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

Hospital de los Venerables – Velázquez & Murillo

This year is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Bartolome Murillo, probably Sevilla’s most famous painter, and has been officially declared the Year of Murillo. As part of the commemorations the Fundación Focus-Abengoa, in collaboration with the Prado Museum, London’s National Gallery, and others, has organised a very special exhibition comparing the work of Murillo and Sevilla’s other most famous painter, Diego Velázquez.

velazquez murilloThe two painters, born in Seville a generation apart (Velazquez in 1599 and Murillo in 1617), and having their formative influences there, nevertheless had quite different career trajectories, Velazquez leaving Seville to work at the Spanish court in Madrid in 1623, while Murillo spent his entire working life in Seville. It’s not known whether the two ever actually met in person (though they must have been aware of each others’ work), but while there is no record of a meeting, it’s not impossible as Murillo visited Madrid on several occasions, although art experts think that there was only limited reciprocal influence.

santa rufinaSanta Rufina by Murillo (left) and Velázquez (right)

However, it’s clear from the 19 paintings in the exhibition, 10 by Murillo and 9 by Velázquez, that there were common influences in the cultural world of Sevilla in the 17th century. This shows itself in both the choice (or commissioning) of subjects, especially in religious subjects pertaining to Sevilla such as the Saints Justa and Rufina and the Immaculate Conception, as well as of Saint Peter and the Adoration of the Magi, and the highly naturalistic style of the scenes of everyday life.

day to day lifeEveryday scenes by Velázquez (left) and Murillo (right)

It’s also appropriate that the exhibition is being hosted in the Venerables Hospital, a building that is of the early 17th century, and which has both a historical and current associations with the two painters. Around mid-January the exhibition, which continues until February 28th, surpassed the 50,000 visitor mark.

Velásquez | Murillo | Sevilla
Hospital de los Vernerables
Plaza de los Venerables 8
Open 10.00 – 18.00 (last entrance at 17.30)
General Admission: 8 euros
Free Admission Tuesday 14.00 – 18.00

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.

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.

alcazar

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.

Terracotta Army – Xi’an Warriors

terracotta army
From Friday, November 13, 2015 until Sunday January 24, 2016 150 reproductions of the famous terracotta warriors that were buried next to the tomb of the first emperor of China the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang (210-209 BC.) will be on display at Muelle de las Delicias.

The tour of the exhibition consists of warriors, horses and war equipment and other findings of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang and takes approximately two hours, including the screening of a documentary. Weekend workshops will be organized for children.

 

Terracotta Army – The Xi’an Warriors
Muelle de las Delicias
Paseo de las Delicias
November 13 2015 – January 24 2016
Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 – 21.00
Sundays & holidays 10.00 – 19.00
Entrance up to 1.5 hours before closing
Price: 8.00€ (general) 6.00€ (children under 12 – under 4 get in free)

Entrechuelos Wine Tasting at La Revuelta

entrechuelos cata (1)La Revuelta opened earlier this year as a kind of all purpose cultural drop-in centre with books, art and events, especially food and wine events, and that was why I was there recently – for one of their “off the beaten track” wine tastings, this one featuring a small winery, Entrechuelos, run by Miguel Domecq, a member of the renowned Pedro Domecq sherry family. Miguel presented each wine like a proud father and I always find this kind of personal connection helps people relate better to what they’re tasting.

The Entrechuelos winery opened in 2008 on the Cortijo de Torrecera (the central farm of a grape growing estate), an area long used for vineyards, named for an 11th century Moorish watchtower built on the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding land. Although the winery is not far from Jerez, the wines produced there are not sherries, but table wines of the Tierra de Cadiz.

entrechuelos cata (2)We sampled four of these, starting with a young Chardonnay, which proved light and refreshing, slightly sweet with a good, fruity taste. This was followed by two red wines blended from Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, the first called Roble 2012, aged for six months in French oak, the second a Tercer Año 2011, aged for a year. The contrast between the two was surprising. The first failed to impress, but the extra six months of ageing of the second produced a pleasantly full-bodied and quite complex wine with a deep colour that I thoroughly enjoyed. The fourth was the Alhocen Personal Selection 2010, a slightly different blend of the same four grapes, also aged for 12 months to make a nice fruity red wine.

Check the La Revuelta Website for information about upcoming events and activities.

La Revuelta
Siete Revueltas, 33
Tel 954 21 08 06
Open: 10.00 – 14.00 / 17.00 – 20.00
Closed Sunday

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

La Revuelta – Art & Fun

la revuelta

La Revuelta is Sevilla’s newest multi-functional cultural space. Part art gallery, part bookshop, and venue for wine tastings, literary and cultural events, courses and workshops and much more, it’s the brainchild of local writer, journalist and wine expert Javier Compás. The space is bright, open and welcoming with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. It also has kitchen facilities.

If you live in Sevilla you can become a member for 12€ a month and take advantage of discounts and first options for limited-space events. For visitors it’s a unique spot to check out for books, art and wines. Just off the Plaza del Pan in the first “vuelta” of the serpentine calle Siete Revueltas.

la revuelta collage

La Revuelta
Siete Revueltas, 33
Tel 954 21 08 06
Open: 10.00 – 14.00 / 17.00 – 20.00
Closed Sunday
Website: Redvuelta.com