Ever since we started exploring Andalucía with the dream of moving here, I fell in love with the alleys of southern Spain. Every town here has its special charm, so I cannot say which one I like the best. Yet, when it comes to secret side streets and twisting lanes, old Sevilla is certainly high up my list.
Sevilla, the capital of Andalucía is the independent territory’s most populated city, with almost 700 000 residents. With 3000 years of history, the city is a true crossroad of cultures and civilizations. While it offers a wide range of tourist attractions, to me it’s charm lies in getting lost in its lanes. Just a stone throw away from the famous La Giralda lies the entrance to the old Judería, Sevilla’s Jewish quarter. Once the second biggest in Spain (after Toledo), it was abandoned after the expulsion of the Jews in 1483 and wasn’t restored for centuries. It is now located within the barrios of Santa Cruz, Santa María la Blanca and San Bartolomé, neighbourhoods seeping in history, legends and past intrigues.
Coming through the rather hidden, domed entrance to the Juderia, the streets converts onto winding lanes and picturesque alleyways, some so narrow that one can stretch ones arms out and touch either side. This was probably how El Antiguo Rincón del Beso or the Old Kissing Corner got its name. One cannot help to envision illicit lovers on their opposing balconies stretching out to embrace. In la Judería one can still see street signs indicating the zone and the name of the specific barrio, or neighbourhood. Spanish street signs were and are still primarily made of ceramics, a medium not only readily available, but also one offering the most decorative options.
Looking at a book of street-names from the early 19th century, they certainly gave streets more interesting names in the past. As expected, there are an abundance of streets named after saints and holy orders, such as Calle Abades Alta (the Upper Abbot street) or Calle de las Capuchinas. The latter does not as one may be tempted to think refer to a street with cappuccino bars, but one where a convent for Capuchin sisters was once located. Other typical street names indicated what trade was performed there, such as Calle de los Boteros (the Street of the Wineskin Makers). Other names are directly referring to the products sold there, such as Calle de Azafran, meaning Saffron Street, probably a spice stand or Calle de la Calabaza (Pumpkin street). One can only guess that Calle de la Mosca (the Street of the Fly) was located near the fish market. Calle del Hombre de Piedra (Stone Man street) had a marble workshop, Calle de los baños was where the public baths were located and Calle de las Ropas Viejas would most certainly have been the place to go and buy used clothes. Calle de Quebrantahuesos, or the Bone-Breaker Street, might be for the service of bone setting before the city had a hospital, or maybe the street belonging to the local mafia?
More curious names are to be found, some still in use: Calle del Dormitorio del Carmen – Carmen’s Bedroom Street (with red lights?), Calle del Caño Quebrado – the Street of the Broken Sewer, Calle de Medio Culo – Half-Ass Street and Calle de la Teta – the Street of the Tit, which allegedly referred to a peculiar shaped rock built into the wall of a house on this street.
In Sevilla, like all through Andalucía there are many street-names of Arab origin, from the seven centuries that the territory was under Moorish rule. A common example is Calle de la Medina, which means Town or Walled-In Town in Arab. Others probably refer to a later period of religious conflict, such as Calle del Moro Muerto, or the Dead Moor Street. Sevilla’s street names sometimes bring back local legends. One of the more curious names in my books is Calle Cabeza del Rey Don Pedro, or the Street of King Don Pedro’s Head. Apparently this particular royal has a tendency to escape in the night to look for, well, what one looks for in the night. So one can only imagine that the king’s upper appendix would have had a rather dramatic ending…
Coming back to the Judería, starting from the enchanting lane leading us into the neighbourhood, we follow Calle de la Vida (Street of Life) and appropriately continue onto Calle de la Muerte (the Street of Death). Other streets still have Hebrew names such as Calle de los Levíes, likely referring to a powerful Jewish family and the mayor of the walled in city, or Calle Jamerdana, which seem to refer to the place where the slaughterhouse left their debris. Like many towns in Spain, there is a street named Calle or Callejón de la Inquisición. Though the inquisition was celebrated in the past as what gathered Spain under the common Catholic flag, many now see it as a barbaric age of their history.
Like the famed patios of Cordoba, Sevilla’s Santa Cruz neighbourhood has lovely plazas with doors peaking into typical Andalucian homes with central patios, complete with columns and potted geraniums, bougainvillea and roses. Above the front doors many of the houses still have the white ceramic tile with the house numbers painted in blue. The oldest ones are undoubtedly shaped by hand. In the past, I have read that houses would also have a tile with a cross, a half moon or a Star of David, indicating whether the household was Christian, Muslim or Jewish. I suppose the Inquisition quickly put an end to that… Another interesting tile one can still see at the entrances are the ones indicating whether the house had a fire insurance or Seguro Contra Incendios. One can only speculate what the fire-crew did if a house did not have the tile to prove its insurance in place?
When we needed a street number sign for our house in Ronda, we decided to have something made in the tradition of Sevilla’s old house numbers. We had been told that Asprodisis, a local organization and centre for the mentally challenged, has a ceramic workshop that makes Ronda’s street signs. We headed over with a couple of photos from Sevilla and were welcomed by Eva, a hiking buddy of ours. She teaches the ceramic activities and helps the residents create the most amazing hand-made terracotta and clay trophies, signs, cups, plates and medals, to mention a few. Asprodisis also makes other crafts, has a professional laundry service used by many of Ronda’s hotels, an employment centre and also offer a complete catering service! We told Eva and her helpers that we wanted something charmingly imperfect with lots of personalidad, and that’s exactly what we got.
Our house number is up now, looking ancient as it hangs, slightly askew. We cherish it because it isn’t a mass-produced tile bought in a tourist shop or something generic from a hardware store. Our number sign is something completely unique, made by hand with great care by handicapped workers in an admirable organization. We couldn’t be happier with our Sevillan Judería-inspired house number, which perfectly compliments the eclectic Mexican-Norwegian heritage of the residents of the house, built on what once was an Arab burial ground in an Andalucian mountain town.