Palacio de las Dueñas

The Palacio de Las Dueñas is the Seville home of the Dukes of Alba, and until her recent death, of Cayetana, the 18th Duchess of Alba. Last year the house was opened to the public, and recenly I took a rather delayed opportunity to see it for myself.

The palace was originally built in the 15th century by the Pineda family, one of the original aristocratic houses of Seville, and was named for the adjacent Monastery of Las Dueñas (finally demolished in 1868). In 1496 the house was sold to Doña Catalina de Ribera, widow of Governor Don Pedro Enriquez, according to legend in order to pay for the ransom of Don Juan de Pineda, taken prisoner by the Moors during the wars against Granada. In 1612 it passed by marriage to the family of the Dukes of Alba, where it has remained ever since. In the 19th century parts of the palace were converted for a time into a boarding house, and Antonio Machado, probably Seville’s most famous poet, was born here in 1875.

From the outside, despite a substantial entry gate with a glimpse of garden beyond, it’s only moderately impressive, and it’s full extent really only becomes apparent once you pass inside. The main palace is essentially Renaissance, and built around three sides of the central courtyard (the fourth side giving onto the gardens), with additional wings and courtyards, and surrounded by gardens and outbuildings. Despite being near the city centre it’s an oasis of peace, calm and greenery, and it’s easy to appreciate why the family loved the place so much.

The tour begins in the front garden courtyard, where our handy audio guide explains some of the history of the Palace. Ahead of us is the apeadero, a typical feature of all grand houses, where visitors would have alighted from their carriages, but our route takes us off to the right to the stables, and through to the famous garden of the lemon trees immortalised by Machado. From there we come to the central courtyard, the heart of the old palace. This is built on two floors in the Gothic-Mudejar style with the typical columns, arches and decorative plasterwork of the period. In one corner the principle staircase, adorned with tapestries and with an outstanding ornate coffered wood ceiling, leads up to the private residence of the Dukes of Alba (not open to the public).

Arranged around the courtyard on the ground floor are a number of rooms that traditionally formed the public part of a late mediaeval palace. These include the chapel and is antechamber, where the extended family and their friends would gather for religious occasions, the Flamenco room, complete with a tablao for dancing, and of course, a library. All these rooms also serve to house an important collection of art and furniture collected over the centuries.

Tucked away beyond these are the Olive Oil Patio (so named because it was once used for storing olive oil), and the quiet space of the Santa Justa garden, which has a picturesque creeper clad balcony overlooking one corner, one of my favourite places in the palace.

The Palacio de las Dueñas is almost like a bridge between times present, and times past (at least if you were wealthy), and offers one of those rare glimpses into another style of life. It’s well worth a visit.

Calle Dueñas 5
Tel: +34 954 214 828
Palacio de las Dueñas Website

Hospital de los Venerables by Candlelight

This year summer in Sevilla looks like being notable for its night visits to various monuments and cultural establishments. On Tuesday July 26 I was invited to participate in one of a series of night visits to El Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes organised by the Focus-Abengoa Foundation and Engranajes Culturales. This included some parts of the building that are not normally open to the public, and was be partly conducted by candlelight (okay, battery powered candles, not real ones), to give a sense of how the building would have looked in its early days in the late 17th century.

venerables (1)

Our guide for the evening was Sergio Raya, and as the shadows lengthened we collected our candles and set off. The hospital consists essentially of a number of rooms and buildings arranged on two floors around the famous sunken central courtyard, which we would come back to later, but first stop was the Hospital Church.

Although of modest size the iconography of its decoration is considered to be among the most complete and complex in Spain, with a theme revolving around the centrality of the priesthood and the respect owing them. Among the artists whose work is represented here are Lucas Valdés and Juan de Oviedo. Unfortunately the main altar is not the 17th century original, which was destroyed, but dates to 1889. Also modern is the splendid organ, designed and built in the 1990s with decorative finishes faithful to the earlier age.

venerablesthe hospital church and organ

From the church we went on through the sacristy, most notable for a “trompe l’oeil” ceiling designed to make it appear much higher than it really is, and into the patio of the sacristy. This is the oldest part of the building, and was where the first patients were housed prior to the completion of the hospital dormitories. The back entrance to the hospital, giving onto Calle Consuelo, is here too. Just beyond is another patio with an intriguing history. This was the location of the Corral de Comedias de Doña Elvira, an institution that could be thought of as the Sevilla equivalent of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and roughly contemporary with it (1578-1632). It was so named because it was in the gardens of the Palace of Doña Elvira de Ayala (born 1377), which was in the nearby Plaza of that name.

venerables (2)central patio

From there we went back to the central patio, which is one of the best in Sevilla. Unusually, the central square is below the level of the surrounding colonnade, and the fountain is set into a stepped circular well. The overall effect is visually pleasing, though apparently the motivation for the design was the rather mundane matter of drainage.

Our next stop was the hospital room on the lower floor (there is another on the upper floor; these were used at different times of year), not normally open to the public. A high-ceilinged room with an arcade of pillars down the centre, it reminded me somewhat of a sherry bodega. A painting in the upper gallery shows it with the patients in rows of beds down either side, and this was the model for the layout of other hospitals in the city. We experience it by the light of our candles, a rather gloomy place, and after a while stifling in the summer heat.

venerables (3)view of the church through the upper gallery

On then to the upper gallery, by way of the main stairway, which has a fine cupola with representations of the papal tiara and Saint Peter’s keys, maintaining the theme of the importance of the Church and clergy. On the side of the upper gallery alongside the church a doorway to a screened balcony allows you to look down into the church without being seen.

Next stop was the Library. This was created in 1981 as an HQ and book depository for Focus Abengoa, in what was originally the Hospital refectory. Beyond, a narrow stairway leads up to the Altana, or Torre Mirador, an open platform with a mudejar style ceiling from where you can look out over the Santa Cruz neighbourhood. As always, things look different from the rooftops than they do at ground level, and I found it quite hard to get my bearings.

venerables (4)warning! 

This was a fitting last stop on our tour, which showed us more, and with a deeper level of explanation, than you get from a standard visit, so a big thank you to Engranajes Culturales and Focus Abengoa for a fascinating experience, and to our guide Sergio who kept things going despite almost 40º temps and who was both entertaining and informative.

venerables (5)view from the Torre Mirador

For more summertime cultural experiences, including night visits to Las Dueñas, El Salvador Church and Las Teresas Convent, have a look at Engranajes Activities Page.

Feria Portada 2016

portada 2016
La Feria de Abril, or April Fair, is Sevilla’s annual party to welcome the spring. This year it runs from April 12 to 17 (the alumbrao, or switching on of the lights, is at midnight on April 11), and for a week the fairground will be abuzz with people, horses and carriages, and the sound of flamenco.

Entrance to the fairground is through a specially constructed gateway, called the Portada, which is rebuilt every year with a different theme. This year’s theme is “Homage to Dance” and the winning design, by Eduardo Morón Espinosa, was inspired by the Argentinian Pavilion for the 1929 Spanish American Exhibition, which is now the Antonio Ruiz Soler Conservatory of Professional Dance, and can be found in the Paseo de las Delicias.

The design also includes two commemorative plaques, one to each side of the central gateway. To the left is one for the 4th centenary of the death of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. To the right is celebrated the 750th anniversary of the parish church of Santa Ana in Triana.

Feria de Abril 2016
April 12 – 17

Alcázar Underground

A visit to the Reales Alcazares (Royal Palaces) of Sevilla and the gardens around them is a bit like stepping into a 1001 nights world of magic and make believe, or the set of a medieval fantasy TV series, with a timeless quality of a place set somehow outside the mundane world.


But appearances can be deceptive. The Alcazar is also a fortress, and for much of its history was the working centre of government and administration, a history that goes back to 913, when the Caliph of Córdoba established a residence and headquarters for his governor in Sevilla roughly in what is now the Patio de Banderas, protected by the walls that we still see in the Plaza Triunfo and Plaza de la Alianza. During the next four and a half centuries the Royal precinct underwent profound changes, with buildings and walls built, torn down, and replaced by others.

alcazar sotano (1)

In the last couple of decades extensive archaeological work has been carried out in parts of the complex, such as the Patio de Banderas, to elucidate these developments. Work is currently going on beneath the Mudejar Palace of Pedro I, built in the 1340s in a style that blends Moorish and Christian elements together in the most stunning way. Not surprisingly, though, it wasn’t the first building on this site, being erected over the remains, and foundations, of a previous Moorish palace. Such sites are required to have some public access for educational purposes, and the basement of the Mudejar Palace is accordingly open for guided tours, which can be booked online every Saturday at 11 am and 12 noon while the work is going on. This was what I had come to see.

alcazar sotano (2)

The tour started with a talk by one of the archaeologists on the history of the Alcázar, given in the formal gardens behind the palace, from where we went down into the basements. The area we were able to see seemed quite small, though its hard to judge size compared to the palace above, and we could see that the cellars extended at least as far as the Gothic Palace. It was orginally a storage area and, of course, much more basic than the palace, with brick walls and vaulted ceilings to support the weight above, in a rough hewn early Moorish style. There was also a substantial collection of recovered tile and pottery pieces laid out on tables, parts of the intricate abstract patterns of Moorish and Mudejar decoration.

alcazar sotano (3)

It was certainly a different view of the palace, and a reminder of what may be going on behind the scenes. Worth doing, but you will need to speak Spanish, as the tour is primarily intended for locals, not tourists.

Noche en Blanco

noche en blanca 2014

Sevilla’s third Noche en Blanca is TONIGHT.  Organised by @SevillaSeMueve, the 2014 edition of this all-night cultural event is the most amibitious to date with more than 100 spaces participating, including theatre, music, boutiques, galleries, cinema, gastronomy, walking tours and much more.

Have a great White Night everyone!

Noche en Blanco Programme
Twitter hashtag: #nocheenblancoSEV

Acuario de Sevilla


Love the dim light of the mysterious deeps? Fascinated by fish? Shocked by sharks? Well, now you can indulge yourself with a visit to Sevilla’s newest visitor attraction, the Acuario de Sevilla.

fish collageI was fortunate enough to be invited to the press preview for the grand opening on September 30th, and be one of the first people to see the new facility and its 400 species of marine life. The layout of the exhibits within the aquarium was designed to represent the first circumnavigation of the world by Magellan, who set out from Seville in 1519, and the creatures he would have met along the way. Inevitably, everyone will come to look at the sharks (you can even spend the night with them), but sharks are not the only fish in the sea (so to speak). There’s gliding rays, flotillas of brightly coloured tropical fish, as well as a pair of caymans, sea turtles, octopus and less obvious creatures like starfish and sea urchins.


You can buy a souvenir of your visit in the aquarium gift shop, and fortify yourself (either before or after) with a drink at the bar. Check the Aquarium website for courses, special events and activities.

Calle Santiago Montoto (Puerto las Delicias)
Opening hours Mon-Thur 10am to 7 pm (Nov-Feb)
10am-8pm (Mar-Oct)
Fri- Sun 10am – 9pm (10pm Mar-Aug)

Tickets €15 adults €10 children, disabled, pensioners.
Discounts for families and groups.

Salvador Church Night Tours


salvador moon

I never learn! Remember when I did that fabulous Cathedral rooftop tour a couple of years ago and ended up totally panic-stricken quivering wreck? Well apparently I hadn’t remembered when I booked a night time tour of the crypts and rooftops of the impressive Church of El Salvador, the second largest in Sevilla (the first being the Cathedral, natch). And so it was that I found myself outside El Salvador shortly before 10 o’clock on a hot August night, waiting for our guide.

The site of the church has a history of use for important public and religious buildings that goes much further back than that of its big sister, and is closely entwined with the life and history of the city itself.

In Roman times, it was the site of the Basilica, the most important public building in a Roman city. It first became a church during the time of the Visigoths in the 6th century, and remained so for some time after the city was conquered by the Moors, Berber Moslems from North Africa. In 879 it became the city’s Grand Mosque, Ibn Adabbas, and the focus of its religious life, while the streets around it, that formed the Zoco, or market, were its commercial hub. Later, as the city grew, a new Grand Mosque was built where the Cathedral stands today. Later still, in 1248, the Christians reconquered the city and the Mosque was rededicated and partially rebuilt as a church (incidentally making it one of the few to have completed the cycle from church to mosque and back again. By 1671 the building was in a ruinous state, and the decision was taken to demolish it. The church we see today was completed in 1712. In the last ten years there has been extensive restoration work, especially to the crypts, that has uncovered many interesting things related to the church’s past, and motivated the night tours that are allowing interested Sevillanos and visitors the opportunity to learn more about this unique heritage.

Our tour started in the patio, where we could see the half-buried original Moorish pillars and the old minaret, now topped, like the Giralda, by the bells of the Christian church, before our adventure began in earnest, with our guide leading us down into the crypts below the church.

I had half-expected this part of the experience to be a bit claustrophobic, but in fact the space was surprisingly open and well-lit, with air-conditioning and new concrete structural supports for the building above as well as the old brick walls and arches, and some of the original tiled flooring of the building’s earlier incarnations. The most touching part of the experience, though, was learning that hundreds, or even thousands of unnamed burials, including many of very young children, had taken place here. We also discovered that a buried stream (now partly exposed) ran through the foundations, and was the source of the problems that had led to the decision to undertake work on the church.

Back above ground we passed through the main body of the church, with its impressive retablos or altarpieces, to stand in front of the statue of the church’s patroness, the Virgin of the Waters, who sits in a little chamber halfway up one wall of the church. We reached the chamber itself (the camarín) by way of a small stairway to one side – it’s a slightly odd feeling to look down into the church from behind the statue.

salvador night tour (2)


On then to the second half of the tour, and a climb up a narrow spiral staircase, first to the balconies inside the church (which gave me a touch of vertigo, but nothing too serious), and then on up two more spiral stairways to the roof, where we did a complete circuit. From up here you can see all the major landmarks of the city, including the Cathedral, the Metropol Parasol and, a bit jarringly, the new Torre Pelli (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that one). I’m afraid it was at this point I kind of lost it and remembered why I shouldn’t go walking around on high rooftops with vasty views, but with a lot of deep breathing I managed to keep going and even got a few nice photos. So it was a relief when we made our way back down the narrow staircases and I soon was safely back on terra firma, feeling very glad to have had the opportunity for such an unusual and interesting experience. Knowing me, I’d even do it again.

La Huella de lo Sagrado guided tour costs 12 euros and takes place with a minimum group of 10 people; the night tours are available until September 15th, though day tours are available year round. They are only offered in Spanish but even without understanding the guide I think that it is still visually worthwhile. To reserve a place, go to the Cathedral Reservations Page.

Some photos below (click on one to start slide show)…
Continue reading “Salvador Church Night Tours”

Rompemoldes Días Europeos

rompemoldes dias europeosWhen I first visited Rompemoldes Creative Craft Space a couple of weeks ago I was told about the “Días Europeos” open house planned for this weekend and have been looking forward to going. Most of the workspaces will be open to the public so it’s a great opportunity to see this modern version of a corral de vecinos “in action”.

There are workshops and demonstrations planned both days and I’m very interested in seeing the Gastromoldes event on Saturday as that studio wasn’t open during my last visit. There will also be guest artisans showing their work along with the resident artists.

Looks like the weather is going to cooperate as well!

Días Europeos
Espacio de Creación Artesanal

April 5th & 6th
Calle San Luís 70

You can see the programme of activities below…
(click on images to enlarge)

rompemoldres programa días europeos 1

rompemoldes programa días europeos 2

Centro del Mudéjar

mudejar centre
The Palace of the Marqueses of the Algaba is home to Sevilla’s newest cultural centre, this one dedicated to the legacy of the Mudéjars of the 13th – 16th centuries. The palace was first built in this period and is worth a visit itself. Although it has undergone reforms since then it still boasts a splendid example of a mudéjar-gothic grand doorway and tower, as well as a lush central courtyard garden enclosed by arched walkways.

The centre opened on January 12th with an exhibit bringing together 111 pieces from different museums.

Centro del Mudéjar
Plaza Calderón de la Barca
(just behind Feria Market)
8 am – 2 pm / 5 pm – 8 pm Monday to Friday
Saturdays 8 am – 2 pm. Closed Sunday.
Admission is free.

Aljibe Romano

I saw this while out visiting the Noche en Blanco activities last Friday night. It was the first time this “aljibe romano” – basically an old Roman cistern – was open to the public. Apparently they’ve found more around, but this is the only one that’s been restored. What’s cool is that they date back to the second century. I was underground looking at something built many centuries and civilisations ago. Makes you think…

[click on images to enlarge]