OCTOBER 12: Spain’s National Holiday in Seville

Posted on Feb 09, 2012 in category


Seville’s origins surround the legendary hero, Hercules, the city’s founder. The Romans played an early role too with Julius Caesar founding a colony called Iulia Romula Hispalis’ in 45 B.C. After an enjoyable buffet breakfast it was only fitting to begin our promenade of Seville with a visit to Hercules’ columns, the entrances to Alameda Promenade. Once part of a 2nd century A.D. Roman temple, they were commandeered in the 16th century to decorate a new promenade and along with a statue of Julius Caesar remind pedestrians of Seville’s classical beginnings.

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Hercules and Julius Caesar Two lions represent Spain and Seville

(Roman columns – south end) (Reproduced columns – north end)


Obverse side: Julius Caesar’s, AR Denarius minted in Spain (46-45 B.C.) with a diademed head of Venus wearing necklace, Cupid behind her shoulder
Reverse side: Trophy of Gallic arms between two captives seated on ground
18mm x 20mm, 3.90g


On our early morning promenade along the Rio Guadalquivir, we came across the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza’ or bullring. Luckily, there was a special contest on in the afternoon featuring three matadors and nine bulls. My main reason to buy bullfight tickets was to experience the thrill of the crowd like the Roman amphitheatre. It is after all the legacy of the Roman beast hunts that were scheduled in the morning of the ‘munera’ or gladiatorial games.

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Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza’ built over many years A.D.1762-1881.It has a Baroque façade and seats 14,000 people.

Close by was the ‘Torre del Oro’ or Tower of Gold named after its glazed-golden tiles that once decorated its exterior. The Tower was built in the 13th century during the Almohad reign to protect the river trade. A chain linked up with a similar tower on the opposite bank - an effective brake on river traffic and efficient taxing mechanism. Later it was used as a prison; then, during the New World expansion it became a treasury. It is now a maritime museum.


‘Torre del Oro’ has a level with a twelve sided floor

One of the many interesting gardens and commemorative fountains we visited was the ‘Jardines de Cristina’ that was built in 1830 to honour King Ferdinand’s third wife, Maria Christina but recently dedicated to a generation of avant-garde Spanish poets and artists.


A fountain dedicated to the “Generation ‘27” group of poets and artists


A Sevillan coach alluded to by W. Somerset Maugham

Seville’s Archaeological Museum is one of many buildings along the Paseo de las Delicias and within the huge Parque Maria Luisa.


A grand building but a little neglected


Its displays are arranged chronologically beginning with prehistoric artefacts displayed in cabinets (a little dull and unimaginative!).


A bronze Celtic bangle but with no provenance or dating

Phoenician settlement in Spain occurred in the 10th century B.C. (some say late 9th century) with the city of Tyre in Palestine contributing largely to this expansion of trade and culture. Greek writers called Southwest Spain, ‘Tartessos’- it was an advanced Bronze Age culture.


Astarte, Phoenician goddess of fertility and love is part of the ‘El Carambolo Treasure’ discovered in 1958 at Camas near Seville. This statue reinforces the link with the eastern Mediterranean and the Phoenicians. Twenty-one gold artefacts weighing over 3175 g were excavated and the treasure is dated circa. 600 B.C.

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Additional ‘El Carambolo Treasure’ on display


Carriazo bronze’- a cast bronze horse’s bit depicting Astarte holding two lotus flowers that was found by Juan Carriazo in an antique market in Seville. Dimensions: Height = 9.5 cm; Width = 9.3 cm. Links with Egypt are evident here with the lotus flowers.

Although there are few examples of Celtic culture in southwest Spain one exception comes from Cadiz, the Ébora Treasure’, 43 pieces dated 7th-2nd centuries B.C.

See: Ebora treasure

 Turdetanian tribes became more powerful in Andalusia circa 6th century B.C. as the Tartessians declined in influence. Probably linked to the Carthaginians, Turdetania prospered with its continued metal trade such as silver bullion plus tin and copper as well as fish sauce and purple dye. For example, by the time Hannibal controlled Spain for the Carthaginians in 221 B.C. over 136 kilos p.a. of silver was processed from southern Spain’s mines.




The horse motive was popular in Turdetania (South-western Spain)

Roman interest in Spain began arguably around 230’s B.C. Rome was becoming concerned about Carthage’s economic foothold on the Iberian Peninsula. Rome had already wrestled Sicily and Sardinia from Carthage’s sphere of influence so Spain’s rich mineral supplies must have looked appetising. Also, a profitable, although risky, Italian wine trade had developed in both Spain and southern Gaul by this time that was heavily financed by Roman senators via freedmen ‘clients’ (M.L. Houck, 1998). For an interesting account of jobs in Roman Spain download pdf file: L.A. Curchin’s , “Jobs in Roman Spain” (1982).


Torso of Claudius from Merida


Dice from Italica near Seville


Augustan artefacts taken from Italica’s theatre (city founded in 206 B.C.) and for an animation version of this partially reconstructed Roman site see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQRrP21W7x8

For a good view of the amphitheatre at Italica (Spanish) see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz8Pwln8s0k&feature=related



Augustus, Italica (A.D. 20-40)


Also in the Parque Maria Luisa is the colossal Plaza de España built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition the following year. A huge explosive central fountain coupled with a generous moat and an ornately neo-Mudujar, semi-circular building decorated with colourful ceramic tiles, make this complex overwhelmingly stunning!



Plaza de España






All the provinces are represented in ceramic tiled niches


Bullfights or corridas have a long history in Seville. Seville is only 8 kilometres from one of the oldest Roman towns in the empire, Italica. In 206 B.C. Roman general, Publius Cornelius Scipio, established a municipium called ‘Italica’ for retired and injured legionaries who had just defeated the Carthaginian army at the Battle of Ilipa. Italica’s status was raised to ‘colonia’ (Aelia Augusta Italicensium) in Emperor Hadrian’s rule. In fact, Emperor Trajan was born in Italica and Hadrian was raised there.


One of Italica’s main features is the amphitheatre with an enormous capacity estimated to be 20,000- 25,000 spectators. An interesting section of the amphitheatre is the ‘fossa bestiaria’ or underground animal pens located in the centre of the arena. Here a vast array of animals would enter the arena in the morning to be systematically slaughtered by the ‘Venationes’ or beast fighters to satisfy a crowd seated based on status. Shows were meant to impress with costs ranging from a cheap 25,000 denarius to an extravagant 400,000 denarius. Shows symbolised the hunt and survival of the fittest in a hostile world of barbarians; in fact, a bloody reminder of a cruel world!

See: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/gladiators/venationes.html


In medieval times, both the Moors and aristocratic Christians practised animal and bull hunts to fine tune their killing skills for battle. In A.D.1133 a corrida was held to honour the coronation of King Alfonso VIII. Emperor Charles I joined the fray in 1527 by lancing bulls. Not everyone was a fan of bullfighting for Pope Pius V forbade the practice but was forced to rescind his papal decree. By the 18th century the French Bourbon Dynasty lost interest in the corridas; however, the people’s enthusiasm for the them continued especially after Francisco Romero in 1726 from Ronda introduced elements of an art form such as the red cape or ‘muleta’ and the face-to-face encounter with the bull with the eventual sword thrust. Romero’s grandson, Pedro, went on to kill 5,600 bulls over a career of 28 years. Seville was his chosen place to establish a school for matadors.


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The initial charge of the bull ‘Picadores’ take some steam out of a fiery el toro




A ‘banderillero’ inserting his banderillas or ‘little flags’



The ‘coup de grace’ or ‘moment of truth’



A quick exit – little has changed since Roman times



Romans had a band on hand too!


One thing that my visit to this ‘corrida’ did not achieve was the thrill of the crowd, mass hysteria caused by blood lust. One victor; one vanquished! Sounds callous; however, this must have been one of the main pulling powers for crowd attendance in Ancient Rome. Amazingly, the arena was poorly attended especially considering it is the National Holiday. It appears that the tide is turning for the toreos.






















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