To the north of Seville’s Old Quarter, we find one of the city’s most authentic neighbourhoods: La Macarena, where life revolves around two of its most recognisable icons: its gate and its basilica. Built in the twelfth century on the orders of Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf, the Puerta de la Macarena is one of three surviving entrances in the ancient Almoravid walls of Muslim Seville, sections of which also remain within the neighbourhood. (The other two entrances are the Postigo de Aceite and the Puerta de Córdoba). Through this door, which in the eighteenth century was remodelled in a classical style, have entered royalty such as Alfonso XI of Castile, Isabella ‘the Catholic’, Charles I and Philip IV.
Next to it stands the Basílica de la Macarena, one of the symbols of the religious fervour that attends Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Seville. On its neo-Baroque altarpiece, we find the Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena, an anonymous seventeenth-century work which, in the early morning of every Good Friday, is carried in procession by members of the Brotherhood Hermandad de la Esperanza Macarena, founded in 1595. For centuries, the macarenos have carried on a friendly rivalry with the trianeros, the devotees of the Esperanza de Triana, the city’s other famous image. Close to the basilica is the Iglesia de San Gil which, every spring, is the point of departure for the Hermandad del Rocío de la Macarena [Brotherhood] pilgrimage to the famous village of Almonte.
It is an interesting fact that the neighbourhood did not take its name from the image of the Virgin, but the other way around; according to some historians, the name La Macarena derives from the Arabic word Bab-al-Makrin, the original name of the entrance to the city.
The other symbol of the neighbourhood’s identity is the Hospital de las Cinco Llagas, a sixteenth-century Renaissance edifice, and a witness to the ravages of the plague which attacked Seville in 1649. In its time it was considered the largest building in Spain, and is now the seat of the Andalusian Parliament. According to legend, it has its own ghost—Sister Ursula, a nun who died during the outbreak of the plague.
Lovers of churches will take to La Macarena like a fish to water. In addition to those we have already mentioned, there are the churches of Santa Marina and San Marcos, both Gothic-Mudejar gems; the church of San Hermenegildo, which today includes what was once the Puerta de Córdoba; and the church of San Luis de los Franceses, designed by one of the greatest exponents of the Seville Baroque style, who was also famous as a writer of ghost stories. But they are not all religious buildings: on the banks of the river Guadalquivir stands the Torre de los Perdigones [Buckshot Tower], an authentic icon of La Macarena set in a pleasant park. From the top of this “industrial” viewing point (the only part that remains of this old factory that once made buckshot, bullets and zinc plate), a camera obscura affords an intriguing projected view of the city from a height of 45 metres.
The best place for a stroll is Calle Feria, in the heart of the La Macarena neighbourhood—crossing it from north to south—where you can find the local market and a pleasant antiques street market which is held every Thursday (and is therefore known as El Jueves).