Sunday, March 23, 2014

Près des remparts de Séville - Part I

I mentioned to my friend Michael in Dallas that for some reason Spain had always been fairly low on my list of countries to visit in my forty-five years of travelling.  I'm not sure why the Iberian peninsula was previously excluded but in the past few years I've made up for it with two trips to Barcelona, a stay in Madrid, sadly only a day in Valencia but fortunately longer visits to Sevilla and Granada.  I'm going to need another lifetime because the bucket list still includes Cordova, Cadiz, Zaragoza,  Santiago de Compostela, the Basque Country, Navarre and a return visit to spend more time in Valencia, Granada and Sevilla.

The magnificent Cathedral, the largest Gothic structure in the world, dominates the city in this map of Sevilla from 1590.  The port was the sole centre of trading for the Indies until it was superseded by Cadiz; the Guadalquivir has long since silted and is navigable only for small boats - fortunately ours was in that category.

It may be difficult to imagine now but at one time Sevilla was the major port of the Spanish Empire.  Their Catholic Majesties had decreed that La Casa y Audiencia de Indias or clearing house for all goods to and from the Indies would be located in the city on the Guadalquivir River.  This meant that anyone doing or wanting to do trade with the Spanish colonies had to come to Seville.  It was to remain the greatest city in Spain during the Golden Age until three events sent it into decline:  Cadiz was designated a trading port, plague decimated the population in 1649 and the river that was its artery to the sea began to silt up.

We were fortunate that the Azamara Quest is one of the few cruise liners that is small enough to make the journey to the port and is able to dock right in the city - and I mean right smack in the city.  And we were doubly fortunate as this was the last time that she would be going into Seville - the port insurance costs are too high.  We were to understand why when we watched what it took to get us into dock.

Captain Smith was a chatty,  affable and extremely seasoned seaman and he announced that we would be entering Seville harbour at 0300 in a series of interesting and tricky maneuvers that should anyone wish to look in there would be coffee, tea and pastries on deck.  He felt that it might just be worth missing an hour or so's sleep to see.  Well there was no way we were going to miss this.  I thought I had taken pictures but can't seem to find them on either my camera or my iPhone however Laurent did have a few photos and has kindly given them to me.

Heading up the Canal de Alfonso VIII towards the basin of the Port of Sevilla.

We left the Quadalquivir at the Embarcadaro and entered the Canal de Alfonso VIII (which follows the old course of the river) and passed under the suspension bridge at the Ronda de Circunvelencion with about 15 feet to spare.  When we reached the basin of the entrance to the Porto Captain Smith did a 180° pivot and proceeded stern first or backwards up the left branch of the Canal towards the Puente de las Delicias, the last lift bridge on that stretch of the Canal.

Approaching the Puente de las Delicias lift bridge at 0330 in the morning with the city glowing in the background.
Almost at the bridge in our backward progress towards the site where Columbus docked on his return from the New World.  He had left with three ships but the Santa Maria was wrecked off the coast of Hispaniola and only the Nina and the Pinta returned.
We watched the basic maneuvers from the top deck but then moved to the balcony of our cabin which was right at the aft of the liner.  It was incredible as we slowly moved towards the bridge and passed through it with only about 5 feet on either side (see photo below).  Had we been in the cabins on either side of ours we would have been almost able to touch the bridge - thus the reason that the insurance premiums were so astronomical for our entry into port.

As we passed through the Puente de las Delicias it was almost possible to touch the spans from our cabin at the aft of the Azamara Quest.

We docked at Puente de los Remedios beside the marvelous colonial neo-baroque splendor of Martin Noel's Palace of the Republic of Argentina built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.  The quayside and adjacent Paseo de las Delicias are lined with buildings designed to house exhibitions from the former American colonies of that Golden time when Sevilla was the mercantile capital of Europe.  After the exhibition the Argentine Pavilion became the Murillo High School but now houses a dance academy.

Preparing to dock at the quayside adjacent to  the Pabellón de la República Argentina from the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.  Many of the Pavilions from the Exposition are still standing and in use as municipal offices, museums and restaurants.
By the time we had docked it was almost 0400 so we took one final walk around the deck - took in the lights of the city and a dark sky dotted with stars before turning in for what was left of the night.  Captain Smith was right - it was worth interrupting our sleep to watch.  And his deft work meant that from our berth at the foot of the Paruqe de Maria Luisa we were in easy walking distance of the bosky pleasures of the park itself, the Plaza de España, the Plaza de Toros and all the attractions of the old city.

 March 23 - 1540: Waltham Abbey is surrendered to King Henry VIII of England; the last religious community to be closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

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