In the religion class I took last semester, we went on excursions every Wednesday in areas of Seville with rich religious history. These included not only the more obvious sites like the Cathedral, but also La Cartuja, which today is a modern art museum, but in antiquity was a monastery. We had to do reflections summarizing those visits, so I thought I’d do a post summarizing and translating some of my reflections on those visits:
1) El Antiquarium de Sevilla: For our first excursion, we went to the Antiquarium, an area of ancient Roman architecture that construction workers uncovered building a modern work of Architecture in the center of Seville (today called Las Setas). I could not believe that there were vestiges of Roman architecture so well preserved. The most interesting things we learned that day is that when something is lower (more buried) in the earth, it means it is older. For this reason, all of the Roman ruins in Sevilla are under the city level of today- and for this reason, the Antiquarium is under Las Setas.
2) The Archaeological Museum of Seville: It was very interesting to see art from the Roman era. We saw statues of Mercury, the messenger of the gods and Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt. Both sculptures were very detailed and impressive. It is almost impossible to believe that someone could have made something so complex out of marble. We also saw other types of art such as mosaics and ceramics.
3) The Barrio Santa Cruz y Hospital de los Venerables: We went on a walk to view what remains of the Jewish religion in Spain, and it was surprising how little remains, especially growing up in Orlando. In the whole city of Seville, there are less than 100 Jews. It was interesting to learn about Jews in Spain – I already knew that in the olden days, jewish people tended to live in a ghetto separated from other religions, but what I didn’t know was that during certain ceremonies (like Holy Week), the Jews were not allowed to leave the ghetto, for their own safety supposedly. That day we also went to the Hospital de los Venerables, which used to be a residence for old priests. The church inside this residence was truly impressive. They have sanctified it, so it was easy to enter and look around this beautiful baroque work of art (Sevilla and Baroque are almost synonymous)
4) La torre del oro y other Islamic vestiges in Seville
The torre del oro was originally constructed to be a defensive military tower and was constructed outside of city walls. The part of the torre del oro at the bottom is Arabic, while the second level was constructed under the orders of king Pedro I and the third level in the 18th century (this is an example of what we learned earlier about older things being lower down). Nowadays the torre del oro is a naval museum which contains various artefacts of the naval history of Spain during its prime until the devastating defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588. There are many legends surrounding the torre del oro. It is called the “tower of gold” not because of the light color of its bricks, but because there was a legend that all of the gold found in America was kept in this tower. Obviously now a days we know there WAS no gold taken from America, that no “El Dorado” was ever found, and what little they did find went to the treasury. There is also an interesting legend that king Pedro I brought his mistresses to the tower. The most interesting part of the tower today is the excellent view of the river you get when you climb to the top.
5) El Castillo de San Jorge (museo de la Inquisición): Let me just say very quickly that although this museum is free, it is not worth it unless you are in Seville for a year as I am or trying to avoid the rain like when I took Emma. It’s pretty boring. Anyway, Spain is infamous for its Inquisition, and because of learning about it in School I had a strong mental picture of stake burnings and torture machines. The most shocking thing we learned about the Inquisition is that it wasn’t really that cruel. We learned that torture was allowed, but the terrible machines or horrible practices that come to mind weren’t common. More frequent than cutting off a limb was something like sleep deprivation. The Castillo de San Jorge is now a museum but first it was a cemetery, later being converted to a castle, a parrish, and later the seat of an Inquisition tribunal.
6) Real Alcázar: I had already been, but we also went this palace, which sometimes the royal family still uses when they come to Seville. This makes the Alcázar one of the oldest used palaces. There are multiple architectural styles in the Alcázar, such as Renaissance and mudéjar, but also grotesque and baroque. Pedro I imitated the Arabic style in the part he constructed between 1364 and 1367, and it was Alfonso the Wise who ordered the construction of the Gothic part. The gardens contain the best example of the grotesque style, but my favorite is the arte mudéjar, a unique style with both Muslim and Christian influences. The Alcázar is filled with symbols of the power of Spain and Christianity, such as the columns of Hercules and the phrase “Plus Ultra,” the motto of Spain: “The motto was used to encourage Spanish explorers to go beyond the Pillars of Hercules and on to the New World. Today the inscription, along with the Pillars of Hercules, is featured on both the national flag and emblem of modern Spain. It was also featured on the shield of the Second Spanish Republic.” The Alcázar is also filled with the symbols of Castilla and León. Any visitor to the palace could see clearly who had the power there.
7) Fine Arts Museum: Sevilla was the home for many famous Spanish painters, such as Murillo, who was Sevillano and Zuzubaro who lived here. Because back in the olden days, artists were always paid by patrons with complete control over the work, and the money came principally from churches and religious orders, a lot of paintings had religious themes. We saw lots of religious paintings with deep religious symbolism that I feel too lazy to translate, if anyone is that interested maybe google can do it. Vimos una pintura dorada con San Cristóbal representado como un gigante porque según la leyenda, llevó a Cristo cruzando al río. En esta misma pintura, vimos un globo que demuestra que en está época se sabían que el mundo era redondo! Solamente pensaron que Cristobal Colón estaba equivocado sobre la distancia a India. Más símbolos que vimos era San Juan Bautista con un cordero que suele representar a Jesús y muchas representaciones de Cristo con un herido en su pecho que significa sus “cinco llagas.” Además, vimos un tríptico con una María desmayada y el cráneo de Adán. Eso era polémico, porque había algunos que afirmaron que María sí había desmayada y otros que afirmaron que no. También, el cráneo era llamativo porque representa la leyenda que Adán estaba enterrado al pie de la cruz de Jesús. También vimos una pintura dramática del juicio final, representando San Juan Bautista como el acusador, la Virgen María como la abogada, y Jesús como el juez. My two favorite artistes were Zurbarán and Murillo, the masters. Murillo has a baroque style, but softer and sweeter- Murillo was my favorite because his works are interesting even for non-Christians. I am not religious, but I could still appreciate the beauty and human emotions in his works.
8) The Cathedral: There is nothing that better demonstrates the splendor and triumph of the Catholic Church in Seville than its Cathedral. It is the 3rd largest Cathedral in the world (after those in the Vatican and London). It is chiefly of late Gothic style, but also contains elements of Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture. The Giralda is partly arte mudéjar because the building was actually a Mosque before it was a Cathedral. There are tons of smaller chapels in the Cathedral, one with the tomb of Saint Ferdinand, the founder of Seville. His body is preserved, and in May, Sevillanos can enter and see it! Also contained in the Cathedral is the tomb and remains of Christopher Columbus, although this is fought over between Spain and the Dominican Republic, who say that THEY have the real remains. Something really cool we learned about the outside is that there is old graffiti on the walls of the Cathedral, from students in the 17th and 18th century. After they graduated, they celebrated by writing their names on the Cathedral wall.
9) The Cartuja: For our last visit, we went to the Cartuja, an ancient monastery that is now a contemporary art museum. When it was a monastery, it was of the order of the Cartujos (Carthusians?), the strictest order of the Catholics. They lived a life of contemplation, focused on the separation from the world – praying multiple times a day, studying a lot, and abstaining from all luxuries. When the French invaded Spain in 1801, they kicked out the monks and the French troops stayed there. Later, the building converted into a monastery again, but after that the building became a ceramic factory. Another surprising historical detail is that Christopher Columbus lived there, and was originally buried there before arriving at the Cathedral. While the art there is lacking, the history of the building makes it worth a visit.