Splendid Sevilla, pt. 4: Tobacco and History, Immortalized

Sevilla is full of grand buildings and public spaces, as can be expected from a royal city of such great history and heritage. On our last day in the city, we got the chance to see some of them:

Real Fábrica de Tabacos

The monumental complex of Real Fábrica de Tabacos, once the most prominent tobacco factory in Europe and the descendant of the first Europe’s tobacco factory which was located nearby, is today the home of the University of Sevilla.

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Spain’s tobacco story began upon their first arrival in the Americas in 1492. In the 16th century, first tobacco manufacturers established themselves in the city and in the 18th century the royal government built them a monumental building outside the city walls. At the time of its build, this was the second largest building in Spain (after El Escorial), which speaks of the importance that tobacco production had for the country – even today, it remains one of the largest and most architecturally distinguished industrial buildings ever built in Spain.

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Production began in 1758, at which time the factory was employing a thousand men, two hundred horses and hundreds of devices used for processing tobacco that came from Virginia and the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Initially, only men worked in the factory, even when women became the workforce in other Spanish cities where cigars were made. However, over time, Seville’s cigars developed a poor reputation: labor discipline was a problem and cigar quality was lower than in factories in which women worked. What is more, men were better paid than the women, meaning that inferior cigars from Sevilla’s factory were more expensive than those produced elsewhere. In the 19th century the factory was reopened and female workforce was introduced, resulting in the increase in operation and the number of employees which lasted until the mid-20th century when mechanization caused labor force reduction.

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In 1950, the decision was made to move tobacco operations out of the historic building and use it as the headquarters of the University of Sevilla. The purpose may have changed, but the symbolism remained: after centuries of being the industrial center of the city and the driving force of its development, the building today symbolically operates as the intellectual and creative hub of Sevilla.

Plaza de España

Our last visit of Sevilla was to the most famous public square in the city, the proper landmark: Plaza de España. The plaza was built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929, to showcase the country’s industrial and technological exhibits.

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Plaza de España is shaped as a huge semicircular complex (the size of five football pitches!) full of interesting details, vivid colors and combinations of open and semi-open surfaces that are so often used in Andaluz architecture. It was designed by the architect Anibal Gonzáles and mixes elements of the Renaissance Revival and Neo- Mudéjar styles. Buildings that edge the half-circle are mostly used by the Government, while a fountain is located at the center of the plaza.

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The highlight of the area are 48 alcoves with benches that represent Spain’s provinces through a map and an image, all made of colorful azulejos (painted ceramic tiles). The alcoves, with their wonderful colors and details, are an inexhaustible source of wonder,  joy and photo opportunities .

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To add to the image of the square as the heart of not only Sevilla or Andalucia, but of all of Spain, four bridges located on it represent four ancient kingdoms of Spain: Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon.

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Bridges span a lovely circular canal occupied by carefree ducks and small rowing boats used by the visitors (need I say that we rented one as well?), offering a different perspective of a truly monumental plaza that – in its colors, details and elements – seems as if it came from a fairy tale.

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At the end of this several entries long report on Sevilla, let me refer back to what I wrote at the beginning of the first text on the city. I expected a lot from it, and expectations can sometimes be harmful to the experience, not allowing you to enjoy a place directly and openly, always searching for something else that you may have imagined. However, with its immense charm, its temperament and beauty, its laid-back atmosphere, this city completely disarmed me. Today, I don’t really recall in detail what I expected from the city. I remember only, unbelievably vividly, what the city itself offered me and how it threw me on my knees in a way, I guess, only Sevilla can. It is, indeed, a splendid city. I hope I will see it again.

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