Flamenco and the History of Sevilla

On October 24, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

We came to Sevilla with one purpose and ended up with three days filled with memories and stories. Our simple goal was to see flamenco, the traditional dance of Andalusia. In the end, we fell in love with this city for its history and its people. Sure they killed thousands of Jews here because of outrageous beliefs (more on that later), but 500+ years have passed since that happened, so we can let bygones be bygones and enjoy the city for what it is today.

THE PASSION OF FLAMENCO

Flamenco finds its origins in the Gypsy lifestyle in the 18th century. The music and dancing are often improvisational, with a back-corner-of-the-bar feel. Amplifiers are rare. An acoustic guitar and a singer are all you need. A flamenco show has an intense passion, with an unspoken connection between singer, guitarist, and dancers. You almost sense they’re not performing for anyone. They dance and sing flamenco because they love it. We’re just lucky enough to watch.

sevilla flamenco

Flamenco at Carboneria

A great place in Sevilla for a first taste of flamenco music and dancing is Carboneria. The shows are nightly and free, so grab a drink and hang out. A few local Sevillans told us the flamenco here isn’t particularly good. That’s fine. Use this as an introduction. If you dig it, ask a local where the good flamenco shows are, but be ready to pay.

THE MAIN SIGHTS OF SEVILLA

sevilla cathedral

The Cathedral of Sevilla

So now you know what to do at night. Go to a flamenco show. That leaves the days open. The main attractions in Sevilla are the Cathedral of Sevilla and the Alcazar, the Moorish fortress that became a royal palace. I don’t want to belabor the point here. There are beautiful cathedrals and castles all over Granada, Cordoba, and all of Andalusia. If you want to see more, definitely visit these. They take 1-2 hours each. If Sevilla is your first stop in the region, then check these out.

I will say this about the Cathedral. It looks like a hodgepodge of different architectures, construction materials, and building styles. And with good reason, because that’s exactly what it is. The cathedral, which began as a mosque, was built and rebuilt over the centuries so many times that there is no single theme to the structure. It makes it both strange and unique.

JEWISH SEVILLA AND THE STREET OF DEATH

The Cathedral covers some of the Christian and Muslim history in Sevilla, but this city also has a fascinating Jewish history that goes back hundreds of years. The former Jewish Quarter in Sevilla – possibly the oldest in Spain – is now called the Santa Cruz neighborhood. For centuries, Jews thrived in this area. That all changed in the late 1400’s. We saw the evidence very quickly on our free walking tour of Sevilla (which we highly recommend). The street we took to enter the Jewish Quarter was called Calle de La Muerta. The Street of Death.

sevilla calle de muerte

The Street of Death

While the plague spread across Christian Europe, many Jews and Muslims seemed to be immune. In the time of Medieval science, the explanation was simple – it was a curse on the Christians. Nevermind the fact that Jews and Muslims simply bathed far more often since it’s part of both religions. They had to go. All of them.

A group of Christians chased the Jews into one of the local squares. There were only two roads to escape among the narrow roads with high walls. One led to the military garrison in Sevilla. The other led back into the Jewish quarter. It was an ambush. As the Jews fled back towards their homes, they were met by a rabid crowd of angry Christians. In the carnage that lasted a few days, about 2,000 Jews died. Many others had to convert or leave. Diego Suson decided to plan revenge.

REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD

sevilla susona

Susona’s Window

Suson was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Sevilla, and his daughter, Susona, was rumored to be the most beautiful woman in the city. Diego Suson had a simple plan. Climb the wall of the garrison and attack the soldiers who should have protected the Jews. Suson knew the city well. What he didn’t know is that his daughter was secretly seeing, dating, and possibly sleeping with a member of the Christian royal family.

Susona told her boyfriend about the plot. Diego Suson and his conspirators were killed. Susona converted to Christianity, spending the rest of her days as a nun. She died 3 years later, supposedly of grief. But grief may be a euphemism for suicide. She wrote in her will that she wanted her head displayed in her old window to show people how awful she felt. When this became a bit too unsanitary, the city removed her head and put a blue plaque below her bedroom window. To this day, there is no significant Jewish population in Sevilla.

SEVILLA’S FOOD AND COLA DE TORO

Ok, on to a much more positive aspect of Sevilla. If you’re anywhere near the Cathedral or Alcazar and you find yourself hungry, start walking. The food in that area is generally overpriced and not great (as with any touristy areas). A local Sevillan told us to head to La Alameda de Hercules. This is where the locals go and for good reason. Find Casa Paco, sit down, and eat. The tapas here are excellent. We normally don’t eat in the same place twice so we can experience more of the city, but this place was so good that we had to return.

If you’re looking for a bit of local flavor, the specialty here is cola de toro. The tail of the bull. (Casa Paco didn’t serve this, so you’ll have to go elsewhere) It’s prepared in a stew which bore more than a slight resemblance to my mother’s goulash.

The meat is tender, flavorful, and filling. Give it a try!

Check out our Sevilla gallery.

-O.L.

 

4 Responses to “Flamenco and the History of Sevilla”

  • I lived in Sevilla for a year and often wandered the streets of Barrio Santa Cruz alone by night, taking in the neighborhood’s tranquility and charm, but I had no idea about the Jewish massacre that took place there. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for this Oren, for touching on the fascinating and gruesome history of Seville. I’m moving to Seville next year to teach English, and of course I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to discover more of the earlier, Arabic history too.

    Andy.

    • No problem! We loved Seville, and we made some very good friends there. It’s a beautiful city with some amazing history (much like all of Andalucia), so enjoy it!

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