We took advantage of another Puente day to travel to the other side of Andalusia to see Sevilla (known outside Spain as Seville). There were so many wonderful experiences to relate, but we thought that, rather than then the usual “and then we…” format, we would step into a controversy that has apparently long simmered.
Sevilla is three times the size of our home of Granada, and is world famous as the launching point for Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and other Spanish-backed seafarers (such as Magellan). Even a barber here gets his own opera, yet, there is an Andalusian rivalry between it and the pomegranate jewel for cultural superiority (Malaga, while as old and large, tends to just chill by the beach).
Neo-Granadinos as we are, we tried to render our still un-(totally)-biased assessment of the two ciudads in comparison.
Alcázar versus Alhambra/Generalife
So, right away we compare two world heritage sites, the Sevillian fortress of the Alcázar and the fortress palace city of the Alhambra & Generalife.
The Alcázar stands at the city center, a spot continuously occupied and fortified since (at least) the eighth century, B.C. It’s beautifully preserved (it remains a Spanish royal residence), from the rooms in which Magellan’s voyage was planned to the gardens that are so breathtaking, they served as the set for the garden state of Dorne in Game of Thrones.
The Alhambra rises up (and forces visitors to hike up) over Granada, if not all Andalusia. Its many towers and halls constituted an entire city that was the last holdout of Moorish presence against the Reconquista of Spain.
As for the Generalife, suffice to say the goal was to recreate the garden of Eden, and though I’m not quite old enough to personally remember, it seems pretty close.
Winner – Granada: When all is said and done, the Alcázar was built to LOOK Moorish, beginning in the 14th century. The older Alhambra is the real deal and actually played a crucial role in history.
This is a many-versus-one comparison. Granada, although home of the Grand Cathedral ordered built by Ferdinand and Isabel, distinguishes itself more by the many well-preserved churches throughout the city. In fact, I have enjoyed touring the churches in chronological order so as to see the evolution of architectural style if not indirect clues as to the focus of the Spanish Catholic Church over time, from opposing Moors to countering the Protestant Reformation.
Sevilla, on the other hand, has one really, really big Cathedral. It’s actually the largest in the world, and to stand in it reminds even the biggest ego of how small a place one takes up in the scheme of things. It’s also attached to one of the grandest towers in all of Europe, the Giralda (that both cities historically tore down beautiful mosques is a great loss, but the merged Mudéjar art form is beautiful).
Winner – Sevilla: Consider this, in Granada’s cathedral one can visit the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, the backers of perhaps the greatest venture risk gamble in history, but in Sevilla one can visit the grander tomb of Cristobal Colon, the guy who did the legwork. And did we mention how big that Cathedral is?
Both cities will challenge the “natural navigator” with twisty turning roads that all look alike, yet different. Even Google maps at points will throw up its cyber hands and say no se.
Sevilla’s old town is more spread out, which can lead one to be in a crowded square one minute, elbowing through a packed crowd, and then one street later be on a deserted lane with the town seeming to one’s self. Granada, being smaller, seems to have more people more evenly spread through its streets (at all hours).
The cities also took different approaches to sidewalks. With Sevilla, it’s feast or famine. Streets either have broad pathways for pedestrians or none at all (which can be scary when one is coming home at night and sees a large headlight coming from the other direction with no place to take refuge). Granada, on the other hand, opted for sidewalks that consistently are one and a half persons wide, making walking OK, but passing like a NASCAR challenge.
Winner – Sevilla: Granada gets bonus points for its car barriers being in the shape of pomegranates, but I have to, again, exhort my fellow Granadinos to PICK UP THE DOG POOP! One simply cannot walk and admire the scenery, or even check out Google maps, unless with a companion who acts as a spotter for traps.
Sevilla has the Guadalquivir river, so sumptuous it allowed Sevilla to be a protected but major inland port to the sea. The bridges are stunning as well. Granada has two rivers, the Darrow and the Genil, but they are more like rivers we knew in Texas (meaning the rest of the world would call them creeks).
But then there are the Sierra Nevada’s. Anywhere one is in Granada, one can look up and see the tallest non-alp in continental Europe, Mt. Mulhácen, watching over the city as a god over mere mortals, dwarfing even those who hiked to the top of the Albaicin.
Winner – Granada: The Guadalquivir is nice to look at when you are near, but the Sierra Nevada’s are ALWAYS within eyeshot and you within theirs. The legend that fleeing Moors hid untold treasures in the mountains also adds romantic mystery.
This is the stuff of culture wars. BOTH cities claim to be the progenitor of the world-famous style and both look askance at the other’s approach.
Granada reaches into its hard-edged gypsy infused past and advocates a raw, more emotional style of Flamenco best appreciated in a claustrophobic cave café in the Albaicin/Sacromonte districts.
Sevilla’s Flamenco is a more flowing, Spanish-integrated style that takes gypsy roots and builds upon it to artistically merge power and grace on stage.
Winner – TIE: We’re not getting into the middle of this one! We all win with mas Flamenco!
Nearly everyone in Sevilla greets you with a smiling, “What can I do for you?” attitude. Many vendors speak English or are willing to do the point to/gesture charade communication dance. Granadinos, on the other hand, are infamous for their stone-faced “Dime” (Talk to me/What do you want?) greeting and consider “no” and staring an acceptable response to most questions.
Winner: Sevilla: As time has gone on, we have figured out how to penetrate the hard surface of Granadinos and get to the soft, friendly core, but most casual visitors would probably prefer the outer friendliness (even if a bit put on) for their fleeting exchanges.
Bread and Alcohol
The two staffs of life in Andalusia; no meal is really complete without generous helpings of both. Both Sevilla and Granada boast a local brand of beer, Cruzcampo and Alhambra (guess which comes from Granada!). Sevilla also takes pride in vino naranja, which is supposed to be a refreshingly sweet orange wine, but for us tasted like bad cough syrup, to be honest.
As for bread, Granada benefits from being near the pueblo of Alfacar, the home of the best bread in all of Spain, so many a shop and café is supplied with fresh loaves daily. Bread in Sevilla, on the other hand, comes in plastic wrap.
Winner – Granada: if the bread were not enough, Cruzcampo is now owned by Heineken, a great beer brand, but not Spanish.
This may seem like a minor point, but considering that most Spaniards (including us) travel by public transport, it’s important.
Sevilla sports one of the nicest, more spacious terminals we have been in. The trains and buses are together for easy transfer, and the restaurant is fairly good (one note, Sevilla: please post the departure bay of buses earlier than “now boarding” to save us a last-minute bathroom/water sprint).
Granada opts for no frills. The station is definitely not designed for hanging around, but even more, there is always something broken. There are never fully functioning restrooms and, oh, by the way, the train and bus stations are located separately.
Winner: Sevilla: The 3-year Granada train station overhaul is purported to be about finished…now in its 5th year.
Another big face-off. Both cities claim to be the home of tapas, the incredible, exquisite appetizer dishes that come with alcohol. There are many legends as to how tapas began, from a sick king who believed his recovery was due to small meals and wine (and so ordered it throughout the land), to a system to ensure peasant workers ate with their alcohol so they could still work, to innkeepers serving cheese and other foods to hide the inferior wine they served.
There is no way to figure out the origin, so we are left with the present.
Both cities have similar tapas, ranging from a potato (there’s always some form of potato) & egg cake to pork cheek to fish stew. Sevilla has one tapa that stands out, solomillo al whisky, or tender steak marinated in whiskey and served with marinated mushrooms. It melts in your mouth as it spreads joy throughout your body.
Granada has no one particular tapa, though we are partial to boquerones, or lightly fried anchovies (sometimes in vinegar), but the key for Granadan tapas is that…wait for it…it is FREE with a drink (the adage is that “only tourists pay for tapas”). Order a beer, or wine, or even a bottle of water, and the waiter will set a FREE plate of delicious edibles before you (with often ever-improving tapas coming with each successive drink). Not only are they delicious, but we can essentially have a full meal for two for the price of 5 or 6 drinks, or about ten euros.
Winner – Granada: I really loved solomillo al whisky, nothing like it, but the idea of having to pay for tapas incites the Granadino in me, especially paying for a wedge of potato cake.
The final verdict
Even as I write this, I feel my Granadino patriotism coming through, so I think I’ll phrase it another way. Put yourself back in high school, and consider that you meet two kids.
- One is the popular BPOC (Big Person on Campus). Everyone knows him or her, as they are a leader in school sports, government, and is pleasantly nice to everyone, if perhaps doesn’t like going too deep into things.
- The other is the more reflective kid in the corner, perhaps a bit darker, but earnest and willing to talk with you all night about the mysteries of life (or song lyrics) once you break through the rough exterior.
With whom would you want to hang out with? The popular or the angtsy kid ? With whom would you want to share a dorm room with? Or a tapa?
A cada uno su propia opinión.