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: 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 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.