Episode 12: Travel Writers on Seville

Cover of Death and the Sun by Edward Lewine

Last Updated on January 18, 2024 by Marian Jones

There are so many excellent travel writers on Seville. This post begins with a few short quotes, then we recommend 5 books by authors who went to Seville and then wrote memorably about it. We list them in the order in which they were written: Richard Ford crossing Spain on horseback in the 1830s, Laurie Lee’s account of walking through Andalusia in the 1930s and two modern travelogues with particular themes – Jason Webster on the area’s Arabic roots and Edward Lewine on its bullfighting tradition. Finally, there’s P D Murphy’s As I Walked through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee.

Quotations are given here, but there are more – and more detail generally – on the podcast.

short quotations

There’s a general saying on Seville which translates as ‘If you haven’t seen Seville, you have missed something marvellous.’ In Spanish:’ Quien no ha visto a Sevilla no ha visto a maravilla’. Here are quotes from writers who did visit.

Edmonto de Amicis, describing arriving in Seville by boat in the 1870s ‘The ship glided with the ease of a gondola over the quiet and limpid waters which reflected like a mirror the white dresses of the ladies and the air brought us the odour of oranges from the groves on the shore peopled with villas; Seville was hidden behind its girdle of gardens.’

For Arthur Symons, in his book ‘Cities’ in 1903, Seville was ‘the city of pleasure’. He explained: ‘It has sunshine, flowers, an expressive river, orange groves, palm trees, broad walks leading straight into the country, beautiful ancient buildings in its midst, shining white houses, patios and flat roofs and vast windows, everything that calls one into the open air.’

Lord Byron was ridiculed for calling Seville a city famous for ‘oranges and women’. He responded by including the phrase in the text of his epic poem, Don Juan: ‘In Seville was he born, a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women – he who has not seen it will be much to pity.’

Jan Morris on Andalusia: ‘The castanets click from coast to coast, the cicadas hum through the night, the air is heavy with jasmine and orange blossom’.

5 travel books to search out

A Handbook for Travellers in Spain by Richard Ford
Richard Ford spent 3 years in the 1830s riding across Spain on horseback, then wrote it all up in this lengthy travelogue. A contemporary reviewer praised his ‘learned and often wittily expressed disquisitions’ on everything from cooking to bullfighting via church architecture.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
Laurie Lee left his Gloucestershire village as a teenager and set off with his violin to busk his way round Spain. This is his account, which includes the weeks he spent in Andalusia. His description of arriving in Seville reads like this: ‘Ever since childhood I’d imagined myself walking down a white dusty road through groves of orange trees to a city called Seville.’

Andalus by Jason Webster
The author set out to trace Andalusia’s Arabic roots. The book describes the journey he made with a Moroccan companion, Zine, who helped him understand what he saw. The result is both a travelogue and the story of a friendship, with many fascinating asides which help explain the region’s Moorish background.

Here is Webster on the Muslim echo in the brotherhoods, or ‘hermandades’ seen in Easter celebrations: ‘These cloaked figures with pointed hoods that masked their faces …. originated in semi-secret religious societies in Al-Andalus; they still existed in Morocco today, taking part in processions of worship on feast days to local holy sites.’

Death in the Sun by Edward Lewine
Edward Lewine’s travelogue describes the year he spent travelling through Spain with the famous bullfighter, Francisco Rivera y Perez and his team. He recounts events, delves into the history and tries to explain the psychology behind this ancient and often violent sport.

‘The matador’s opening passes allow him to ingratiate himself with the crowd and teach the bull to follow the cape. If the passes are well made …. The matador will hear shouts of ‘Ole’ from the audience. The origin of the word is unclear, but it may derive from the Arabic ‘Allah’, meaning God.’

‘Afficionados say there is a special feeling that comes when a matador passes a bull low and slow around his body, and the bull responds, charging the cape and lending solemnity and danger to the matador’s movements …. It is an electric mixture of fear, pleasure in beauty, sadness, anger, horror, joy, tension, the feeling of victory over death and the viewer’s relief that he or she is safe and not facing the bull’.

As I Walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee by P D Murphy
This is a real mix: part homage to Laurie Lee, part factual account of following in his footsteps and part autobiography. It’s full of marvellous descriptions which each add a little more insight. Here are just two, both conveying the flavour of Andalusia.

‘A region on the edge, a place where European straight lines taper away into the swirls of African calligraphy’.

‘A land bathed by the waters of the Guadilquivir whose own golden syllables conjure up a dusty world of 700 years of Moorish rule; shady frescoed patios with fountains trickling snow-melted waters; haremed-silk haiks wafting on the occasional breeze; nightingale song damping down the fever of the midday sun’.

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Reading suggestions

Spain by Jan Morris
A Handbook for Travellers in Spain by Richard Ford (published 1845!)
As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
Death and the Sun by Edward Lewine (‘A Matador’s Season in the Heart of Spain)
Andalus by Jason Webster (‘A Quest to Discover Spain’s Moorish History’)
As I Walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee by P D Murphy

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