Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Tiles turn advertisements into enduring street art

Members of the Sanchis family opened El Cronometro watch shop on Calle Sierpes in 1901. Their investment in this monumental wood and tile advertisement must have been substantial, although surely the Swiss watchmaker Longines underwrote some of the expense. Even if the store closed its doors, it is doubtful Sevillanos would permit the sign to be removed. The commercial advertisement has become a cherished part of the streetscape.

On the same street, Zacarias Zulategui commissioned Ceramica Santa Ana to add two tile advertisements for Armeria Z and Deportes Z. His gun shop and sports store have disappeared, but the ads remain. Women no longer roll cigars inside the Fabrica Real de Tabacos, but the tile sign still is embedded in the wall. The last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in 1966, but the Studebaker mural in Seville endures.

In Seville, the art form has never gone out of fashion. Azulejos are so durable, they are used for street signs. The vintage look is a favorite of producers of alcoholic beverages, who find their installation is embraced as part of the streetscape. Restaurants, bars and shops continue to turn to Seville’s ceramicists to announce their presence to passers-by.

And you have to admire the cleverness of the tavern-owner whose frugal three-tile B-A-R sign takes full advantage of the azulejos above it depicting a graceful Virgin Mary protecting the Spanish fleet. The juxtaposition makes the establishment appear particularly blessed.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The celebrated potters of Triana

“Saints Justa and Rufina” (detail above) by Francisco de Goya hangs in the Cathedral of Seville.

The most revered potters of Seville made their living in the area known as Triana in the third century – Santa Justa and Santa Rufina. During a festival, the sisters purportedly refused to sell any of their wares for use in pagan celebrations. In anger, those who had been refused service broke all of the pair’s ceramics. And, in the spirit of an eye for an eye, the sisters retaliated by smashing a statue of Venus.

The city’s prefect imprisoned the sisters and demanded they renounce their Christian beliefs. They refused, so their deprivation of food and water and various stages of torture began. Barefoot marches, the rack, hooks. Their faith remained steadfast.

Justa finally starved to death, and still Rufina refused to surrender to the prefect’s demands. Rufina was cast into the public amphitheater with a lion, but the fierce lion supposedly demurred attacking and purred at her instead. The frustrated prefect finally resorted to beheading, a method that proved effective at ending Rufina’s life.

With clay from nearby Isla de Cartuja, the Triana neighborhood on the left bank of the river remained Seville’s center for ceramics and azulejos for centuries. In 2014, the former Ceramica Santa Ana factory reopened as the Centro Ceramica Triana. The museum traces the regional history of tiles from the earliest known examples through the 20th-century.