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Seville | Casa Pilatos

IMG_7174Main entrance on Plaza de Pilatos

With the obvious exception of the Royal Palaces of the Alcázar, the Casa de Pilatos (Pilate’s House) is the largest and historically most important of the grand palaces of Seville, and is still the family home of the Dukes of Medinaceli. It can be found in the eastern part of the old city, between the Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina, in the Plaza de Pilatos.

Construction of the palace (originally the Palacio de San Andrés) was begun in 1483, at the transition of the mediaeval to the early modern period, by Pedro Enriquez de Quiñones and his second wife Catalina de Rivera, and was continued by their son Fadrique Enriquez de Rivera, 1st Marquis of Tarifa. In 1519 Fadrique went on a pilgrimage to the holy places of Jerusalem, returning in 1520 by way of Italy, both of which experiences greatly influenced him. The following year he instituted the Holy Way of the Cross as a reproduction of the original in Jerusalem, starting from the palace (which became known as the Casa de Pilatos) and leading to the Cruz del Campo (the Cross in the Field), which can still be seen in the modern suburb of Nervion, and which lends its name to the local beer, Cruzcampo, which used to be brewed nearby.

IMG_7180Main courtyard with fountain and statuary

Entrance to the Palace is through an Italian Renaissance style gate of the early 16th century, which leads into the apeadero (a reception courtyard for carriages), and beyond that to the Patio Principal, a typical Andalusian courtyard paved with marble, an Italian marble fountain, and colonnades decorated in the Mudejar (Moorish) style. The courtyard is adorned with the busts of twenty four Spanish kings and Roman emperors, with four of the most important pieces of the Palace’s collection of sculptures in the corners.

On the far side of the courtyard is the Palace chapel, known as the Chapel of Flagellation for its central statue of Christ being whipped. Built and decorated in the Mudejar-Gothic style, it’s possibly the oldest room in the palace. To the right is the Praetor’s room, which although a slightly later product of alterations to the courtyard, is notable for the mudejar decoration of its walls, and the beautiful caisson coffered ceiling with the coats of arms of the family line.

IMG_7222Ceiling of the Praetor’s study

Beneath the tower is the Praetor’s study, which connects the courtyard with the large garden. The walls are covered with ceramic tiles in a number of different patterns and there is a superb ceiling with a ten sided star in the centre.

The grand staircase is probably the most magnificent part of the building, connecting the more public space of the patio with the private family quarters on the upper floor. Sumptuously decorated with colourful tiles, its crowning glory is the mudejar honeycomb ceiling, modelled on the one in the Ambassador’s room in the Alcázar. The upper floor itself recreates the interior of the house palace with mudejar plasterwork and ornate wood ceilings and contains artworks by Francisco Pacheco, Goya and Luca Giordano, among others.

IMG_7229Grotto in the large garden

My favourite parts of the palace, though, are the two gardens. The large garden, originally the orchard, was created in the second half of the 16th century by an extension of the palace to enclose it. The layout and decoration are in the Italian renaissance style, complete with a grotto in one corner, and niches for the archaeological exhibits shown there. The small garden (el Jardin Chico) was created from two small gardens in the early 20th century, and has a pool that was once fed by water from the Roman aqueducts, a rare privilege enjoyed by few, and which made owning a garden a sign of social distinction.

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The charming Jardin Chico

Casa de Pilatos
Plaza de Pilatos, 1
Tel: +34 954 225 298
Website
Opening Times: 9.00 am to 6.00 pm (7.00 pm Apr-Oct)
Price 8 euros including audioguide and guided tour of upper floor

Seville | The Squares of Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz is the best known of Seville’s old neighbourhoods, and corresponds roughly to the late mediaeval Jewish quarter. It’s a major part of the oldest section of the city, but although it’s still based on the old Roman street layout and has many authentically old buildings, it actually owes much of its picturesque charm to the renovations and general prettifying that began in the Napoleonic era and peaked during the preparations for the 1929 Spanish American exhibition.

river walk 35Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

La Plaza Virgen de los Reyes (Virgin of the kings) is the classic square behind the Cathedral and in front of the Barrio Santa Cruz. It’s enclosed by three of Seville’s most important historic buildings, the cathedral (including the Giralda tower), the Archbishop’s Palace and the former Hospital of Santa Marta that now houses the Convent of the Incarnation. Although these buildings date back 500 years or more, the square itself was only created in the 18th century by the demolition of the Church’s administrative buildings within it, and its modern form was achieved with the remodelling of the entrance to Mateos Gago in the 1920s. The fountain and ornamental streetlight in the centre was added for the 1929 Spanish-American. Spend a few moments in the shade of the orange trees enjoying the view of the tower and doing some people watching.

photo 2 (12)Classic view of the Giralda from Patio de Banderas

From Los Reyes take a short detour into Plaza Santa Marta, the little square at the end of alley behind the statue of the Pope, and discover an oasis of peace and quiet. The cross in the centre dates to 1564, but was only brought here in the early 20th century from the old hospital of San Lorenzo in the Macarena. The door to the right is the back entrance to the Monastery of the Incarnation.

Next to Los Reyes is the “second square”, La Plaza del Triunfo, which is effectively the World Heritage centre, with the Cathedral, the Alcázar Palace and the Archivos de Indias on three sides, and the Casa de la Provincia on the fourth. The walls are over a thousand years old, and were once the outer walls of the city. The square takes its name from the small monument in front of the Archivos, erected in 1757 to commemorate the Cathedral surviving the Great Lisbon Earthquake. Like many others the square was remodelled in the early 20th century, and the monument to the Immaculate Conception was erected at this time.

santa cruz 010Plaza Santa Marta

Through the archway beside the square is the Patio de Banderas (Courtyard of the Flags), where the Kings of Spain once greeted foreign ambassadors. The rectangular promenade around the outside is formed by two rows of orange trees, but the fountain that used to grace its centre has disappeared since the recent archaeological investigations into the earliest stages of the Palace’s history.

Passing up the street alongside the wall brings you to the Plaza de la Alianza (formerly the Plaza del Pozo Seco or dry well), a charming little square with a simple central fountain, and a couple of bar terraces from which to enjoy it.

santa cruz 074Plaza Doña Elvira

Follow the wall to reach Plaza Doña Elvira, possibly the most picturesque little square in Seville, and certainly one of the most frequented by tourists. During the day it seems to be almost full of restaurant tables and chairs, but don’t let that put you off enjoying its ceramic benches, fountain and orange trees. It’s supposedly the birthplace of Doña Elvira, the impossible love of Don Juan.

santa cruz 045Plaza Alfaro 

Carry on along the wall through Life Street and Water Street, and past the Washington Irving house, and you’ll come to the Plaza Alfaro, the little square at the entrance to the Murillo Gardens. Look for the Moreton Bay fig trees just inside the gardens, the water pipes in the exposed end of the old wall, and the circular balcony on the corner of the Casa Palacio.

santa cruz 049La Cerrajería, Plaza Santa Cruz

Just beyond is the Plaza Santa Cruz, which was once the site of one the Jewish quarter’s three synagogues, destroyed in the pogrom of 1391. It was replaced by the original parish church of Santa Cruz, demolished in turn in 1811 during the Napoleonic era to create the square as it is today. The rather strange metal sculpture in the centre is the Cruz de la Cerrajería with its serpents and four book-reading little figures on the corners, moved here from Calle Sierpes in 1921.

santa cruz 051Plaza de los Refinadores

Down Calle Mezquita you come to Plaza de los Refinadores (the refiners). I love the circular benches around the palm trees (sadly, two have recently had to be cut down), which make a quiet and shady spot for a few minutes tranquil contemplation. The statue is of Don Juan Tenorio, the legendary womaniser, and was erected in 1975. Also of interest is the house on the corner with the big window balcony, designed for Luis Prieto by Aníbal González, who also designed the Plaza de España.

santa cruz 056Las Cruces

Through tiny Calle Mariscal you come to Plaza de las Cruces, surprisingly not named for the crosses on the columns, which arrived later than the name, but for the wooden crosses at the far end of the street. Turn left there and walk up the hill, and near the top you’ll find a little alley on your right. Through a door at the end is the tiny Plaza de la Escuela de Cristo, one of my favourites for its sheer unexpectedness.

IMG_7146-001Plaza Escuela del Cristo

For a great base to explore the Santa Cruz, we have a wide range of quality holiday apartments around this enchanting neighbourhood.

Seville | The Royal Tobacco Factory and Carmen the Opera

Just to the south of the old historic centre, between the Puerta Jerez and the Prado San Sebastian is a magnificently imposing stone building that looks as if it should be a Royal Palace, or at least the stately home of a major aristocrat, but which is currently the headquarters and main campus of the University of Seville.

 

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Main courtyard of the Old Tobacco Factory

But it wasn’t always thus, for this was originally the Royal Tobacco Factory, the largest industrial building in Europe in the 18th century, a visible declaration of the wealth and power of the city as the Golden Age came to its end.

 

royaltobacco4

The Moat

Tobacco, as we all know, was discovered in the Americas by Columbus and was soon being imported and processed in Seville. In 1636, in order to centralise and control production, the first tobacco factory was built in what is now the Plaza Cristo de Burgos, but production soon outgrew the space, and in the early 18th century the decision was taken to build a new factory on a site outside the city wall known as “de las calaveras”, of the skulls, because it was once a Roman burial ground.

 

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The old prison of the Royal Tobacco Factory

The original plans were drawn up in 1725 by Ignacio Sala, and work began on the foundations in 1728, but work proceeded only in fits and starts until the appointment of the Flemish Engineer Sebastián van der Borcht in 1750. Production began in 1758, and the building was completed in 1770. Initially, the main output was snuff, with some 170 mills being used to grind up the tobacco plants into powder, but with the rising popularity of cigars, part of the factory was converted for their production. Initially the workforce was all male, but by 1830 cigar production had become the work of women, who were paid less, were less troublesome, and made better quality cigars. In the 1880s, at the peak of production, 6,000 women were employed rolling cigars.

cigarreras

“Las Cigarreras” by Gonzalo Bilbao (Bellas Artes Museum)

It was this all-female workforce that inspired the French novelist Prosper Mérimée to write Carmen (published in 1845, and the basis of Georges Bizet’s opera of 1875). One of Seville’s most famous stories, Carmen is about a gypsy girl who works at the tobacco factory, seduces one of the guards, who finally kills her when she later jilts him for a matador. The story is, of course, one of the “seven basic plots”, but its depiction of the amorality of proletarian life and the free-spiritedness of its heroine were seen as shocking by many of its original middle-class Parisian audiences. Other reminders of Carmen around the city include the famous statue outside the bullring, on the spot where she meets her death.

 

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Facade of the Royal Tobacco Factory

The most obvious thing about the building today is that it’s big (185 metres by 147 metres, second only to the El Escorial Palace in Madrid), and obviously built to impress people with the wealth and power of the crown. You’ll also notice that it is protected on three sides by a moat (on the fourth side was the Tagarete stream, which has since been diverted to a new course), and by little turrets, where the guards would once have kept watch. The two free standing buildings at each end of the front facade are respectively a church and a prison (I’d like to be able to say that it’s now used for detentions, but alas, no), the twin forces of social control, all of which demonstrates the importance of tobacco in the economy of the 18th and 19th centuries.

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One of the inner courtyards

As it’s now a university it’s open to the public during the week in term-time, and there’s a signposted audioguide tour.

From one of our rental apartments in the Santa Cruz you can easily visit the Royal Tobacco Factory, and also explore the sites associated with Carmen and other famous operas.

Seville | The Royal Dockyards

Las Atarazanas Reales de Sevilla (Royal dockyards of Seville) are probably one of the least visited major historic buildings in Seville (indeed, at the present time it’s not possible to go inside, only to view it from outside), but it’s appearance and history make it well worth going to see.

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Exterior of the Atarazanas – “Looks like there’s a storm brewing, Captain!”

The atarazanas were built in 1252, just four years after the reconquest of the city by the Christians, by king Alfonso X, for the construction of the galleys needed by the Spanish to guard the Straits of Gibraltar against the Moors and protect Spanish shipping in the Mediterranean. There were originally seventeen naves, and up to thirty ships could be constructed at the same time, but now only seven remain in more or less their original condition. They can be found along the outside of the stretch of city wall by the Postigo del Aceite (Oil Gate), and once continued as far as the Postigo del Carbón (Coal Gate) and the Torre del Plata.

atarazanas5

Interior of the Atarazanas – naves and arches

They were constructed entirely of brick, in a style now known as Mudejar-Gothic, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches connecting the naves. The best view of the interior is to be had from the windows just beyond the Oil Gate, from where you can see the arrangement of the naves and arches, giving a perspective reminiscent of the Mezquita in Cordoba, as well as a section of the old city wall that forms the back of the dockyard enclosure. In late mediaeval times the area between the dockyards and the river was open sand and mud, allowing completed ships to be hauled to the river.

Because of their size, and the fact that the required rate of shipbuilding rarely utilised the whole building, the Atarazanas were used for many different purposes during their long life, including everything from public festivals to customs sheds, storing loot and holding prisoners of war from the conflicts with the Moors, and later as a fish market.

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Entrance to La Maestranza de Artillería

Perhaps surprisingly, it was just after the discovery of the Americas in 1492 that the shipyards went into decline, probably because the galleys they were designed for had been superseded by newer designs, and the incorporation of Aragon into a united Spain had made cheaper shipyards in Barcelona and Valencia available for the building of the navy’s ships. In 1641 five of the naves were converted for use as a Charity Hospital, and in 1719 the seven naves we can still see became officially the headquarters of La Maestranza de Artillería, and were used for the manufacture, storage of artillery and for offices of the administration of the army until as late as 1970. The façade that can still be seen today was built in 1782, and the chimney, now used only by nesting storks, also belongs to this period. Finally, in 1945, the five naves at the Torre del Plata end of the complex were totally demolished to make way for new government offices.

Although currently disused, there are plans (albeit vague) to bring the Atarazanas back into public use. They are certainly far too remarkable, both in themselves and as part of Seville’s heritage, to be abandoned.

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Local resident in the courtyard of the Atarazanas

If you are interested in this part of Seville and its history, we have a variety of holiday apartments in this part of Seville that are a perfect base for exploring the riverside area.

Seville | Noche en Blanco (sleepless night) 2015

noche-blanco-sevilla

“Noches en blanco”, literally meaning Nights in White, but here used colloquially to mean sleepless nights, have become increasingly popular around Spain in recent years, including here in Seville, where the fourth annual Noche en Blanco event will be held on the evening of Friday, October 2, starting around 8 pm and continuing into the small hours of the morning. It’s organised by the Association Sevillasemueve in conjunction with many of the city’s monuments, museums and theatres, as well as tour companies and guides, with the purpose of promoting Seville’s rich cultural life to as wide an audience as possible.

The night visits and tours allow you to see monuments and museums in a different light (both literally and figuratively), and some will give access to parts of buildings normally closed to the public. Among this year’s top attractions are guided tours of the Cathedral, Los Venerables, the Archives of the Indies, the Antiquarium, Saint George’s Castle (headquarters of the Inquisition), and the Triana ceramics centre and museum, as well as exhibitions at the Casa de Murillo, Casa de la Provincia, Contemporary Arts Centre and Santa Ines Monastery.

noche blanco flamenco

Musical events include flamenco at the Casa de la Memoria and Casa del Flamenco, and a rock concert at the Mudejar Museum.

If you want to know more about Seville there’s a wide range of themed walking tours through the night time streets that will introduce you to aspects of the city you didn’t know existed.

The full programme of events can be found here.

If you’re coming to Seville on holiday, renting one of our apartments will give you the flexibility to stay out as late as you like. Have a good weekend.