Seville Modern

There are lots of reasons why people choose to come to Seville for a holiday. There’s the sunshine and bright blue skies. There’s the orange trees, especially the heavenly scent of the blossom, and the vibrant colours of the city’s parks and gardens. There’s flamenco, the Spring fair, and the Holy week (and other) processions, and plenty of art and culture. Then there’s the food – the culinary and social phenomenon that is tapas, which is becoming increasingly well-known, and is beginning to be exported to other parts of the world. And, of course, Seville is almost over-endowed with history and historical monuments and the picturesque narrow streets of the old neighbourhoods of the centre of the city.

But as well as all this, Seville is not just a giant postcard, but a place where people live and work, and where the new has to be continuously integrated with the old. This is nothing new. In the tens and twenties the preparation for the 1929 Spanish-American Exhibition involved en extensive programme of urban renewal and renovation, and the 1992 expo (celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America) left its mark on the riverside and the Cartuja skyline. But the real challenge is not building new things, it’s building new things that fit in with what’s there already, and don’t stand out like a sore thumb.

Despite the occassional hiccup, Seville has generally met this challenge remarkably well, and for me there are two examples that everyone should see. The first of these you will certainly find for yourself, as it’s right alongside the World Heritage Centre of the Cathedral, Archivos de India and Alcázar Palace. In some ways, however, it’s quite mundane, and it’s possible you won’t “see” it. I’m talking about the Avenida de la Constitución, the main street that runs in front of the cathedral, and its extension into Calle San Fernando. The first impression is of a classic modern European avenue, with a sleek new tram system and pavement cafés, lined with the ubiquitous Seville orange trees. But look around and you can see the old Seville alongside the new. Here are the Cathedral (15th century), the Archivos de India (17th century), the Tobacco Factory (18th century), and a number of neo-Mudejar style buildings of the early 20th century, all living together as if part of a single grand design.

The second example is a new building. The Metropol Parasols (or The Mushrooms as they are known locally) were completed just two years ago, and are the world’s biggest wooden structure (although Colossos comes pretty close). This fantastical, almost ultra-modern edifice swoops and curves above the Plaza de la Encarnación in the city centre, and houses Roman ruins, a provisions market, and up on the roof a complex of bars and walkways with stunning views. Naturally, it’s been controversial, but I like to think that the modern builders were moved by the same spirit that moved one of the creators of the Cathedral, who said “Let us build a cathedral so immense that everyone on beholding it will take us for madmen.”

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