Seville City - Triana

Famous for having its own strong identity - it's known in Seville as "the independent republic of Triana" - this district is celebrated for its azulejos (ceramic tiles), made in workshops here originally using mud from the river bank; its sailors, bullfighters and flamenco artists (gypsies had to live here as they weren't allowed intramuros, inside the main city walls); and the Inquisition - learn more about this dark chapter in Seville's history at Castillo San Jorge, next to the excellent food market.

Triana's rich past has turned into a lively present, with a great tapas and flamenco scene among its narrow streets, and buzzing nightlife along Calle Betis, which also boasts some superb riverfront restaurant terraces looking towards the Torre del Oro across the water. Ceramics workshops are rare now, although a few tile shops remain and a museum will be opening soon; another of Triana's best-loved attributes is her beloved Virgin, the Esperanza de Triana, and the area even has its own riverside festival - Santa Ana, in July.

Like Barrio Santa Cruz, Triana also has narrow cobbled streets, but its houses are smaller and less grand, and it is less picture-book pretty, and therefore feels more real; it's also less packed with tourists. Some locals claim never to have crossed the river and set foot in Seville. Triana is probably named after the Roman emperor Trajan, who was born in nearby Italica.

This barrio used to be home to Seville's world-renowned tile workshops and potteries - almost any tile you see in Seville's churches, hotels, bars and private houses, as well as Plaza de España, will have been made here in Triana. The industry dates back to Roman times, using clay from La Cartuja, to the north of Triana. Countless artists, bullfighters and flamenco performers, both past and present, were born here - it was the old gitano (gypsy) quarter till the 1950s and is considered the spiritual heart of flamenco: you can experience some of the most authentic performances in the city here, very late at night, in tiny, dark bars.

Look out for the old communal patios, where the gitano families used to live, called corrales de vecinos, with many small rooms centred around a courtyard, which was used for washing and cooking - and often singing and dancing too (Castilla 16 is a good example).

Calle Betis is the street runs alongside the river; it offers indisputably fine views of the city, especially the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower, see El Arenal), the bullring and Giralda. Its row of brightly-coloured 18th-century townhouse facades, seen from the other side of the river, is as impressive as any in Amsterdam or Dublin. Within the barrio, many of the houses have stunning tiled exteriors and wrought iron balconies filled with flowers - go to Calles Pelay and Correa for the traditional Triana. In summer, much of the city's nightlife migrates to Calle Betis, where the copa bars are thronged with party-goers late into the wee hours.

In deeply religious Seville you'll see many statues of the Virgin Mary, but one of the two best-loved (along with La Macarena), especially in the barrio itself, is the Esperanza de Triana. Locals will come in to visit her every day. You can see her in the Capilla de los Marineros (Pureza 53) and during Semana Santa when she heads out on her paso (float) to be adored by her faithful followers. Her hermandad (brotherhood) is one of the oldest and most powerful in Seville, dating from 1418. Triana is the starting point for one of the biggest hermandades on the huge annual romería of El Rocío (pilgrimage, or massive booze-up, depending on who you talk to) at the end of May/beginning of June.

The best way to get to Triana is across the Puente Isabel II, known locally as the Puente de Triana. Look out for the market on the right as you arrive in Triana - this is a good place to buy jamon ibérico (ham), cheese, olives, and other local specialities. It's built on the site of the prison, Castillo San Jorge, which was the headquarters of the Inquisition, now converted into a museum. During this period many 'heretics' - non-Catholics, notably Jews - were burned at the stake. Before 1481, when the Inquisition was instigated, Jews, Muslims and Christians had lived together in relative harmony in Seville.

Crossing the bridge, passing Anibal Gonzalez's chapel of the Virgen del Carmen, patron saint of sailors, you'll arrive in Plaza del Altozano, with its glass-fronted balconies called miradores (windows for watching); this was a traditional meeting place for flamenco cantaores (singers) in the 19th century. There's also a statue of Triana's most famous bullfighting son, Juan Belmonte. Near this plaza are Calles Callao, Antillano Campos and Alfareria, where you'll find the few remaining ceramics workshops.

There are several churches worth visiting near the riverfront in Triana. The most famous of these is Nuestra Señora de la O, north of the bridge. It has a stunning statue of crucified Christ by Gijón, known as El Cachorro (the puppy); there's a tortoiseshell cross hanging from it, a gift from some sailors rescued from a shipwreck. Mudéjar-Gothic Santa Ana, near calle Betis, is the oldest church in Triana, dating from 1276. It was built by Alfonso X in gratitude after he recovered from an eye infection; look out for the retablo (carved altarpiece), choir stalls and pila de los gitanos (gypsy font) which is believed to pass on flamenco talent to children baptized there.

To the north of Triana is the area of Isla de la Cartuja. This was the site of Expo 92 and Monasterio de Santa Maria de Las Cuevas, known locally as the Monasterio de la Cartuja.

 

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