the path to the garden. He pointed out the directions of the washrooms, the gardens, and the exit.
Abraham recommended we visit the gardens. He said that, between the gardens inside and outside the palace walls, they cover 7 hectares. Before heading to the gardens, I decided to first take advantage of the washroom because they probably don’t appreciate visitors peeing in the gardens.
Relieved, I wandered through and sat in the gardens for quite some time. They are huge and hugely beautiful. I took special pleasure in the flowers in bloom on October 30. That’s not something I see back home in Toronto at this time of year. I also spent some time lost in a maze.
Side note: If you’ve been following along, you might remember that in my first post in Sevilla, I said that, after much internal conflict, I decided to call the city “Sevilla” (the local name), rather than “Seville” (what I’d heard and read it referred to as all my life) primarily because that’s what autocomplete offered when I started typing it. After visiting Real Alcázar, I’m questioning that decision. English is not Abraham’s first language. He spoke with what I assume was a strong Spanish accent.
Whenever he mentioned Seville he spoke with pride in his voice. And he said it exactly that way, Seville. In fact it was the only English word he spoke for which I couldn’t detect a Spanish accent. He didn’t once say Sevilla (pronounced locally roughly like “seh-vee-ah).
If Abraham can call it Seville, I guess I’m entitled to too. But I’m not going to go back and change everything. I’ve come this far with Sevilla, so I’ll stick with it.
Museo Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija
The Museo Palacio de la Condessa de Lebrija is the former palace of the Contessa Lebrija. She moved there in 1901, a recent widow at the time. She died in 1938. In between, she lived very elegantly.
Her descendants still own the home. They lived there as recently as 1999. Now it’s a museum.
Half of the house was built in the 16th century. The contessa had the other half built before she moved in.
There is a courtyard and a few nice rooms on the ground floor. I was allowed to wander around there and take photos while waiting to go upstairs to see the primary residences. They’re on the first floor (European floor-numbering; i.e., the second floor using North American numbering).
They forbid photography on the first floor.
Entrance to it is only at specific times and only with a guide. The first floor includes a dining room, a library, a chapel, and a bedroom, among other rooms.
The bedroom wasn’t a bedroom when the contessa moved in. Her bedroom was on the second floor, where we weren’t allowed to go. The Contessa Lebrija lived to be 87. In her later years she couldn’t climb all those stairs. So she converted a room on the first floor to a bedroom.
The rooms are all beautifully furnished and decorated with pieces, including a number of valuable paintings, from a variety of periods and locales. When I say decorated from a variety of periods and locales, I include the ceilings, which were likewise beautiful.
Basilica de la Macarena
Rick Steves ranks the Basilica de la Macarena as a two triangle. That’s not his highest ranking, but generally it’s a must see. So I saw it.
La Macarena is known as the “Weeping Virgin.” I report that without comment except to say, “I report that without comment.”
This church seems to be the real deal. Except during times of services, other churches I’ve visited are usually swarming with heathen tourists, such as me.
In the Basilica de la Macarena, I didn’t seem to be the sole heathen (or is that soulless heathen?), but a number of people came in, went right for the font, dabbed themselves with water, and made the sign of the cross.
Where the heck did they think they were? A church? Oh, yeah. Right. Never mind.
The church is small, but attractive. A large, dazzlingly lit La Macarena hovers over the altar.
There are also impressive Christian (duh) decorations in side chapels.
The Museum of Basilica Macarena
The church includes a museum. During Easter, Sevilla stages a number of huge processions.
I take it‘s somewhat like the Macy’s parade in New York, except there are floats rather than giant balloons. And the floats are Christian themed rather than cartoon characters. OK. Maybe Sevilla’s processions and the Macy’s parade aren’t at all alike. I’ve never seen either live. It was all I could think of. Sorry about that.
The museum displays two of the floats that are in the processions. These are not like the Santa Clause parade floats of my childhood. They are elaborately decorated, one in silver, the other in gold. I suspect that at least the gold one is faux gold. The decorations on the floats include numerous candleholders and religious icons.
The museum also displays a crown and robes worn and candelabras, lanterns and scepters carried during the processions.
In my first post on Sevilla, I described my visit to the Flamenco Museum. In it, I said that the combo ticket for the museum included a flamenco performance, but they were sold out that day. I got a ticket for Wednesday, while still being able to visit the museum that day. Wednesday is today.
The performance featured three dancers, two women and one man, and three musicians, one guitarist and two singers.
The show started with an announcer on stage explaining, in Spanish and English, the different flamenco dance styles that would be performed in separate dances during the show. I lost count, but I think there were six or eight dances, each a different style.
The announcer also told us to not take pictures or videos and to put our phones on silent mode. Otherwise, he’d beat the crap out of us. Alright, he really didn’t say he’d beat the crap out of us. But he said it with greater emphasis than the dance descriptions. And he repeated two or three times how very, absolutely important those instructions were.
I learned something about flamenco. But that may just be because I was mostly ignorant about flamenco before.
I always thought there were two absolute requirements for any flamenco dance: emphatic foot stomping and castanets. I was right about the emphatic foot-stomping, but not about the castanets. Only one of the dances used castanets. Another one also involved some waving of fans.
In addition to the emphatic foot-stomping, many of the dances included rhythmic chest and/or thigh slapping, clapping, and/or snapping of fingers.
Not all of the dances involved all three of the dancers—only the first and last did. And one number didn’t involve any of them. That one featured just the singers and guitarist, with no dancing.
It probably would have been impossible for all of the dancers to dance all of the dances. For one thing, the costumes looked difficult to get into and out of and the dancers wore different costumes for each dance. For another, excluding the introduction, the show lasted about an hour and most of the dances were extremely vigorous. Ambulances likely would have been required if all dancers danced all dances.
What will no doubt come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, I quite enjoyed the show.
Damn! I just remembered that on Monday I said I likely wouldn’t review the show today. So, this section was a complete waste of my time. Oh, well. It’s here now.
Abraham led his people. Maybe his middle name is Moses? Parting the red-clad tourist mobs and all. I once had a miserable time following a tour guide in Turkey at the Topkapi Palace. She offered the tour in English, or so she said. But the em-phas-is was on all the wrong syl-ab-bles and the flow of her words utterly incongruous to an anglophone ear. Wprse still, she fairly shrieked whatever it was she was telling us. Glad your experience was better. Golden, that Royal Alcazar. Wow.