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.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Contemporary art invigorates former Carthusian monastery

The giant “Alice” by Cristina Lucas is indeed stuck in a curiously odd place on the Isla de la Cartuja.¬†Sevilla is bustling on one side of the Guadalquivir, but crossing the river on foot to this part of the island at first appears to be heading into somewhat of a remote no-man’s land.

For centuries, much of the clay for the city’s azulejos came from the island. In 1400, Archbishop Gonzalo de Mena chose the location for a Carthusian monastery. The founding of Monasterio de la Cartuja was in the nick of time to provide a suitable permanent home for the archbishop to rest, as he died in 1401. Christopher Columbus’ body was placed in the Capilla de Santa Ana from 1509 to 1536, but the archbishop’s tomb in the Capilla de la Magdalena Chapel is not the only one remaining within the ancient walls of the monastery.

Patrons of the monastic order, members of the Ribera family reside in sculpturally rich tombs dating from the 16th century and dominating the Sala Capitular. The 15th-century chapel with its colorful tiles serves a prime example of Mudejar architecture. Some of the bizarre images incorporated in the ornate motifs surrounding the tombs appear as though they emerged from the mind of someone who swilled some Wonderland “drink me” potion.

Government seizure of ecclesiastical property in 1836 left the monastery available. Englishman Charles Pickman rented and soon purchased the property to manufacture La Cartuja de Sevilla Pottery. Enormous brick chimneys erected there demonstrate both the size and modernity of the production facilities. In addition to tiles reflecting the city’s heritage, the facility produced mass-market earthenware dish patterns. A wall of rows of tiles serves as an outdoor “showroom” of sorts of the patterns available from La Cartuja.

The pottery factory still is in operation elsewhere in Seville, while the monastery and its grounds were refurbished when the city hosted the Universal Exhibition of 1992. Today the monastery is home to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo.

Instead of turning left into “Argadedinam” or “Ebajodelaban” to explore the contemporary cultural center, it is wise to follow the right arrow on the whimsical directional sign. In addition to visual art, the caf√© on the grounds is often a site for weekend jazz concerts.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: If a resident peacock fanned his tail inside Real Alcazar, would anyone even notice?

According to traditional Western norms of design, seemingly incongruous combinations of floor-to-ceiling colors, textures and materials create a remarkable feast for the eyes in the Alcazar Palace.

In 913, in what had been the ancient Roman city of Hispalis, the ruling Caliph of Cordoba ordered the center of government be established on this site. His successors further embellished the palace and expanded it toward the Guadalquivir River.

When the Castilians under Ferdinand III (1199-1252) gained control of the territory in 1248, portions, but not quite all, of the original palace were lost as Christian rulers sought to imprint their taste and traditions onto the site.

Pedro I (1334-1369), either called Pedro el Cruel or Pedro el Justo depending on which version of history one sides, had a lot of complications in his life. In addition to those continually and violently contesting his throne, Pedro as a young ruler was coerced into several arranged politically advantageous marriages despite his obvious love of Maria de Padilla (1334-1361).

Before Pedro’s half-brother, Henry II of Castile (1334-1379) dealt him fatal blows, Pedro made extensive use of the talented artisans and craftsmen on hand in Sevilla to build a palace luxurious enough for him and his mistress. The Mudejar alterations resulting from the Moorish architects employed by the Christian king produced handsome results.

The Alcazar’s contradicting yet complimentary architectural styles represent an evolutionary melding of royal whims from 11th-century Moors through 13th-century Gothic, 14th-century Mudejar and the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries. The ruling Bourbons made further architectural alterations to suit their 19th-century tastes and residential requirements.

Real Alcazar is where Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) contracted with Christopher Columbus to finance his explorations. The palace was the setting chosen for Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) to meet and marry Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539) in 1526. Today, portions of the palace still function as an official royal residence of the Spanish monarchy.

In addition to actual history-making events, the palace and grounds of Real Alcazar have lent their magical atmosphere to diverse film and television projects from Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 to several seasons of Game of Thrones.

And lo, the azulejos. What tiles are found throughout.