A Day Trip to Santa Cruz
In the morning I head to the center of Seville to buy some souvenirs for our foreign friends. As usual, I enjoyed a typical breakfast of tostada (toasted bread) with olive oil and tomatoes, and cafe con leche (coffee with milk) at a bar near the Puerta de Jerez metro station and the Cathedral. For more on Andalusian breakfast see our post.
After a nice meal and chat, it is off to the barrio of Santa Cruz, in the very heart of Seville. The name literally means “Holy Cross”, and it lies within the city walls built by the Romans in the 1st century BC. Santa Cruz also formed the larger part of the late medieval Jewish quarter that existed from the Christian reconquest of 1248 until the Alhambra Decree and terrible forced expulsion of Jews from the city in 1492. Today we can still see the most ancient city walls and a thriving local community amidst one of the most architecturally dynamic quarters in the city center.
For an interactive map of Sevilla, with key points of interest in the Santa Cruz District, click here
Sevilla’s main street, Avenida de la Constitucion leads from Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and also one of the most beautiful, to the district of Santa Cruz along the narrow Calle del Agua, so named for the water pipes that ran through the street to supply water to The Alcázar palace. The pipes themselves can be seen at the far end of the street, as well as the former home of Washington Irving. Calle del Agua opens to Alfaro Square and the Jardines de Murillo, which were established in 1911 and were once part of The Alcázar Palace.
As we enter the main square, tired from the October sun, we sit down for a Café con hielo (iced coffee) as an elderly man approaches, eager to tell us about this beautiful neighborhood and it’s folklore. He first shares this old tale... obviously steeped in a deep understanding of the troubling history of this area.
The Legend of the Pepper
A Jewish man asked his Christian neighbor for a pepper to complete his famous stew. The man sadly replied that he had no pepper, but that “The Lord will provide it for you”. Of course he did not believe that god himself would arrive with a pepper for his stew, but he awoke the next morning to find a full bush growing in front of his house. With this discovery, the man was immediately converted to christianity...much to his neighbor's delight. When he is done recounting his tale, we must say goodbye too quickly, but it was so nice to listen to him, and he gave us a lot to think about. Although it is true that many people of the Jewish faith were “converted” to christianity during the Spanish Inquisition, it is doubtful that any were “willingly” converted.
The Dark History of Intolerance
It is clear that the passage of time has sterilized and quieted horrible truths about Sevilla’s past. When you stroll the streets of Santa Cruz today, you encounter beautiful fountains, festive musicians and quaint restaurants. And although the community today is vibrant, loving and welcoming, there are several startling artifacts to be found in the neighborhood that reveal the past’s dark realities.
From the top of Calle Fabiola, you can view part of the wall which once separated the Jewish and Christian communities of Sevilla. The Judería Wall was never taken down, but rather trampled under foot as thousands of Christians stormed the Jewish quarter in 1391, murdering 4000 in the streets and in their homes.
To the left of Calle del Agua, we find Calle Susona, the scene of a tragic tale marked by a ceramic plaque bearing a human skull representing the once hanging skull of Susona ben Suson, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman of the late 15th century. Her father had plotted against the authorities and the rise of anti-semitism only to be betrayed by his daughter and eventually executed. Susona, grief strucken with regret, never left the house again, and stipulated that her head was to be hung outside the house as a testament to the ignorance that prevailed during that time.
Lighter Local Lore
At the other end of Calle Susona is a charming square, the Plaza Doña Elvira and the birthplace of Doña Inés de Ulloa, the impossible love of Don Juan de Tenorio, the most famous lover in Spain. Don Juan was apparently born in the next square over, the Plaza de los Venerables, and his story was elaborated or perhaps fictionalized many times by many different authors firstly in El Burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville), 1620.
As you likely know, Don Juan was a womanizer who enjoyed a good joust with a jealous husband or boyfriend. One day, Don Juan stumbled upon the grave of Don Gonzalo, the father, Doña Ana de Ulloa, his greatest conquest. He invited Don Gonzalo’s ghost to dine with him and the statue gladly accepts, and suggests that they should dine in the graveyard. Legend says that when Don Juan arrived for dinner and extended his arm to greet Don Gonzalo, the statue grabbed ahold of him and dragged him straight to the gates of hell, never to be seen again.
You can however admire a graceful sculpture of Don Juan in the Plaza de los Refinadores.
Finally, the legend of NO8DO. Perhaps you have seen this sign on a street cover, flag or city office. It is the official logo/ coat of arms of Seville, a rebus combining the Spanish syllables NO and DO with the symbol of a figure 8 between them. The 8 represents a madeja (skein of yarn), as well as infinity. When you read “No madeja do” aloud, it becomes “No me ha dejado” which means “It has not abandoned me”... or rather, the city of Sevilla has not abandoned me which is meant to represent the fidelity of the inhabitants of Seville to the city as well as the fidelity of the city to its’ citizens.
What tales have you heard about the history of Santa Cruz or other parts of Sevilla?
What are your favorite things to explore in this barrio?
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