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
Sevilla 

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.

Velá de Santa Ana 2015

vela-triana-2015Triana’s biggest annual street party – the Velá de Santiago y Santa Ana – will be held next week July 21st – 26th with dozens of activities and concerts planned.

Dating from the thirteenth century, the Velá is celebrated every year in late July and Sevillianos flock to the “other side” of the river to enjoy this traditional week-long summer festival.

Plaza Altozano and the surrounding streets are at the center of the fiesta, particularly Betis street, where there are food and craft booths and a small fun fair for children. It’s a great place to stroll, have a beer or a glass of fino with some “pescaito frito” and sample the traditional green hazelnuts.

A Day at the Fair

feria 2015 (1)portada

feria 2015 (10)bubbles

feria 2015 (9)striking a pose

feria 2015 (6)elegant amazonas

feria 2015 (5)amazonas sharing lipstick

feria 2015 (4)thirsty work being an amazona

feria 2015 (3)mutual respect

feria 2015 (8)standing having a cold beer (while others had VIP seating)

feria 2015 (7)deceptively benign looking ride

feria 2015 (2)la noria

photos from my azahar Instagram account

It’s Sevilla’s Biggest Party…

feria 2015 (1)… and you’re not invited.  😉

Okay, not quite. You are very welcome to go to the Feria but unless you know someone with a caseta (the little stripy marquees) then you will end up crushed into one of the 19 large public ones. With over 1,000 private casetas that’s a lot of exclusion, which seems not very in keeping with what is meant to be a festive local event. Sound like sour grapes? Well, it isn’t. When I first moved to Sevilla over 22 years ago I found myself invited to Feria all the time, including the “noche del pescaíto“, followed by the “alumbrao” (lighting up of the gate and grounds at midnight on the Monday) and all-night partying. There would also be (private) lunches and long evenings going from (private) caseta to (private) caseta. I don’t know when it got tedious for me, but after a few years of this I would make my excuses when the invations came in, and limited my feria-going to one afternoon of taking photos of the splendid horses and colourful flamenco dresses.

feria 2015 (2)

This year I did something a bit different, which was to take in the “pre-feria” on the weekend before the official opening. To be honest, I didn’t know you could just walk in or that the casetas would be open for business. But I was there with a friend taking some photos of the portada and we saw people wandering in, so we did too. Many of the casetas were still having finishing touches done, but we saw several (private) ones full of people and then came across the large Distrito Casca Antiguo and, since it was open, decided to stop in for a beer. The calm before the storm.

feria 2015 (3)As I sit here writing this a few invitations to meet at the Feria have come in by email or text message.  And the other day I was even asked to do a radio interview about Feria (!!) which I turned down for obvious reasons (I don’t think it would have been the interview they were looking for). But you never know. I may end up popping over to people and horse watch for awhile. And before you write me off as a grumpy anti-feriante, I’ve already booked some time off to spend a couple of days at the feria in Jerez, where the casetas are open to everyone and the horses are especially beautiful. Just feels friendlier there somehow.

Feria de Abril
April 21 – 26th

 

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