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.

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)…
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[José Manuel & Lupi]

It’s not every morning you pass a guy in the street with a hooded raptor perched on his arm (to be honest, it had never happened before today). And so of course I had to stop and ask him what he was doing there with such a splendid bird. Turns out they were both working! They were standing just below the Metropol Parasol (aka The Mushrooms) and apparently José Manuel lets the beautiful Lupi loose on a regular basis to swoop around the Parasols and return to her perch, thereby keeping pigeons from roosting. Amazing! When you think about it, the Parasols would make a great pigeon hang-out and yet there are never any there. Thanks to Lupi and José Manuel.

It was only afterwards that I realised I had more questions. Are there several pigeon prevention teams that work on shifts, or are a few hours a day with a hawk shadow passing over the structure enough to keep pigeons away? Does Lupi also hunt and kill or just maintain a menacing presence? And who the hell thought this up? I think it’s brilliant. Clearly the entrepreneurial spirit in Sevilla is not dead!

Noches en Los Jardines del Real Alcázar

Tickets go on sale today for the 13th edition of night concerts in the gardens of the Alcazar Royal Palace. The concerts begin on Monday June 11th and range from medieval and classical music to flamenco, world folk, jazz and blues.

This year there will be 75 concerts and tickets for each week’s programme can be purchased from the beginning of the previous week at the palace ticket office in Patio de Banderas or online. Ticket prices are 4€ or 5€ if you book by internet, no more than 7 tickets can be purchased by one person (per concert) and children under 8 are not admitted.

The entrance for the concerts is the Puerta Alcoba on the Paseo de Catalina, just off calle San Fernando. They begin at 10.30 but you can go into the gardens from 9 o’clock and enjoy a stroll and a drink at the bar inside. Admittance is not allowed after 10.25.

If you’ve never seen the gardens lit up at night it’s worth the price of admission alone, and the concert setting is truly magical.

Noches en Los Jardines del Real Alcázar
June Programme
July Programme
August Programme

Nights at the Royal Alcazar Gardens


Tonight was the first in the summer-long series of night-time concerts in the magical  Royal Alcázar Gardens.

The music ranges from medieval, renaissance and baroque to classical, jazz, cuban and blues and the setting is exquisite.

Make sure to buy your tickets in advance as they tend to sell out quickly. Tickets are 4 euros or 5 euros by internet.

Noches en los Jardines del Real Alcázar





Metropol Parasol


This past Sunday was the official opening of the Metropol Parasol – aka Las Setas (wild mushrooms). I stayed away from the celebrations but snapped this pic of it yesterday once everything was back to the usual work-a-day crowds. While it was going up, which took years, I hated the damn thing as much as everyone else seemed to and couldn’t imagine how such a monstrosity would “fit” into such a beautiful old city as Sevilla. Though it’s actually sitting in the middle of the Encarnación Plaza, which had its heart and soul cut out of it during a fit of sixties “rebuilding” which destroyed palaces and old houses and left a strip of hideous office buildings and storefronts. But I digress…

The Setas (how can you not call them that?) are on the original site of the Encarnación Market which was levelled and moved to a “temporary” site next door … about 35 years ago. I don’t know the whole story there other than the original site was pretty much a parking lot when I first moved to Sevilla in 1993, then they started digging it up and discovered ruins that held up any building for several years. And then they started constructing The Setas.

The market was shifted over just before Christmas last year and although the building is now officially “open” there’s still some construction going on. When the scaffolding first started coming down, unveiling the first seta (in the foreground of the photo) I was startled to find myself liking how elegant it looked, swooping up towards the sky. But as more of the structure became visible I became less entranced. So I remain undecided. I guess the real test will be how well the site ends up being used. Aside from the market there will be bars and restaurants (coming soon!), and there’s a big shaded area up on the first level which has a small playground for children, benches for adults, and will apparently be used for concerts. There is also a walkway along top of the structure with panoramic views of the city which residents of Sevilla will be able to access free of charge. Anyhow, for better or worse, there it is.

What do you think?

Castillo de San Jorge

Visitors to Sevilla are usually surprised and even amused to come across “inquisition alley” in Triana for the first time, and will often make the usual Monty Python Spanish Inquisition jokes, but of course the sobering reality is far from anything amusing.

For almost three hundred years (1481 – 1785) the Castillo de San Jorge was the Seat of the Holy Inquisition in Spain where thousands of men and women from all walks of life were imprisoned and tortured. Its sinister image became the iconic symbol for the Inquisition throughout Europe.

In 1990 the city of Sevilla began work on renovating the old Triana Market and unearthed the remains of the castle. Today it stands as a monument to tolerance and calls itself a place for reflection, inviting us to remember the past in order to prevent such totalitarian abuse of power happening again.

The exhibit is distributed over two floors and includes an interactive room containing three spaces (Value Judgements, The Abuse of Power, The Victims), artefacts from the castle, archaeological remains and historical data.

There is also a Gallery of Key Figures that pays homage to some of the most representative figures of the Inquisition.

I finally stopped by for a visit yesterday (it opened this past spring) and found it very well done and even inspirational. The info pamphlet says that “You are the main protagonist of this story. This is your history” and goes on to explain that the essential aim of the exhibit is to transfer the lessons learnt from these historical facts to the motivations and concerns of our present day society. All the written information is displayed in both Spanish and English and admission is free.

[click to enlarge collage]

Castillo de San Jorge

Monday-Friday 10.00-14.00h / 17.00-19.00h
Saturday, Sunday & holidays 10.00-15.00h
Castillo de San Jorge Blog

Plaza de España

After YEARS of restoration work the beautiful Plaza de España reopened this past weekend. I waited until Monday to check it out and tried to recreate the first time I ever saw the plaza, back in September 1993. I’d seen it on my map so I knew it was a semi-circular building and I’d read that it was designed by Anibal Gonzalez and built as the Spanish pavillion for the 1929 Ibero-American Expo, but nothing had prepared me for what I saw when I turned the corner of the North Tower…
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