Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: A trio of Mudejar-Renaissance palaces

Elderly and disabled priests needed a suitable place to live out their lives, so the Brotherhood of Silence undertook construction of an elegant residence to accommodate them in 1675 – Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes, or the Hospital of Venerable Priests. No expense appears spared during the Baroque palace, with altars and murals by some of Spain’s most famous artists. The project was completed under the direction of architect Leonardo de Figueroa (1650-1730), who designed San Luis de los Franceses. The former residence of aging priests was restored by the Focus Foundation in the late 1980s and now serves as the foundation’s headquarters and as an elegant exhibition space for the impressive artwork of the collection of its Velazquez Centre as well as contemporary acquisitions.

Among the numerous private palaces open to the public by its owners is Casa de Salinas. The 16th-century Mudejar-Renaissance style palace was purchased and restored by the Salinas family in the 20th-century. As in Casa Lebrija, Roman mosaic flooring found its way from an ancient site into a private home.

Another palace with origins in the 15th century is the Casa de las Duenas. In 1496, the house was sold to a member of the de Ribera family, and its rich combination of mudejar and Renaissance architectural details resembles the family’s Casa de Pilatos. Later, a Ribera descendant married a Duke of Alba, transferring the palace to the House of Alba.

The architectural interest of the house is perhaps overshadowed by the flamboyance of one of its owners, the 18th Duchess of Alba, who died in 2014 at the age of 88. The long-named María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva Falco y Gurtubay also was multi-titled. According to Cayetana’s obituary in The Telegraph:

According to the Guinness Book of Records, she had more titles than any other person on the planet, being a duchess seven times over, a countess 22 times and a marquesa 24 times. Yet the Duchess always insisted she was not rich: “I have a lot of artworks, but I can’t eat them, can I?” she once said. Apart from thousands of paintings by Goya, Velazquez, Titian and others lining the walls of her numerous palaces, her collection included a first edition of Don Quixote, Columbus’s first map of America and the last will and testament of Ferdinand the Catholic, the father of Catherine of Aragon.

Her first wedding in 1947 to a son of the Duke of Sotomayor was held in the Cathedral of Seville, according to The Telegraph, the opulent ceremony:

…cost an estimated £2 million in today’s terms and was described at the time as “the most expensive wedding in the world.” The ceremony was so grand that there was concern it would overshadow the nuptials of Britain’s future Queen, held a month later in austerity Britain. The bride wore a white satin gown (view here) modelled on the dress worn by Napoleon III’s bride Empress Eugenie (1826-1920).

The couple had six children, with only one rumored to be fathered not by her husband but by a flamenco dancer. After her husband’s death in 1972, she next wed a former Jesuit priest 11 years younger than she. Outliving him as well, she shocked society, and her children, by marrying a civil servant 24 years younger in 2011. By then, much plastic surgery had transformed her former natural beauty into an almost cartoonish mask. The obituary includes photos of her with her final husband.

Most of her vast fortune, running into the billions, was divided amongst her children. One of her sons opened the first floor of the family residence to the public in 2016.

Postcard from Mexico City: A mountainous amount of history reflected in Chapultepec Palace

In 1725, the commanding Chapultepec hilltop rising steeply 200 feet above Mexico City was the site chosen by Viceroy Bernardo de Galvez (1746-1786) for his manor house. During the Mexican War of Independence, the site was abandoned. The Mexican government then remodeled it for use as a military academy.

Two hundred cadets, some as young as 13, were among the 1,000 Mexican soldiers guarding the citadel when General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) set his eyes on the target as a strategic asset facilitating the capture Mexico City during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848.) Following intensive shelling, American troops were able to scale the fortress and engage in bloody hand-to-hand combat with the defenders.

The costly victory for participating Marines is engrained deeply in the corps’ tradition, “From the halls of Montezuma….” For Mexicans, the battle heroes remembered are six brave cadets who refused to surrender. Fighting until the bitter end, one wrapped himself in the Mexican flag before leaping off the precipice so the flag would not be captured. Virtually every city in Mexico has an avenida memorializing the valor of the cadets, los ninos heroes.

Captured flags arouse countries, and the aging silk banner of the New Orleans Greys seized by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1794-1876) during the 1836 Battle of the Alamo is displayed in Chapultepec Castle today despite continual efforts to negotiate its return to San Antonio. History always is subject to the interpretation of the teller, and it is not surprising that the slant given the Mexican-American War in the United States differs slightly from the version presented in the museum housed in Chapultepec Castle.

For the United States, the war represented the fulfillment of its Manifest Destiny. As explained on the San Jacinto Monument, the Texians’ victory at the Battle of San Jacinto laid the foundation for the next violent chapter of relations between the neighbors:

Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.

With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the United States paid the Mexican government $15 million, or about $15 per square mile, for the land it now claimed.

The treaty meant Mexico lost half its territory for the same amount of money paid the French for the Louisiana Purchase. The interpretation at Chapultepec records the war as a land grab by its greedy neighbor, a war that cost many their lives. At the very bottom of the signage is a quotation from President Ulysses S. Grant, expressing shame for the “wicked” war.

Grant’s words, however, were not taken out of context. Here is a longer portion from an 1879 interview given by Grant:

I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not moral courage enough to resign…. I considered my supreme duty was to my flag. I had a horror of the Mexican War, and I have always believed that it was on our part most unjust. The wickedness was not in the way our soldiers conducted it, but in the conduct of our government in declaring war…. We had no claim on Mexico. Texas had no claim beyond the Nueces River, and yet we pushed on to the Rio Grande and crossed it. I am always ashamed of my country when I think of that invasion.

Another intrusion into Mexico’s sovereignty occurred soon after. The $15 million received from the United States did little to alleviate the debt Mexico incurred during the expensive war. President Benito Juarez defaulted on Mexico’s loans from France. A conspiracy between out-of-power Mexican conservatives and Napoleon III resulted in an 1862 invasion by France. The French were defeated in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, the reason for the annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

But that was one battle, not the entire war. While the United States was occupied fighting the Confederacy, France succeeded in installing Maximilian I, a Hapsburg prince, as Emperor of Mexico. Emperor Maximilian transformed the castle into his residential palace with a grand boulevard, now known as Paseo de la Reforma, leading into the heart of the city.

Not surprisingly, many in Mexico were not fond of having a foreign monarch with no command even of the Spanish language, and forces loyal to Benito Juarez executed him in 1867.

During the extended off-and-on terms of President Porfirio Diaz from 1876 to 1911, the castle served as his palatial headquarters as well. Amazingly, during the following tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution that followed, much of the opulent décor contributed by Maximilian and Diaz remained unscathed.

Chapultepec was declared a national museum in 1939.

Masterful murals depicting the revolutionary period were commissioned in the late 1950s to 1970s. Juan O’Gorman’s (1904-1982) murals commemorating Mexican independence were begun in 1960. Work by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974) was interrupted when he was imprisoned followed anti-government protests in 1960, and he completed his 175-foot mural after his release in 1964.