Welcome to Seville Concierge

We offer customised full and half day outings in Seville, created especially for you. We also do shorter walking tours in the city and day trips to nearby places.

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La Plaza de la Virgen de Los Reyes


Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

Behind the cathedral in Seville you can find one of the prettiest and most iconic squares in the world, the Plaza Virgen de Los Reyes. With the fountain and baroque street light in the centre, and surrounded by exceptional buildings – the Cathedral and Giralda Tower, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the old Hospital of Santa Marta, it’s a hub of activity and a principal meeting place for both residents and visitors. During the day this is the main departure point for the horse drawn carriage rides; at dusk, come here to enjoy the deep, dark blue of the evening sky behind the Cathedral, and the wheeling and crying of the hunting swallows. Later, come to look at the Giralda lit up at night, a sight you won’t want to miss, and which never fails to take my breath away.

As you might expect, this place has a long, complex and fascinating history. The Phoenicians, sailing from their home cities of Byblos, Tyre and Sidon to trade with lands as distant as the British Isles, established a small settlement just up the hill close to three thousand years ago, probably mooring their boats in the river channel that then ran along what is now the Avenida de la Constitución. Hercules, credited with being one of the founders of the city, is the Greek name for one of the Phoenician gods. The Romans conquered the city in 206 BC, and by the middle of the 1st century BC it had grown enough for Julius Caesar, then governor of Spain, to build its first stone walls, for which he is credited as the city’s second founder. These walls actually ran along the edge of what is now the square, just in front of the Cathedral. Under the corner of the Archbishop’s Palace there are still some remains of the Roman baths, positioned so that the waste water would drain outside the walls, though it’s not possible to visit them.

Time passed. The Roman empire tottered and fell, and after six centuries as a Roman city, Seville (and the rest of Spain) were left to their own devices. Some of the Germanic tribes who had helped destroy Rome crossed the Pyrenees and headed into Spain. One of these, the Vizigoths, seduced by promises of endless sunshine and undeterred by the lack of towels, set up their own kingdom. Shortly afterwards Christianity arrived, and before long the Vizigoths were involved in civil wars fuelled by a heady mix of personal rivalry and religious differences. The disunity paved the way for the conquest of Spain by the Moors, newly converted to a militantly expansive Islam.


The Giralda Tower

Their first arrival, in 711, was probably intended as a raid, but after the Vizigothic king was killed and his army routed the following year, Spain lay open to invasion. For most of the period to the early 11th century Seville was under the control of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The first administrative buildings on the site of the Alcázar fortress palace were built in the 8th century, as was the little mosque (now the chapel of the Encarnación convent) at the entrance to Plaza Santa Marta, but with the collapse of the Caliphate Seville gained its independence, its first Royal Alcazar, and rebuilding of the city walls. The biggest changes, though, came in the 12th century. In order to accommodate a growing population the new Almohad dynasty needed both a new Grand Mosque, and more living space. A new western wall was built closer to the river, and on the site of the modern cathedral the Moors built a new Grand Mosque and a minaret, now the Giralda Tower, that is the square’s (indeed Seville’s) best known and best loved building.

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The Archbishop’s Palace

1248, and the Christian conquerors led by Ferdinand III entered the city. At first there was probably little outward change in appearances. The mosque was reconsecrated as a cathedral, and some houses on the north side of the square were given to the new Archbishop as a residence. Over the next 500 years these would gradually be transformed into the grand Palace we see today, with the impressive entranceway, the last part to be built, being added in the 18th century. In fact, until this time, the square as an open space did not exist, being occupied by a number of buildings belonging to the church and used for administration. The enclosure around these buildings was known as the Corral de Los Olmos, the Courtyard of the Elms, after the Virgin of the Elms who can still be seen in a little niche on the side of the Giralda Tower. This is the name by which Cervantes referred to it, as can be seen by the plaque on the wall behind the statue of the Pope.


The Virgin of the Elms

Also founded at the time of the Christian conquest was the Jewish quarter, separated from the rest of the city by a wall that ran along the back of the square. The wall was probably destroyed after the great Pogrom of 1391, as the Hospital of Santa Marta (now the Convent of the Encarnación) was founded here in 1404. In 1401 the decision was taken to demolish the old mosque and build a new cathedral on the site, which was to be so grand that “when people see it they will think we were mad”, in the words of a member of the Cathedral chapter. It was finally completed in 1526, and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Shortly afterwards a campanario (belfry) and weathervane were added to the minaret.

1-photo 1 (1)Mateos Gago Street

At the beginning of the 18th century the demolition of the church buildings in front of the Palace and the hospital created something approximating the square we know today, a process completed by the remodelling and widening of the entrance to Mateos Gago street, and the addition of the fountain and street lamps in the centre of the square as part of the preparations for the 1929 Spanish-American exhibition.

There can be few places as apparently timeless as the Plaza of the Virgin of the Kings, yet with so much change and history.

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Seville’s Golden Age

In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

This was the pivotal moment in the history of one of Europe’s oldest cities which would propel it from modest national importance to being the richest city in Europe, a position that it would maintain for the next two centuries thanks to the monopoly of the Americas trade granted to the city by royal decree in 1503.

This monopoly was regulated and enforced by the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade), which collected a 20% tax (the quinto) on all goods entering Spain, as well as other taxes and levies, and had to approve all voyages of trade and exploration, trade routes and the like. This information was updated and preserved in the Padrón Real, the official, and secret, map of the networks of Spanish trade and empire around the world, a major undertaking that employed Spain’s best cartographers. The casa also trained and licensed captains and navigators. From 1543 it worked in conjunction with the Consulado de Mercaderes, the Merchant Guild of Seville, through which most of the wealth from the New World was channelled.

As the money flowed in the city began to acquire the trappings of wealth. The Cathedral, by some reckonings the largest church in the world, was completed in 1526, and the 1560s saw the addition of a belfry and a statue, the Giraldilla, representing Faith, to the Moorish minaret. In the Plaza San Francisco the city’s secular authorities were housed in a new town 1-01-photo 1 (4)hall, the Casa Consistorial (1527-1564), usually known as the Ayuntamiento, with its ornate plateresque decoration and the arcade that gave access to the Franciscan friary which occupied the whole of what is now Plaza Nueva. In the later years of the century the Real Audencia, a court of the Castilian crown, was built on the other side of the Plaza San Francisco, with the Royal Prison on the corner of Sierpes street (the site is now occupied by a bank). Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote, was for a short time “a guest of His Majesty” here. 1-02-photo 2 (4)From the same period are the Archivo General de Indias, built originally as the Casa Lonja or commodities exchange, and now the third of Seville’s World Heritage buildings, the Casa Moneda (Royal Mint), where silver from the New World was minted into coin, and the Hospital de Cinco Llagas (the Five Wounds), which is now the home of the Andalucian Parliament. At the same time many churches, monasteries and convents, as well as private palaces of the aristocracy and merchants all over the city were built or elarged.

With that kind of money came not only lavish building projects, but patronage of the arts. Seville’s Golden Age came to its full fruition in the 17th century Baroque School, among whom were such luminaries as Francisco Herrera, Diego Velazquez, Bartolomé Murillo and Francisco de Zurbarán, as well as sculptors like Pedro Roldán and Juan Martinez Montañes (the God of Wood). Many of their works can be seen in the Fine Arts Museum and other museums around the city.

Although work actually started on it before the discovery of America, Seville’s university, which grew out of the Dominican schools of the previous century, also belongs to this period, with Papal authorisation for its courses being granted in 1505. It was installed in buildings near the Puerta Jerez, where the street named for its founder, Maese Rodrigo, can still be found. All that remains today is the little Mudejar chapel at the end of the Avenida de la Constitución. In 1771 the university moved to another of the important buildings of the time, the College of the Annunciation of the Professed House of the Society of Jesus, and the Church of the Annunciation next door, on the corner of Plaza de la Encarnación, were both built in the 1550s.

This explosion of wealth and culture has left a lasting mark on the modern city, as many of its buildings and artworks are still preserved, and can be seen on a walk around the city. For me, it’s possibly the most beautiful, fascinating, and culturally rich cities in the world.

“Who has not seen Seville has not seen a marvel.”

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The New Seville Aquarium


If you’re coming to Seville on holiday, there’s no shortage of interesting things to see and do, from sightseeing the monuments and exploring the old city, to museums and art galleries, flamenco, and of course, eating, drinking and people watching in the bars and cafes. But as from last week, after a long period of planning and construction, and numerous delays, Seville has a new attraction that extends the range of things to do.

The Seville Aquarium has some forty tanks, holding about 400 different species of marine life, from flotillas of small, brightly coloured tropical fish to ominously cruising sharks, from urchins to octopus, and even giant crabs and turtles. Conceptually, it follows the path of Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the world (which began in Seville in 1519), and the different creatures he would have found on the voyage. There’s a soothing fascination to watching the fish glide around their tanks, and although it’s on a relatively modest scale it’s a great way to spend an afternoon – especially for kids on a wet or very hot day.

I was fortunate enough to have an invite to the press opening. So here are some photos of my sneak preview of the Seville Aquarium.



Seville Aquarium

Calle Santiago Montoto (Puerto las Delicias) s/n

Opening hours Mon-Thur 10am to 7 pm (Nov-Feb) 10am-8pm (Mar-Oct) Fri- Sun 10am – 9pm (10pm Mar-Aug)

Tickets €15 adults €10 children, disabled, pensioners. Discounts for families and groups.

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A Visit to Jerez

Although I’d been to Jerez (pronounced Hereth) de la Frontera a couple of times, specifically for the spring fair, which I prefer to the bigger and more impersonal one in Seville, the last time was some five years ago, so when my friend Shawn (aka SevillaTapas) suggested a couple of nights there on a working holiday to explore the city and also visit some sherry bodegas (or vice versa), it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

sherry bodega

sherry bodega

For the most part people associate Jerez with sherry and horses, and these are still the main attractions (the annual motorcycle GP also draws a lot of visitors), and I’d never really thought of it as a tourist destination. In fact, although it’s not on the same scale or as well preserved as cities like Seville or Cordoba, Jerez still has a substantial historic old centre that’s worth spending an afternoon strolling around, and a number of monuments worth seeing (of which more later). The name of the city goes back to Phoenician Sèrès and Roman Ceret (although the main Roman settlement was at Asta Regia to the northeast), which later became the Moorish Sherish, from which the famous wine takes its name. The city was reconquered by the Christians in 1264 and became Xerez (later Jerez) de la Frontera, because it was on the border of the Christian and Moorish terrritories, and the name has been retained even though it has long ceased to be true.

120-jul262014 033This being Sherrytown, though, the first order of business was a visit to a sherry bodega, or in our case, visits to four sherry bodegas over the course of two days to see what’s on offer for the “sherry tourist”. For a more detailed account of our bodega visits you can see my friend Shawn’s blog, so for this post it’s just the basics. First off was Gonzalez Byass (famous for its Tio Pepe fino and the iconic Tio Pepe figure with its guitar and jauntily angled hat), the biggest bodega in Jerez. It’s certainly impressive, but for my money, although good fun, the tour was a bit like an extended advert, suitable for the beginner or people with only a casual interest. For the more mature student, a visit to one of the other bodegas we saw would be more appropriate – Lustau (who make La Ina), or Tradición, a fairly small bodega that specialises in well aged amontillados, olorosos and palo cortados, as well as a fascinating private art collection. We were also privileged to visit Urium, a small family run bodega that doesn’t normally do tours, where we were treated like royalty by host Alonso Ruiz. The bodegas themselves are fascinating, with the ranks of casks in long naves like cathedrals to sherry, although the first thing you notice, sometimes even from the street outside, is the pervasive aroma of the wine.

swordfish Jerez market

swordfish Jerez market

Another must for us was a visit to the market, which is in a lovely building on the edge of the old town. No real surprises, but the whole swordfish I spotted being unloaded was the first I’d ever seen. We also did the traditional chocolate and churros breakfast in the square outside, which certainly seemed to be a popular way for the locals to start the day.

When it comes to strolling around town, it seems that all roads lead to the Plaza Arenal. This is the big square on the side of the old town facing the modern part of the city, and is so named because of its past association with bullfighting. The square is pleasant enough (the decorative sherry casks paying homage to Jerez’s most famous product are quite fun), but the most interesting parts of the historic centre are close by. Most important of these is the Alcazar, the 11th century Moorish fortress, which

Cloisters of Santo Domingo

Cloisters of Santo Domingo

among other things holds the city’s only surviving mosque and minaret, baths, a later octagonal tower, and a formal garden. The walk from the Plaza Arenal past the old town hall and the Church of Santo Domingo to the Cathedral takes you through the oldest parts of the city. For those who, like me, are fascinated by such things, the area of derelict bodegas beyond the cathedral has a certain charm. Not far from here, in the Plaza Mercado, is the Archaeological museum, though unfortunately we didn’t have time to go and see it. Also worth seeing are the Cloisters of Santo Domingo and the remains of the old city wall in Calle Muro.

We found some good places to eat too, though our two favourites were both some way out of the centre. Nevertheless if you have the time traditional fish restaurant Bar Arturo was our absolute favourite, with great food, good service and a lively atmosphere. Ajo Negro was very much a modern bar, but again great food and service. In the area around Plaza Arenal Reino de Leon, Cruz Blanca, and Pulpo y Aparte all served us well.

Jerez is easy to get to, with regular trains to and from Seville, and a journey time of about an hour.

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Before I came to Spain I laboured under the misapprehension that a tuna was a small round fish that fit neatly into a tin. Apparently not. Apparently it’s a 200+kg monster whose various parts have special names like ventresca, tarantelo, cola blanca or morillo, so that you know exactly what you’re friendly local tapas bar waiter is going to bring you. Now, I did actually discover this pretty quickly, but a couple of days ago I was able to attend an event that brought that fact home to me in a compelling way.

The event in question was a ronqueo, the carving of a tuna into its component parts (the name derives from the Spanish word for snore, and is supposed to be the sound of the flesh being stripped away from the spine), ready to be turned into delectable little fishy dishes. The ronqueo was organised jointly by four bars, La Pepona, Sidonia, Nazca and Duo Tapas, who hosted the event, with each getting a share of the spoils.


In preparation, the bar was emptied of most of the furniture, and plastic sheeting laid on the floor – although the fish is, of course, already dead when it’s brought in, and expert cutting minimises the “blood and gore” that you might otherwise expect, this is nevertheless a sensible precaution that makes cleaning up easier. With everything prepared and the butcher (does anyone know if this is the right word in this context?) in attendance the tuna is wheeled in on a trolley and unloaded, and the work begins.


Using some very sharp knives and an instrument like a small machete the head is cut off, and then the brains, heart and then other internal organs removed. I was most surprised by the appearance of the gills, dark concertina like masses that were much larger than I expected. Next the fins and spines are removed and discarded, and then the cuts from the belly – ventresca, descargamento and tarantelo – separated from the rest of the fish, almost as if it was being unwrapped. Next were the long rolls of red meat from either side of the spine, the descargado and plato; these are what you most commonly see on the fishmongers’ stalls in the markets, waiting to be sliced into steaks. Then the tail is held up and the last cuts, the cola negra and cola blanca, are cut away.


It’s all over surprisingly quickly, and the various cuts laid out on a long table (a bit like an anatomy lesson in Bones). It’s a lot of tuna, and definitely isn’t going to fit into a tin, which in any case feels increasingly like sacrilege. Final touch is a glass of sherry and some perfect hors d’oeuvres prepared from the recently deceased. All in all, not a bad morning’s work.


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The Footsteps of Saint Teresa of Ávila in Seville

Entrance to Las Teresas convent

Entrance to Las Teresas convent

In the heart of the Santa Cruz neighbourhood of Seville, leading up from the Plaza Santa Cruz towards the cathedral, is the little winding street of Las Teresas. If you live in Seville, or have visited as a tourist, you will certainly have walked along it. You will quite likely also have stopped in at its best-known landmark, the delightful Bar Las Teresas, with its rows of jamón Iberico hanging from the ceiling. But diverting though it is, this is not our topic for the day and reason for being here, which is across the street and a couple of doors down. Here you will find yourself in front of a truly impressive wooden door in an ornate portal set in a rather blank and forbidding wall, with just a few barred windows set high up near the roof. It’s the entrance to the Convent of San José, better known as Las Teresas after its founder Saint Theresa of Ávila.

Santa Teresa is one of the Catholic Church’s most prominent saints and theologians, a mystic, writer and reformer of the Carmelite nuns, and the current interest in her is because next year is the 500th anniversary of her birth.

She was born in 1515 in Ävila, a small town between Madrid and Salamanca most famous for its virtually intact city wall. Her grandfather had been a Jewish convert to Christianity, and had been investigated by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith (remember that the last of the Moors had only been expelled from Granada in 1492, and Christianization of the newly created kingdom of Spain set in motion by Ferdinand and Isabela). Her father, however, had successfully integrated into the new order, and Teresa’s mother was a pious Christian who read Teresa stories from the lives of the saints as a child. After her mother died, when Teresa was 14, she developed a romanticised and sentimental obsession with the Virgin Mary and works of popular fiction about mediaeval knights.

Not long afterwards she was sent to be educated by the Augustinian nuns of Ávila, after which, now aged 20, she entered the Carmelite Monastary of the Incarnation, an order enjoined to contemplation and devotion, supposedly founded on Mt Carmel in the 12th century. It was here in the quiet of the cloister that she experienced the ecstatic religious trances for which she is most famous, and developed the mysticism which was her inspiration. At the same time she became increasingly concerned by the lax observance of the Carmelite order in Ávila, and despite some initial opposition set up a reformed Carmelite (the discalced, or barefoot Carmelites) convent in Ávila, the beginning of twenty years of reform and founding of new convents which bring us back again to the starting point of our article.

On May 26, 1575, Teresa arrived in Seville with a few nuns, for the purpose of founding a convent (her eleventh). To begin with they rented a house on Calle Zaragoza, where they stayed for ten years, but the location was never satisfactory. In those days (Seville’s Golden Age at the height of the America’s trade) Zaragoza was one of the main streets leading down to the port, a noisy place full of taverns, sailors and traders. Eventually, with the help of San Juan de la Cruz (Saint John of the Cross), they were able to buy the property in Teresas Street which has been their home ever since. Although not open to the public, it included among its possessions the only known portrait of Teresa painted during her lifetime, and the original manuscript of her best known work, Las Moradas, the Dwellings of the Interior Castle.

Teresa herself never saw the order’s new home. In 1582 while travelling in northern Spain she was taken ill and died. By one of those strange quirks of fate or history she died on the night when the Church was switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, with the removal of the dates October 5-14 that year. Teresa died either late in the evening of October 4 (Julian), or in the early hours of October 15 (Gregorian). She was beatified in 1614 and canonized in 1622, and remains one of the Catholic church’s most popular and important saints.

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Roman Wine Tasting

Text by Peter Tatford
Photos by Shawn Hennessey

As all you erudite folks probably already know, Seville was in antiquity a Roman city, probably the most important in Western Europe outside of Italy itself. It’s official name from the time of Julius Caesar was “Julia Romana”, but as often happens it was the city’s older name, Hispalis, which remained in popular use, and is preserved in altered form in the modern name. It was an important trading, manufacturing and administrative centre with extensive commercial links with Rome, exporting wine, oil and fish products back to the Imperial capital.

baetica wines

But what was daily life like in Hispalis during the six centuries of Roman domination? Recently my friend Shawn @azaharSevilla and I were lucky enough to be invited to a rather special wine tasting event at Gastrosol, atop the Metropol Parasol. It was put on by the people responsible for Cotidiana Vitae (Daily Life) at Italica, the well-preserved Roman residential city at Santiponce, just outside Seville. Roman wines were provided by Baetica, who have done excellent work in recreating the styles of wines that would have been drunk in those far off times, drawing on the knowledge of winemakers, historians and archaeologists to make them as authentic as possible.

First though, it was down into the basement for a tour of the Roman ruins discovered when work to redevelop the site of the old market in Plaza Encarnación began back in the nineties. The ruins are now a well restored and preserved archaeology museum with some fascinating things to see. These include a fish salting plant that must have been a smelly neighbour for the residents, a house with an unusual (to me at least) raised platform for dining set into a semi-circular alcove, restored mosaics, and some crude gaming tables, as well as glimpses of the stratification (new bits built over old bits) of the site as it developed.

antequarium tour

Then it was time to go upstairs for the wine tasting. Our hosts, Manuel León Béjar and Alejandro Vera had chosen four wines for us to sample, Mulsum (fermented with honey), Sanguis (steeped with rose petals), Antinoo (steeped with violets), and Mesalina (flavoured with cinnamon, and named for the wife of the Emperor Claudius), which became very popular in the later Roman Empire. It’s not really known how close these are to the Roman originals, especially as many of the old grape varieties have sadly disappeared, but extensive research into the wine making techniques of the time and descriptions of the grapes that were used gives us considerable confidence, and the use of the various flavourings is well attested to by writers and commentators of the time.

roman wine tasting

Now, I have to admit that I’m not really a wine expert, so for proper tasting notes and pairings I’m going to send you over to these good people (the notes are in Spanish), but I will say that it was a fascinating experience, and that the wines were quite distinctive compared to modern ones. My favourites were the Mulsum, which did have a definite tang of honey without being overly sweet, and the Mesalina, which was the most intensely flavoured, and was apparently mainly used at the end of, or even after, the meal. Maybe next time we’ll get a complete Roman banquet, though I’m still not convinced about the advantages of eating lying down.

For more information about activities at Italica, including tasting events, you can visit the Cotidiana Vitae website.

Posted in Architecture, Food and Drink, History, monuments, Museums, Plazas, Rome, Seville | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments