Seville Cathedral stands on the site of a great mosque, built by the Almohads in the 12th century. It is the largest cathedral in Europe. Its bell-tower, La Giralda, was in its original incarnation a minaret, on top of which were erected a Christian belfry and Christian symbols.
You climb La Giralda not by stairs but via an internal ramp, built so that horses could ride to the top. As you climb, the views – of the cathedral, of Sevilla unwinding itself beneath you – are not to be missed.
The sense of the ages, the consciousness of ancient and multiple histories and cultures, the sheer drama of the spectacle, call for images in black and white. But the bright Andalucian skies, the warmth of the sun on the old stone, demanded colour. Take a look at these photos of the pigeon, looking out from a ledge: they are the same image, but how different in tone, mood, message!
The bells and the lattice-work, I think, because graphically so strong, work powerfully in black and white:
But when it comes to the view of the tower itself, I am torn, between the strong diagonals of the one view, and the warm tones of the brick and stone, in the other.
Travel photography is a genre awash with cliche and selfies. For many of us, the audience is personal – friends, family, people we hope to impress on social media. The ‘language’ of our images is likewise simple and declarative. ‘Here I am, look at me; this is the view from my hostel/hotel/AirBnB; this is what x (a famous landmark/object/scenic viewpoint) looks like; this is what I ate, this is what I did, this is how fab/miserable/wet/sunny the day was, when I visited.’
Then there is the sub-genre of persuasion – the ad-men photographers whose aim is to convince you that destination y is the destination of a lifetime – mysterious, unique, fabled, fantastic – the language of superlatives.
Some travel photography aims a bit higher, offering documentary, social comment, an awareness of history and culture, humour. Even, perhaps, meditation, reflection: what does it mean, to travel to another country, to stand where one has never stood before, where one might never stand again? What about this is strange, what is familiar? What does this say, about time, existence, the spirit of place?
And then there is photography whose genesis might be travel, but whose expression is art, design, interpretation – particular perhaps to one place and one time, but in a sense, universal.
These photographs, of the magnificent Seville Cathedral – itself an embodiment of the overlay and blending of Moorish and Catholic histories and cultures – make no particular claim to any one of the descriptions I’ve offered. I leave that to your judgement. But I was impressed and moved, not only in the obvious ways. I was moved by the ignorance that today’s Western anti-Islam rhetoric reveals of Islam’s contributions to art, science, architecture, culture; by the brooding morbidity of Spanish Catholicism; by the oppressive magnificence of princes and prelates – the ostentatious taxing of the poor for the glory of god and the privileged.
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go up Sevilla’s Metropol Parasol in the midday sun; we went up in the evening, when it was cooler, and the city’s lights were on, and we could enjoy the night views and the soothing breezes.
The Parasol is the most extraordinary living sculpture, a vast structure of latticed timber that hovers over the Plaza de la Encarnation like an alien spaceship. A kind of a boardwalk winds and climbs its way around the top, several stories above the sidewalk, so that you find yourself level with the spires and turrets of the neighbouring cathedral, and looking back down into the square with a few tables where people are quietly enjoying a drink and some tapas.
Before we went up, by escalator and lift, I photographed these break-dancers, whirling like dervishes in the glow of the spaceship.
The Real Alcazar, the royal residence built in 1364 by Pedro the First within the Almohad palaces of Spain’s former Moorish rulers, is a place of breathtaking beauty, the subtlety, the delicacy, the perfection of its spaces a song for the soul.
A long outer wall curves along the boundary of Santa Cruz, the Juderia or Jewish ghetto, concealing from view the Gardens of the Alcazar: one morning, as we sought its shade, the sunlight seemed to strike like a scimitar or blade.
My guidebook – the estimable DK Eyewitness Travel volume on Spain – says of the Santa Cruz district of Sevilla that it represents Seville ‘at its most romantic and compact.’ I would agree. A maze of narrow alleys and quiet plazas, Santa Cruz was once a Jewish ghetto, but now is a tourist mecca – the cross-cultural pun intended. The neighbourhood is almost too pretty, almost too touristy – and yet it manages somehow to maintain a sense of reality, of life as it is still lived and enjoyed, in an old quarter of the city. You can’t afford to miss it.
Here are four images.