Friday, 25 May 2012

Magical Mushrooms: Climbing Seville's Setas

As much as I'd like to think Seville has remained frozen in time since my year abroad in 2004/5, the truth is that time has marched on. Well, strolled on – this is Seville, after all. Yes, La Campana is still serving coffee and cake, the tapas at Bar Alfalfa are as good as ever and Triana's still delightfully different, but certain changes have taken place in the city centre. The Avenida de la Constitución is now pedestrianized, save for the state-of-the-art tram which connects Plaza Nueva with San Bernardo. The renovations of Plaza de España are finally complete: its tiled scenes gleam and its waterways are alive with boatloads of enthusiastic rowers once again.

The past few years have also brought a more controversial development to the city centre. Since 2011, Plaza de la Encarnación has been home to the tongue-twisting Metropol Parasol: a 25 metre high pair of towers topped with a walkway and known much more prosaically as 'las Setas' (the mushrooms). Bearing more than a passing resemblance to fungi, these towers divided opinion during their six-year construction, and continue to do so now that they dominate the square. In line with local building regulations, they're nowhere near tall enough to rival the height of the Giralda, the Cathedral's tower, yet their modern design in the heart of oh-so-traditional Seville means that not everyone is a fan. Constructed by Berlin-based Jürgen Mayer H and his team of architects from wood, steel and concrete, the fantastical structures undulate through the sky above the square. To some, their size and sweep may cut far too daring a dash through Plaza de la Encarnación, but to my eye, they add an interesting diversity to the area. They've also helped to regenerate the neighbourhood, with shops, bars and a market at ground level, an antiquarium at basement level (an archaelogical museum where visitors can glimpse some of the city's  ruins and artefacts, from Roman times onwards) and the viewing platform or mirador. 

The Setas have a purpose that integrates them into the fabric of city life: to me, this makes them a worthwhile addition to the city centre. Their design is certainly a talking point, and it may seem incongruous at first, but a trip up to the mirador may make up your mind if you're still sitting on the mushroom fence. With its lift access, it's certainly easier than scaling the Giralda, with the bonus of Cathedral views. Walkways allow you to soak up Seville's skyline from all angles, as well as learning more about the construction of the Setas themselves through the information provided.

A trip up Seville's mushrooms is €1.30 well spent, and if you want to linger and admire the architecture and the vista, there's a bar and restaurant.

What do you think: modern monstrosity or an innovative addition to the city centre?
To my mind, it's bold, it's brash and it's got something to say: welcome to Andalucia, Setas.

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