Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Lush park ringed with handsome leftovers from 1929 world’s fair

Infanta Maria Luisa Fernanda (1832-1897) was the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand VII (1784-1833) and his fourth wife. Following the death of her father, her older sister, herself but an infant, assumed the throne. The right of Queen Isabella II (1830-1904) to the throne was oft-disputed by other would-be kings.

The sisters suffered the same fate as many a royal princess – marriages arranged for political purpose. King Louis Philippe (1773-1850) of France managed to arrange a double wedding for the sisters, with 16-year-old Isabella marrying the Duke of Cadiz who was presumed to be homosexual and unlikely to conceive heirs and 14-year-old Maria Luisa wedding one of his sons who the king believed would provide heirs who would eventually inherit the Spanish throne.

Things did not turn out as King Louis Philippe schemed, but this post is not going to delve into paternity debates because the topic at hand is the result of the will of Maria Luisa, the Duchess of Montpensier. Upon her death, Seville’s Palace of San Telmo was left to the Archdiocese (Today it is the seat of the government of Andalusia). She left the extensive grounds of the palace to the city of Seville for use as a public park. The park was landscaped lushly and filled with fountains and benches.

Eager to celebrate its glory days of exploration and rich cultural heritage, Spain and the city of Seville spent 19 years planning a world’s fair, the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929-1930, utilizing portions of the immense park. Certainly the dominant structure built for the fair is Plaza de Espana, echoing the region’s Renaissance-Mudejar architectural traditions. The plaza fronting the structure is more than 12 acres in size. Forty-eight tiled alcoves around it represent the provinces of Spain.

The United States built three pavilions for the fair; llamas grazed outside the Peruvian pavilion filled with pre-Columbian artifacts; Brazil’s pavilion including coffee cultivation; Chile’s centered around replicas of a nitrate mine and copper plant. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ “Santa Maria” was docked on the Guadalquivir River. Things were looking bright for visitation at the fair until an unpredicted event out of the organizers’ control occurred – Black Tuesday. The stock market crash of 1929.

Some of the handsome leftover international pavilions now accommodate museums, including the Museum of Archaeology and the Museum of Art and Popular Costume. Plaza de Espana houses government offices but appears underutilized. Found myself wishing it would be rehabilitated into apartments so the plaza would be filled with locals enjoying the space instead of mainly tourists snapping selfies on the colorful azulejos benches. The gorgeous park and buildings seem removed from the fabric of daily life in Seville.

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