Postcard from Bordeaux, France: Pathways lined with petite houses for the dead

Founded in the 17th century, the Chartreuse Cemetery is the oldest above-ground cemetery in Bordeaux. Little stone chapels appear to have been the preferred permanent dwellings for the affluent of the city.

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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.

 

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Size foremost in the minds of Cathedral founders

In the year 1482, Pierre Dancart began carving the High Altar for the Cathedral of Seville, el Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. The enormous project probably consumed most of his life, as he did not finish until 44 years later. The sheer size of the altar overwhelms the vignettes from the Bible and lives of saints contained within it, such as the rather gory spearing of children above.

But size was what mattered most to those who determined to build the grand Cathedral in 1401.

Prior to that time, the site was occupied by a major mosque with a minaret designed by architect Ahamed ben Basso for Almodhad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1135-1185). When King Ferdinand III of Castile (1199-1252) conquered Sevilla in 1248, both the city and the mosque were Christianized. Chapels were inserted to convert the interior into a more Catholic appearing space.

Seville became a center of wealth, and the initial redo of the mosque was not as grandiose as the city’s leaders vision for the city. They wanted an awe-inspiring Cathedral, so work commenced.

The resulting Cathedral was built astride the mosque and inside some of the walls of its compound. The imposing edifice covers close to six acres, with the center transept soaring to a height equal to a 12-story building – by most measurements, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The minaret was converted into a bell tower, the Giralda, and rises more than 30 stories in height.

Perhaps some of the plans were more grandiose than practical. The center dome collapsed in 1511, only five years after its completion. Its replacement, however, lasted until an earthquake in 1888. The newest one was completed in 1903.

The Cathedral contains the tombs of several kings as well as that of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). The riches within are suitably impressive, and art includes works by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) and Francisco de Goya (1746-1828).

One can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Cathedral, or zoom in on the details, such as tiny shards of saints held in reliquaries or predatory, the Moorish lock on a door or wolves topping pilasters at one of the entrances.