Make your way to Europe and then travel south. Well past Barcelona and below the central Spanish capital of Madrid, as far south as Europe extends, you’ll come upon the sunny, gentle vegas of Andalucía. Host to encierro (Running of the Bulls) and birthplace of flamenco, Andalucía’s myriad cultural influences are present in much of life here.
Simply set your eyes upon the varied architecture of Seville and you’ll realize that this is a place where many cultures and ethnicities have made their homes – some peacefully, and others tumultuously – but each has left its mark upon the Andalusían capital. The Moorish, Torre del Oro, which today is a naval museum, was originally constructed in the 13th century as a prison and watchtower by the Berber people that controlled the region at that time. Its location on the water makes it a perfect spot for observation. Though plans were made to demolish the ancient structure, its historical appeal won out, and it remains intact, where it was built almost 800 years ago.
As new peoples gained power over Seville, they simply adapted their predecessors’ monuments, structures and homes to suit their own needs. Move inland from the Guadalquivir river and head to the Plaza del Triunfo to see a magnificent example of Seville’s unique approach to construction. Seville Cathedral was originally built as a mosque in the late 13th century. After years of wear and changes in rule over Seville, the site was eventually added to, and transformed into a Christian cathedral. The massive structure was completed in the 1500s and still stands as the third largest church in the world. Curiously, it is also the site where Christopher Columbus is buried.
Before leaving the area, you may want to explore the beautiful Alcazar, an old Moorish palace. The Alcazar has a similar history to that of Plaza del Triunfo and even if not for the impressive palace itself, its beautiful gardens certainly warrant a visit.
Finally, arriving at Plaza de España, you’ll note a more modern approach to a traditional Renaissance style building. Plaza de España was constructed for a World’s Fair in 1928. Its tiled fountains, grand walls and numerous depictions of palms and orange trees make it an iconic Mediterranean plaza, and the spot has been used as a backdrop in a number of motion pictures.
As you depart Seville, cruise to the east through rolling green hills, along open plains and into small towns. Enjoy an authentic performance at a peña flamenca and be sure to sample sangria, Jamón ibérico and juice squeezed from freshly picked oranges as you travel.
However, our exploration is not complete. Ride into the stone-white village of Zuheros, and stop to wander. Homes in this iconic pueblo blanco were erected directly upon its rocky hillside as far back as the 10th century. The chalky-white exteriors seem to glisten in the sun, but their foundations in the earth keep them cool and comfortable, even at midday.
The uneven terrain makes homes and buildings seem almost arbitrarily stacked around one another. And perched on the edge of the hillside, the ancient Zuheros Castle seems to be emerging directly out of the rock it was built on. Try the town’s famous olive oil and its cheeses before unwinding at the end of the day with a glass or two of Andalucía’s sweet wine, Montilla-Morilese.
Get to know the nuances of the culture, the food and wine and the stunning scenery of Andalucía by bike on our Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky vacation.