Viva Espana: Day 15 – Eating Seville

Another city, another food tour… but it would be a few hours before I ate, so I popped out for coffee and toast.

I love that you can do that in Spain. A small cafe on the main street in Triana was doing a fast and busy trade in people popping in for the same, before going to work. Coffee, a generous toasted focaccia and freshly squeezed orange juice for less than €5. Maybe it’s a Friday treat? Maybe people don’t do this every day?

Led by Manuel, today’s food tour offered some similarities to the tours I took in Barcelona and and Madrid. I can now deliver the explanation on Iberian ham.

Tours in the same country are inevitably going to cover some of the same ground.

However, this also offered some real variations – one of the best tours I’ve ever done, and not only because sherry for breakfast featured fairly heavily.

This tour was heavy on the history, the quirky stories about the locals, mythical history, shocking tales from the past and some truly surreal places to grab a drink.

First up: Encouragement to ask questions directly to the locals… because you never know what you will uncover. Example:

Six year old child asks the coffee shop owner: “Do you have any pets?”

“No, but my mother-in-law lives with us,” comes the the reply from the male coffee shop owner. Not a joke out of the Dark Ages at all.

Unperturbed, the child asks: “Oh, what’s her name?”

“Erm,” turning to his wife, the coffee shop owner, with no sense of the can of worms he is about to open, asks: “Tammy, what’s your mother’s name?”

It is unclear whether the tour group received their breakfast sherry with the coffee order that morning.

Secondly, number 63 in an occasional series of destroying beloved stories… see also: Juliet’s House and Beddgelert.

Local legend has it that Seville is full of orange trees because a newly married sultan found that his wife, a princess from Granada, was pining for the snow covered mountains of home. In an attempt to make her happy, he had the city planted with orange trees because the white blossom would remind her of home and the snow.

Nice story. It’s absolutely bollocks, of course.

The trees were planted as part of the preparation for the 1929 expo, along with the building of Plaza De Espana and the tiling of the houses. That expo was a key milestone in the shaping of Seville.

The other factor in Seville’s development is religion and conquest. The city and the region has been colonised by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and the Christians. Throughout its history, at least since the Romans, the Jewish have lived here.

One of our stops was at a convent to collect biscuits and pastries baked by the nuns.

When the Catholic Monarchs conquered Andalucia (Granada and Seville particularly), a public demonstration of devotion was undertaken. Ferdinand and Isabella were keen to prove to the pope how fervent their faith was. The Spanish Inquisition had been established (mostly to wipe out the Cathars in what is now Southern France) and a new and linked element of the King and Queen’s religious display was the conversion (usually forced) of the population to Catholicism.

One way for Muslim families to show their commitment to their new faith was to send one of their daughters to a convent. The girls took their recipes and cooking skills with them and the Catholic convents began to churn out Moorish delicacies.

At the most religious bar I’ve ever been in were tiles featuring someone wearing the costume of the Ku Klux Klan. Our group was somewhat taken aback by this. The story behind this has the fingerprints of the 1929 Expo and 14th Century religious intolerance all over it.

A plague decimated the population of Seville. The cause had to be found. It was observed that the Jewish community, living behind walled off districts were unscathed by this disease. Could the reason have been linked to the better standards of living and hygiene, clean streets and running water?

Not to the 14th Century mind.

The rest of the population assumed that the Jewish had poisoned them and a pogrom ensued.

Strangely, it seemed that murdering the Jewish people did not work to eradicate the plague. Another scapegoat must be found.

Seville was also built on an early slave trade. Black slaves were the next group to be blamed for the plague… only this group were not murdered. They were turned out of their owners’ houses to survive as best they could… or die.

At this time, the Christian churches organised themselves into brotherhoods or chapters. During Holy Week, each chapter would process through the streets re-enacting scenes from the Bible, specifically the Crucifixion. They were also responsible for taking on good works.

One of the chapters took on the care of the released slaves – housing, feeding and welfare.

The costume of the chapters during processions was to create anonymity: robes and tall, pointed conical hats. The hats were different colours… denoting the different chapter: red, blue, green, various different colours and white.

According to one historian, the chapter that cared for the slaves wore white.

Fast forward through time to the 1929 Expo and one of the attendees was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Being somewhat impreased by the chapters’ regalia, he decided that was what the Klan needed.

Rather than have them made back in the US, let’s buy a cheap job lot from one of the chapters whose membership is dwindling, because there isn’t the same need for their work. And which chapter would that be? Oh that would be the one that had cared for the released black slaves.

There is disagreement among historians over the accuracy of the costume story. I really hope it’s true.

Categories: Seville, Spain, Travel, Viva EspanaTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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