I can not believe this is our last train ride in Europe! We are never so happy as when we are on these trains on our way to a new place to see. The trains are very comfortable and enjoyable and they usually bring you right downtown to where you want to be. It took about 2 hours to get from Sevilla to Madrid, and once we arrived we found the metro which took us directly to our hotel on the Puerto Del Sol. We then spent the rest of the day walking through the plaza’s and getting the layout. It is very busy here and everyone is out on the plaza’s including numerous street entertainers. The pictures I took are just scenes of Madrid on a sunny Friday afternoon.
We had two goals to achieve today and that was a visit to the Sevilla Cathedral and Bell Tower and the Alcazar Palace. Today was not as pretty as yesterday – overcast and a little cooler. Both of these places are next to each other in the old town area so we headed down there about mid-morning. Sevilla’s cathedral is the third-largest church in Europe (after St. Peter’s at the Vatican and St. Paul’s in London) and the largest Gothic church anywhere. In 1401 the Reconquista Christians ripped down a mosque of brick on this site and it too 120 years to complete. It has an amazing organ with 7,000 pipes but unfortunately we were not there at 10:00 am to hear it being played. They are also still working on the high altar (going on for several years now) which is the largest altarpiece ever built. A highlight of the cathedral is Christopher Columbus’ tomb. He has also traveled a lot posthumously. He was buried first in Spain, then in Santa Domingo, then Cuba, and finally- when Cuba gained independence from Spain – he sailed home again to Sevilla. Columbus died in 1506 and 500 years later, DNA samples proved it to be his remains. We also did the Bell Tower climb which was our easiest out of all the towers we have climbed. It is a ramp instead of steps and goes 330 feet up. The ramp is wide enough to accommodate riders on horseback, who galloped up five times a day to give the Muslim call to prayer. The Bell Tower and the Cloister are the only remnants of the old mosque. After a short rest (touring is a tiring business) at one of the numerous Starbucks in town, we went into the Alcazar Palace. Originally a 10th-century palace built for the governors of the local Moorish state, this building still functions as a royal palace – the oldest in use in Europe. The core of the palace features an extensive 14th-century rebuild, done by Muslim workmen for the Christian king, Pedro I (1334-1369). Spectacularly decorated halls and courtyards have distinctive Islamic – style flourishes. This mix of Islamic and Christian elements is a style called Mudejar. In this palace Queen Isobel debriefed Columbus after his New World discoveries, Columbus recounted his travels, Ferdinand Magellan planned his around-the-world cruise, and Amerigo Vespucci tried coming up with a catchy moniker for that newly discovered continent. The gardens are beautiful and extensive and it was late afternoon by the time we did the whole palace visit justice. While in the old town area we stopped for a bite to eat and had some typically Spanish Tapa’s.
After a five hour and about 500 mile train ride we are in the southern city of Sevilla. We love those train rides and this one went quickly. It is very comfortable and fast. I think Bruce clocked the speed at almost 186 MPH. Once we dropped our bags at the hotel we hoofed it (about 2 miles) to the old downtown area. After wandering through some pretty cool little streets we came to the riverfront and the Bullring where we toured the Bullfight Museum. Bullfights only take place in March, April, and September so we did not get that opportunity. But the museum was interesting. From there we walked along the river and the afternoon was so beautiful and warm- everyone was out enjoying it. The two main sites – the Cathedral and Alcazar Palace – we will tour tomorrow. So today was our self-guided walking tour around the area – mainly the Barrio Santa Cruz. This is the area of the once-thriving Jewish Quarter with tangled streets and Old World ambience. The streets are very narrow so it is a comfortable walk without cars. In 1391 anti-Jewish sentiment flared up and Christian mobs ransacked the city’s Jewish Quarter. Around 4,000 Jews were killed and 5,000 families driven from their homes. In 1492, the same year the last Moors were driven from Spain, Ferdinand and Isabel decreed that all remaining Jews convert or be expelled. Spain emerged as a nation unified under the banner of Christianity. It was a lovely late afternoon and evening with the sun going down at 7:30 which we have not seen the day last that long for a long time.
Tomorrow we leave Rome and the day after we leave Italy, so today was our last day of touring in this great country. So this morning we once again headed to the Metro and got to the main terminal where we found a bus to take us out to the Appian Way. This is out 4 miles from the Colosseum and past the Rome walls to a stretch of road where the original pavement stones are lined by interesting sights. This Appian Way was ancient Rome’s first and greatest highway, which once ran from Rome to the Adriatic port of Brindisi. Built in 312 B.C. it stretched 430 miles. Along this road are many catacombs since back in those days you could not be buried within the city walls. The most visited catacomb is the San Sebastiano catacomb. Saint Sebastian (died 288 AD) was an early Christian saint and Martyr. It is said that he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian‘s persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he criticized Diocletian in person and as a result was clubbed to death. He is venerated in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. During emperor Valeriano’s persecusion (258 a.D.) Christians were not allowed to pray on the tombs of the martyrs and of their dear ones; according to a Church tradition they moved the reliquaries of the Apostles Peter and Paul to this catacomb and built a “Triclia” , a closed place in which you could get into by a small stair; it was made of a big arched room with a banquet for the prayers where, for about 50 years, people could go and honor the reliquaries of the two Apostles. This is witnessed by some inscriptions (which we were able to still see) dedicated to the two Apostles on the far end wall; they were in Latin and Greek (about 600 inscriptions) and they show the passage and the devotion by the hundreds of pilgrims coming to Rome. The emperor Constantine in the 313, with the Milan edict, proclaimed the freedom of the Christian worship and begun to build the huge basilica apostolorum(the present St. Sebastian church), right above the “Triclia” to honor the place where the two Apostles had been temporarily buried. The reliquaries were then moved to their original places: the Vatican necropolis for St. Peter and in the cemetery on the via Ostiense (St. Paul). Once out of the catacombs we walked a ways along the Appian to enjoy a bit of countryside. So much has happened along this road including crucifixions and returning marauding troops marching into Rome. We stopped at a little countryside café for a Panini and cappuccino. On the way back we hopped off the bus at the San Sebastiano Gate and walked along the Ancient Rome wall to eventually get back to the Metro. Emperor Aurelian of Rome in 271 AD recognized the threat from Germanic tribes near the borders of the Roman Empire, and decided it was time to build a wall to protect the city. The Aurelian Wall was originally nineteen kilometers long (twelve miles) and about six to eight meters high (twenty feet). It had 3.5 meter thick walls (eleven feet). The wall included a square tower about every thirty meters (about one hundred feet), 381 in total. It also featured many grand gates – eighteen in total – including the Porta Latina and Porta San Sebastiano which were covered by arches and protected by semi-circular towers. Today, about two-thirds of the Aurelian Wall remains intact and quite well preserved. So, another full day although not quite over. Tonight we will find a cute little restaurant to partake of our last glass of Chianti Classico here in Italy!