The Venice of Seville

At long last, Plaza de España has reopened, after its lifting, one of those English words adopted and comically misused by the Spanish (more often used in the plastic surgery sense, as in actresses aged over 40 who don't mind looking as if their face is covered in clingfilm). One of Seville's main tourist attractions is no longer an embarrassment, una verguenza, covered in scaffolding, fences and barriers. This emblematic semi-circular brick building decorated with tiles, enclosed by two tall towers (20m shorter than the Giralda), which sits next to the Parque Maria just south of the city centre, was designed by Anibal Gonzalez for the 1929 Ibero-American Expo, and was one of that event's greatest attractions - the centrepiece, Spain's statement, and a show of Andalucian pride in its Moorish origins, reflected in the design, to show off its industry and crafts. Yes, its architecture is over-the-top, grandiose and some might say vulgar, but it is also impressive and you can't resist checking out the (restored) panels which represent each of the 48 provinces of Spain. Spanish tourists always get themselves photographed in front of their own home panel. If they had an Essex panel in Trafalgar Square, I'd do the same. Star Wars fans can always impress their friends by having their picture taken on one of the bridges used in Attack of the Clones. But what I'm most excited about, personally, is the water. After eight years of a dry, manky, litter-filled ditch, an eyesore which ruined the whole effect, a pretty waterway now surrounds the plaza itself. The canal is crossed by four bridges, representing the four ancient kingdoms which make up Spain, resonant of school history lessons: Aragon, Castille, Granada and Navarra. The overall effect is grand in scale (it's the size of five football pitches), but also well balanced, enclosed by the two towers, and divided by the four bridges. The most important result of the filling of the waterway, is the aesthetic effect - the buildings are reflected in the water, which takes its magnificence into an entirely new realm. You can rent rowing boats, and one motorboat, called Enriqueta, for 5 euros an hour - what a delightful way to see this extraordinary place. Also, don't miss the view from the central first-floor balcony - another good photo spot, reached by a dramatic, sweeping stairway. The walkways provide plenty of shade in the heat of the day. What is good news for those arriving on foot, though less so for people who prefer to come by car, is that calle Isabel la Catolica, the avenue which sits between the plaza and the park, has been pedestrianised, so you can move easily and safely between the two areas. The local press was full of it: the 16 period-style ceramic street lamps, the 22 new benches around the plaza itself, the 490 metres of restored marble and ceramic balustrade, the aforementioned boats. The whole renovacion has taken two years and cost 14 million euros, of which five million was for the water-treatment plant and the restoration of the canal itself, which needed 900 metres of tubes. Next up: the south tower, which has cracks and whose stability may be affected by the waterproofing of the canal. It's part of a plan to restore the whole ground floor of the building and turn it into offices for various public services. By the time they've finished that, I daresay it'll be time to start re-restoring yet another section. These old buildings, they just eat money.
Blog published on 18 October 2010