El Balcón

There’s an apartment for sale in Calle Las Monjas; the heart of the casco antiguo, of Arcos de la Frontera; it’s perfect

The houses are more than a few centuries old, oriels finely mullion-ed and transom-ed, pilastered and stuccoed, lofty rooms that would effortlessly take a mezzanine, and overlooking the back wall of the Basílica de Santa María de la Asunción; a fine gothic cathedral with an spectacular eighteenth century tower that defines Arcos‘ skyline

But my friends don’t understand

Why live in a pueblo blanco of Andalucía when all you see through the window is a stone wall, an arm’s length away
Unrelieved by detail: it has no arches, columns, capitals, of any kind and a poor return of cornices, architraves or moldings, given its expansiveness
There are a few window openings scattered across the wall but their locations have no logic, or fine gothic tracery
There are, however, three flying buttresses, high-up, above the windows
They can be clearly seen; bending double and twisting your head through the window

It may be the back wall of the Basílica de Santa María de la Asunción, Arcos‘ crowning glory, but it throws a dark shadow over the apartment and blocks any view of the casco antiguo, apart from some crumbling historic masonry

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They ask me; should you live in a modern apartment on a new estate with magnificent views of the casco antiguo or in the casco antiguo with no views of itself; only a blank wall, or worse a view of the modern apartments on the new estate that overlook it
It’s a rhetorical question and naturally they favour having a beautiful view from a less than beautiful locale

I would always live in a casco antiguo; if necessary with very little daylight or even bricked-up windows
I’ve often scorned people who buy broom cupboards in Mayfair; ungenerously, because I’d do the same
The apartment in Arcos is only a little more comfortable
Because of it’s size, lack of daylight, and view of a decrepit wall, it would have less cache elsewhere, but like the broom cupboard in Mayfair, it’s value is enhanced by its location

Both give an undefinable feeling of being within something; a part of something exclusive
Not standing back and admiring, but being admired
It’s a greater indulgence in life


People have less desire for recognition in Spain
Maybe hidden behind modesty and humility
Yet, like the English, they adore the terraced house
Newly-built, and with a penchant to personalise them with stone or tiled cladding, shades of paint a little too saturated with colour, pergolas of timber, metal and plastic, a panoply of cast iron gates and different colored canvas awnings
I often think why waste money

The opportunity to make something of your home that’s greater than your neighbour’s is limited in the casco antiguo, at least outside
There are planning regulations and good taste to contend with
The houses don’t take kindly to psychedelic tiles or terrazzo plinths
They are whitewashed with timber doors, windows and roofs of tejas curvas

El Balcón, on a hill, west of Sevilla, was undeveloped till the 60s, when the first tower and apartment blocks were constructed, it’s been added to in every decade since
Standing at the highest point it appears like a Sierra Nevada of viviendas, its snow-capped peaks, the modest white apartment blocks

It retains a sense of of its own importance, being the best residential viewpoint around the historical city and the birthplace of Sergio Ramos
Frequenter of the Rincon de Paco in the Calle Julio César and World Cup winner

It has enough self-confidence to admire Sevilla without the necessity to seek recognition or self-aggrandizement
It’s a regular suburb of a large city

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Admirably, each successive decade has shown no impatience with modernism, they`ve built with panache and verve in a contemporary style, irrespective of the fierce debate against brutalism
Here the architecture gives no concession to fun, like some post-modernist pick-me-up
Architecture is not a pill that alleviates social deprivation, fractured communities or lack of culture and entertainment
Architecture is the rational framework for our irrational lives; sometimes containing, sometimes contributing to our enjoyment of life

And I like El Balcón’s frameworks; the texture of it’s doors, windows and balconies
Projecting, receding, at times changed by owners to stockade balcony space Posessions thrust onto balconies; out of mind
The long shadows cast by the winter sun of air conditioning, satellite dishes, canopies, laundry and bicycles hung over balustrades

It’s a tranquil neighborhood; restaurant, bars, panadería and frutería
I would live there, not only for its views of Sevilla
It retains an individuality; it’s an unusual place
It says, I can see Sevilla but here is home
It possesses a sense of freedom that gives life a perpetual sense of vacation


It was the same when I lived in Muswell Hill
As the 144 bus shifted its gears lower and started to climb the hill from the Victoria Stakes I moved into a magical kingdom
It was very much part of London, the views were unmissable, yet it was a another world: secure, lost in the clouds

Somehow everything was a little different: the Broadway’s long terraces of shops and apartments, all with decorative Edwardian soft-red brick interleaved with white painted rendered quoins, cornices, architraves and doorcases, fanciful roofs like pointed fish tails, with slate scales, decorative horns of sash windows themselves divided into many panes, iron finials and weathercocks
A palace over the road, like a Disney fantasia, and if I wasn’t convinced that this was the world’s end
The 144 bus stopped here

Not in a large anonymous garage, at some lost corner of the neighborhood, but a picturesque roundabout in the middle of the Broadway with cast iron railings and neatly trimmed privet hedge, well tended flower beds and an Arts & Craft pavilion of over burnt purple brick and clay tiles

My home in the Faro of Extremadura, Feria, has the same sense of sanctuary and detachment
It too, as its moniker suggests, is set high-up on a foothill of the Sierra Morena
Intrinsically, its individual parts of no great splendour or monetary value
Yet its inhabitants suspect they have privilege
Indeed, Arcos de la Frontera itself sits on a large escarpment of rock, high above all the housing estates that seem built in serried rows in order to stare at it with detached admiration
Ogling it’s beauty

For me, hills have a magical quality of detaching life from reality A readily available reality should the practicalities of life be necessary

This entry was published on July 31, 2017 at 8:30 pm and is filed under Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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