If you think Seville is all about sunshine, sangria, and flamenco, think again. Because this ancient city also has a quirky, eccentric, even sinister side, lurking in the shadows of back streets where few tourists ever venture. Let’s take a stroll together down some of those little-known byways to visit a few of the city’s more offbeat destinations.
The Bar of the Dead
It bears no name, no sign, no street number. Everybody refers to it as the Bar of the Dead because of the proprietor, whose corpse-like pallor inspired his nickname, El Muerto (the Dead Man). But don’t ever call him that to his face; he is sensitive about mockery and has been know to eject patrons bodily out into the street. The bar looks as if it hasn’t been painted or cleaned in decades, and the few decorative objects are covered with dust thick as a bear’s pelt. But the drinks are cheap and the clientele tends to be colorful, especially late at night. Opening hours are, of course, erratic. Calle Boteros at Calle Corral del Rey.
Sangre de Cristo (The Blood of Christ)
Almost directly across from the Bar of the Dead, but light years away in mood and style, is the Garlochi. The lavish decorations, designed in the style of Seville’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, feature religious statues, paintings, brocade, lace, flowers, dripping candelabras, incense, and sometimes a bartender in a priest’s cassock. The signature drink is Sangre de Cristo (the Blood of Christ), which is deep red, often served in a chalice, and packed with enough alcohol to give you a diabolical hangover. You have been warned. Calle Boteros, 26.
The Head of Pedro the Cruel
A few blocks away from the Garlochi lies the spot where, back in the 14th century, King Pedro the Cruel fought and killed a noble enemy in a secret, illegal duel. The nobleman’s family clamored for justice, and Pedro announced that the killer’s head would be nailed to the wall where the deed was done. He then produced a box that, he swore, contained the murderer’s head. But he refused to reveal the killer’s identity, claiming that to do so would launch the city into a devastating blood feud. He had the box mounted on the wall, secured with iron bands, and guarded day and night. Upon his death, the box was opened, and everyone realized that he had, in a way, told the truth: the box held a stone carving of Pedro’s own head. You can still see the head today, high on the wall in a niche. Calle Corral del Rey.
The Little Science Museum of Horrors
Fans of old black-and-white horror movies will be mesmerized by the macabre atmosphere of mad-scientist’s-laboratory-meets-animal-morgue that pervades Seville’s Casa del Ciencia (the House of Science). There are bats preserved in glass jars, birds laid out on slabs with toe tags, one of the few remaining Iberian lynxes sprawled out with its eyes sewn closed, and a buzzard with its beak taped shut, like Mob hit about omerta. The setting, in the patio of the lovely Peruvian pavilion from the 1929 Expo, is worth a visit in itself. Calle Maria Louisa.
The Legend of the Purgatory Tiles
If you went to Catholic schools, chances are you’ve heard a lot about purgatory, the first stop in the afterlife for imperfect souls who must suffer before being allowed into heaven. The outer wall of the Church of San Pedro has a famous purgatory scene done in tiles, where everyone is standing around naked surrounded by flames. Strangely, no one appears to be in torment; they all seem to be merely irritated or bemused. But the legend surrounding these tiles has little to do with the souls in the inferno. The artist who painted the tiles added a small bird to the scene, and it is said that if you can spot that bird, you’ll soon be married. Hint: It’s not where you expect it to be. Calle Doña Maria Coronel, 12.
Seville is a city that knows how to keep its secrets but is willing to give the intrepid visitor a glimpse of its quirkier side. Yes, you’ll want to enjoy some sunshine, sangria, and flamenco, too, but don’t forget that something strange and wonderful is probably lurking just around the corner, if you dare to look.
Here’s my Pinterest Board on Quirky Seville!