Seville old and new

I was thinking the other day - as I'm sure you do if you live in or near, or have visited, Seville, or any other historic Andalucian city - the incredibly complex, often tricky, relationship between old and new in my adopted home town. Tradition is highly valued in Sevilla: bullfighting, Semana Santa, the Feria, flamenco all have their place, with their associated costumery and protocolo (etiquette), although the first of these is experiencing threats to its very existence. Murillo, Lope de Vega, Becquer, Carmen, Don Juan - the city is incredibly proud of its cultural heritage. One of the delightful aspects of walking round the centre, is the amount (though decreasingly, sadly) of independent shops, with glass-topped wooden counters and shelves behind them. For example, there are some beautiful old-fashioned farmacias - O'Donnell, Laraña, Misericordia (behind Plaza Encarnacion) - as well as mercerias (haberdashers), lencerias (lingerie shops) and ferreterias (hardware stores), the like of which you rarely see in English towns and cities, because their premises have been bought out by chains, and their goods can be bought more cheaply in department stores and DIY stores, or pound shops. But these shops in Seville are often family-run, handed down through the generations. The owner of one such business, a papeleria (stationer's) in the centre, told me proudly his shop had been printing wedding invitations for the great families of Seville since the 1880s, and he hoped his children, and theirs, would keep the concern going for many years to come. He keeps an eye on things from his chair by the door, barking orders to his offspring as they serve the customers. Set against this, you have occasional, not always successful, ventures into modernity. Of course the Expo in 92 brought all the new pavilions (many of which were knocked down or left to decay), as well as the much-needed train station and airport, and some wonderful bridges. Now, there is supposed to be a new phase of cutting-edge buildings coming up. The Torre Pelli has been given the green light by UNESCO, so that, for now, Seville won't risk losing its world heritage status, though the committee did ask for a report into the building's impact. The 178-metre Cajasol headquarters, designed by the Argentinian archiect Cesar Pelli, which is intended to sit just across the river from the centre, has aroused much debate; its detractors claim it ruins Seville's skyline, incongruous in its vastness, while supporters say that cities need to update and grow. One project which was stopped in its tracks by local residents - people power - was Zaha Hadid's new university library project in the Prado de San Sebastian. This has been paralisado for over a year now, thanks to petition by a neighbourhood association, which took its case to the regional courts. The Aquarium, located on the refurbished riverside Muelle de las Delicias, and designed to show the sea life on the route taken by countless ships from Seville to the Indies, also stopped, three years ago, in this case, due to lack of funds. The most famous project is the setas (mushrooms), market/concert space/viewing point/restaurant in Plaza Encarnacion, built over archeological remains. Despite the ground-floor market area not even being open yet, photo opportunities with the mayor (spotless floors, suspiciously so for a place swarming with loose, muddy fruit-and-veg) in August attempted to assuage an outraged and increasingly impatient public. This project's budget is currently estimated at a staggering 90-123 million euros, while the mercado de abastos (food market) market itself has cost ten times the original amount. Parasol Metropol (its official name) will, allegedly, be finished by Christmas, with the market serving its expectant public in the next few weeks. So it is a chequered history, in terms of desarollo (development), with ancient and modern fighting a constant battle, the former happy to stay within confines of familiarity and time-honoured custom, with the latter attempts to make inroads, and bring the city into the 21st-century. Let's hope they can find a way to co-exist happily, so that neither tries to stifle the other's existence.
Blog published on 20 September 2010