Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Former Convent home to Bellas Artes

The former Convent of Merced Calzada dates from the early 1600s, but since 1841 it has been open to the public as the Museo de Bellas Artes.

The fine arts museum originally preserved and showcased works from closed convents and monasteries around Seville. The collection has grown through the years and includes works by some of the most famous painters associated with the city – Murillo, Zurbaran and Leal.

Not uncharacteristically, I often found myself distracted by the tilework and the devils in the details.

As we were headed into the season of Semana Santa processions, the paintings of enormous horse-drawn floats from 18th-century Seville proved of particular interest. Although these bacchanalian-themed floats appear to be more closely associated with rowdy pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations.

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.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The patron saint of nerds doesn’t stand a chance against the mighty tile Mary

The patron saint of Sevilla is San Isidro, Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636), Archbishop of Sevilla. I failed to find what miracles were credited to him to attain sainthood, and I think he died a natural death. His major accomplishment was his encyclopedic Etymologiae, collecting and preserving numerous early written works of antiquity.

But, wandering the streets of Sevilla, it is obvious La Virgen reigns. She lords over everything everywhere. Upon arriving, I decided to snap a photo of every tile mural of her I encountered.

It quickly became apparent that was absurd. Although the Mister is patient, we would have to stop at almost every corner to accomplish that. Plus, how many photos are allowed in one blog post?

But today might be the time for San Isidro’s popularity to soar. Au courant, he is the patron saint of the Internet, computers and nerds.

From now on, I will try to utter San Isidro’s name when I encounter computer frustration instead of my usual over-employed four-letter words.

The poor saint does not stand much of a chance in Sevilla though. Internet powers pale next to the beauty of the abundant tile tributes to the Virgin Mary found along her streets.

Many more azulejo postcards, not all La Virgen, will be posted in the coming weeks….