A house in Seville is the reward of those beloved by the gods. In Toledo you are made reflective, perchance a little melancholy, while in Granada you are infected by the spirit of a past long dead. But in fair, sunlit Seville you live in the present as well as in the past; and your heart
is made light by the pervasive gaiety of the people and the cheerfulness of the streets and plazas.
Climb the beautiful Giralda–the brown tower of the Moors that rises above the cathedral dome–and look around upon the vegas, and away to the blue mountains of the horizon, and you will know why Borrow was moved to shed “tears of rapture,” when he gazed upon this delightful land of the Blessed Virgin and the happy city, with its minarets, its palm-shaded squares, its luxuriant gardens, and broad stream, winding between green banks to the distant marshes, where rice and cotton grow, and the flamingo and heron fly over sparkling lagoons amid a tropical jungle.
Seville in spring is gay to hilarity. The great fair and the Easter ceremonials and _fêtes_ attract thousands to the capital of Andalusia at the season when the banks of the Guadalquivir are white with the bloom of the orange-trees, and hundreds of nightingales make the evening breezes melodious; when the heat is bearable, the sky a deep azure, and the whole town festive, and bright with the costumes of many provinces. No blight of east wind depresses in early spring, and rarely indeed is the promise of roses and fruit threatened by frost in this region of perennial mildness and sunlight. “Only once have I seen ice in Seville,” said to me a middle-aged native of the place. It is only the winter floods, those great _avenidas_, that are readed in Seville; for now and then the river swells out of normal bounds, and spreads into the streets and alleys.
Seville is a white city in most of its modern parts. Lime-wash is used profusely everywhere, and the effect is cool and cleanly; but we wish sometimes that the natural colour of the stonework had been left free from the _brocha del blanquedor_, or the whitewasher’s brush. Nevertheless, this whiteness hides dirt and dinginess. There are no squalid slums in Seville. The poor are there in swarms, but their poverty is not ugly and obvious, and for the greater part they are clad in cotton that is often washed.
This is the town of beautiful southern doñas: the true types of Andalusian loveliness may be seen here in the park, on the promenade, and at the services in the cathedral–women with black or white mantillas, olive or pale in complexion, with full, dark eyes, copious raven hair, short and rather plump in form, but always charming in their carriage. More picturesque and often more lovely in features are the working girls, those vivacious, intelligent daughters of the people, whose dark hair is adorned with a carnation or a rose.
The lightheartedness of Seville has expression in music, dancing, and merry forgatherings each evening in the _patios_, when the guitar murmurs sweetly, and the click of the castanets sets the blood tingling. Everyone in Seville dances. The children dance almost as soon as they learn to toddle. In the _cafés_ you will see the nimblest dancers of Spain, and follow the intricate movements of the bolero, as well as the curious swaying and posturings of the older Moorish dances. These strange dramatic dances must be seen, and to witness them you should visit the Novedades at the end of Calle de las Sierpes.
Fashionable Seville delights in driving, and some of the wealthiest residents drive a team of gaily-decked, sleek-coated mules, with bells jangling on their bridles. Beautiful horses with Arab blood may be seen here. Even the asses are well-bred and big. But one sees also many ill-fed and sadly over-driven horses and mules. These people, so affectionate in their family life, so kindly in their entertainment of foreigners, and so graciously good-natured, have not yet learned one of the last lessons of humane civilisation–compassion for the animals that serve them.
Society in Seville takes its pleasure seriously, but the seriousness is
not the dullness that attends the Englishman’s attempts at hilarity. The
Spaniard is less demonstrative than the Frenchman, less mercurial than
the Italian. Notwithstanding, the crowd at the races, at the battle of
flowers, or watching the religious processions, or at the opera, is
happy in its quiet intentness. The enthusiasm for bullfighting is
perhaps the strongest visible emotion in Seville, the Alma Mater of the
champions of the arena. At the _corrida_ the Sevillian allows himself
to become excited. He loses his restraint, he shouts himself hoarse,
waves his hat, and thrashes the wooden seats with his cane in the
ecstasy of his delight, when a great performer plunges his sword into
the vital spot of the furious bull that tears the earth with its foot,
and prepares for a charge.
Bullfights, gorgeous ecclesiastic spectacles, and dancing–these are the
recreations of rich and poor alike in Seville to-day. In this city of
pleasure you will see the _majo_, the Andalusian dandy, as he struts up
and down the Sierpes–the only busy street of shops–spruce,
self-conscious, casting fervent glances at the señoras accompanied by
their duennas. Go into the meaner alleys and market streets, and you
will see the very vagrants that Murillo painted, tattered wastrels who
address one another as Señor, and hold licences to beg. Cross the Bridge
of Isabella to the suburb of Triana, and you will find a mixed and
curious population of mendicants, thieves, desperadoes, and a colony of
Gitanos, who live by clipping horses, hawking, fortune-telling, dancing
Peep through the delicate trellises of the Moorish gates of the patios,
and you will see fountains, and flowers, and palms, and the slender
columns supporting galleries, as in the Alhambra and other ancient
buildings. Very delightful are these cool courtyards, with their canvas
screens, ensuring shade at noonday, their splash of water, and their
scent of roses clustering on columns and clothing walls. Some of these
courtyards are open to the visitor, and one of the finest is the Casa de
Pilatos in the Plaza de Pilatos.
A pleasant garden within a court is that of my friend, Don J.
Lopez-Cepero, who lives in the old house of Murillo, and allows the
stranger to see his fine collection of pictures. Here Murillo died, in
1682, and some of his paintings are treasured in the gallery. The house
is Number Seven, Plaza de Alfaro.
We will now survey the Seville of olden days. No traces remain of
Seville’s earliest epochs. The Phoenician traditions are vague, and we
know little indeed of the Hispolo of the Greeks, a town which was
supposed to have stood on this ground. The Romans came here, and called
the town Julia Romula, and the remains of that age, if scanty, are
deeply interesting. Italica, five miles from the city, is a Roman
amphitheatre, with corridors, dens for the lions, and some defined
tiers of seats. At this great Roman station, Trajan, Hadrian, and
Theodosius were born. For other vestiges of the Roman rule, we must
visit the Museo Provincial, where there are capitals, statues, and
busts. The Pillars of Hercules in the Alaméda are other monuments of
this period of the history of Seville.
Vandals and Goths ravaged the Roman city. Then came Musâ, the Moor, who
besieged Seville, and captured it, afterwards marrying the widow of the
Gothic monarch. A succession of Moorish rulers governed the city for
several hundred years. One of the greatest was Motamid II., under whose
sway Seville became a prosperous and wealthy capital, with a vast
The Christians took the city in 1248, and expelled thousands of the
Mohammedans. Under the Spanish kings, Seville remained, for a
considerable spell, a royal city; and one of the most renowned of its
Christian sovereigns was Pedro the Cruel, who, while democratic in some
respects, was, on the other hand, a truculent tyrant. In administration
he was jealous and energetic, and though called “The Cruel,” he has also
been named “The Just.” Pedro lived in the Alcázar, the old palace which
we shall presently visit.
The monuments of the Moors in Seville are numerous. In the Alcázar are
courts of resplendent beauty, gilded and coloured in hundreds of
fantastic designs; arcades with horseshoe arches and graceful columns,
marble floors, fountains, and richly decorated doorways. The Giralda,
which is seen from many open spaces in the city, is a magnificent
specimen of the minaret, dating from 1184; and this tower, and the
adjoining Court of the Oranges, are parts of an ancient mosque. The
lower portion of the Golden Tower, by the Guadalquivir, was built by the
Moors. Many of the churches are built in the Mudéjar, or late Moorish
style, and most of them have elegant minarets, arched windows, and
interior decorations of an Oriental character.
The power of Seville diminished under the domination of the Catholic
kings, until the discovery of America by Cristoforo Colombo (Columbus),
who sailed from the city on his bold expedition, and was welcomed with
fervour upon his triumphal return. We think of the explorer setting
forth for a second voyage, with vessels equipped at the cost of Isabella
the Catholic, who profited so liberally by the conquest of the New
World, and we picture him in the days of neglect, when he suffered the
lot of those who put their trust in the promises of princes. It was
Columbus who made the Seville of the fifteenth century. The commercial
importance of the city, after the expulsion of the Moors, was
re-established through the great trade opened with America.
The fortunes of Seville at this period were bound up with those of the
revered Queen Isabel. Shakespeare styled her “queen of earthly queens,”
and Sir Francis Bacon praised her. She was tall, fair, and of most
amiable bearing, and she possessed many of the qualities of one born to
command. Unfortunately for Seville, the young queen was under the
domination of Cardinal Mendoza, and of Torquemada. It was Torquemada who
urged her to purify Spain from her heresy by means of torture and the
flame. Let it be said that Isabel did not comply willingly, and that she
strove more than once to check the cruelties of the Holy Office. The
first to suffer from the Inquisition in Seville were the Jews; then
followed a long and bitter persecution of heretics of the Protestant
faith, and a reign of terror among men of learning.
The Chapel of the Alcázar was built in the time of Isabel, and her
bedroom is still to be seen.
Charles V. loved the retirement of the Alcázar, and his marriage with
Isabella of Portugal was celebrated in the gorgeous Hall of the
Ambassadors. He made several additions to the palace, and directed the
planning of the exquisite gardens. Philip V. lived here for a time, and
he also caused alterations, and added to the curious mixture of
buildings within the walls of the Moorish palace.
There are so few signs of commercialism in the city that we gain an
impression that Seville only lives to amuse itself, and to entertain its
host of visitors. There are, however, industries of many kinds, and a
considerable export trade in various ores, in olive oil, fruit, wine,
and wool. The population is over one-hundred-and-fifty thousand. There
are several factories, and many craftsmen working in their homes.
The illustrious natives are numerous. Velazquez, the greatest painter of
Spain, if not of the world, was born here in 1599. Murillo was a
Sevillian, and so were the artists Pacheco, Herrera, and Roelas, and the
sculptor, Montañez. Lope de Rueda, one of the earliest Spanish
dramatists, lived here. Cervantes spent a part of his life in Seville,
and described the characters of the Macarena Quarter in his shorter
The house of the gifted Dean Pacheco, in Seville, was the resort of many
artists and notable men. This painter and cleric is chiefly remembered
as the teacher of Velazquez. He wrote discourses on the art of painting,
and trained a number of the Sevillian artists. The art of Murillo was
influenced by Juan del Castillo, who also taught Alonso Cano. Castillo
was born in Seville.
Francisco Herrera, born in 1622, studied in Rome, and upon his return to
Spain painted many pictures in Madrid. The Cordovan painter, Juan Valdés
Leal, lived for many years in Seville, and worked with Murillo to
establish an academy of painting in the city. There are many specimens
of his art in Seville. Juan de las Roelas was a Sevillian by birth
(1558-1625) and his “Santiago destroying the Moors” is in the chapter of
the cathedral, while many of the churches contain his pictures.
The Provincial Museum has an instructive collection of paintings of the
Andalusian School as well as the works of many artists of other
traditions. Murillo is represented by several paintings. There are some
fine examples of the art of Zurbaran, a sombre and realistic artist
whose work conveys the mediæval spirit of Spain, and is esteemed by many
students as more sincere than the art of Murillo. His finest pictures
are, perhaps, “San Hugo visiting the Monks,” “The Virgin of Las Cuevas,”
and “St Bruno conversing with Urban II.”
In the Museo is a portrait by El Greco, supposed erroneously to be the
painter himself. This is often appraised as the chief treasure of the
collection. Among the most admirable of the Spanish primitive painters
is Alejo Fernandez, whose work is to be seen in the cathedral, in the
churches of Seville and Triana. Fernandez is scarcely known out of
Spain, but art students will delight in his work, and everyone should
see the beautiful “Madonna and Child” in the Church of Santa Ana in
Triana, and the large altarpiece in San Julian.
The sculpture of Montañez merits very careful attention. His figure of
“St Bruno” stands in the Museo Provincial, and “St Dominic” is in the
south transept. “The Virgin and Child” and “John the Baptist” are in
this collection. In the sacristy of the cathedral is Montañez’ “Statue
of the Virgin.” This artist died in 1649, after a busy life. He carved
many images for the Church, and founded a school of wood-carving. Among
his pupils was the gifted Alonso Cano. The single figures by Montañez
are considered finer art than his groups. Most of his effigies are
The cathedral is a magnificent building, the largest in Spain, and
greater than St Paul’s in London. Gautier said that “Notre Dame de Paris
might walk erect in the middle nave.” There are seven naves with
monstrous columns, the loftiness of the interior conveying a sense of
vastness which has been often described by travellers. More than a
hundred years were spent in the building of this great church, and
several architects planned the various parts during that period. Ruiz
and Rodriguez designed the greater portion, and the last of the
architects was Juan Gil de Houtañon, who planned the cathedral of
Salamanca. The chief front is finely decorated, and has three portals,
with statue groups and reliefs. There is so much of beauty and interest
in the interior that I can only write briefly of a few of the most
notable objects. The stained windows number over seventy, and they are
chiefly by Aleman, a German, and by Flemish artists of the sixteenth
century. The choir altar has pictures, and a handsome plateresque
screen. There are splendidly carved stalls, and a notable lectern. The
sacristy is near the chief façade, with a high dome, several chapels,
and some interesting statues. The retablo is by Roldan, a follower of
Murillo’s “Vision of the Holy Child” is in the Capella del Bautisterio.
In the Royal Chapel, which is interesting Renaissance work, richly
ornamented, there are the tomb of Alfonso the Wise, and an old figure of
the Virgin. Pedro Campaña’s altarpiece, in the Capilla del Mariscal,
should be seen. In the south transept is the noted “La Gamba,” a
painting by Luis de Vargas. The ornate Sala Capitular has the
“Conception,” by Murillo, and a painting by Pablo de Céspedes, who was a
sculptor, poet, and painter, born at Cordova, and made a canon of the
cathedral in that city. Céspedes was a fine portrait painter, and has
been described as “one of the best colourists of Spain.”
The Sacristy de las Calices of the Capilla de Nuestra Senora de las
Dolores contains Goya’s well-known painting of Saints Justa and Rufina,
the potter-girls who were martyred by the Romans. Here also will be seen
a picture by Zurbaran; “The Trinity,” by El Greco, the crucifix carved
by Montañez, and a “Guardian Angel,” by Murillo. The Capilla de Santiago
has paintings by the early artists Valdés Leal and Juan de las Roelas.
Close to the cathedral is the semi-Moorish Alcázar, with its strangely
mingled styles of architecture. The buildings are in part a fortress,
while within the walls are portions of a palace of the sultans and a
residence of Christian kings. The rich frontage of Pedro’s palace is
composite, and probably only the gate is purely Moorish. In the Court of
the Maidens there is much gorgeous decoration. As in the Alhambra, we
see the characteristic gallery with delicate columns, and arches with
ornamental inscriptions. The Hall of the Ambassadors is the pride of the
Alcázar. Here again we shall notice several orders of architecture, but
the effect is impressive. The portals are sumptuous, and the whole place
and decorations suggest the opulence and might of the early Catholic
I like the old gardens of the Alcázar, with their tiled walks, their
clustering roses, their alcoves and arbours, and quaint fountains, all
enclosed by an ancient wall. Here sultans dreamed, and kings retired
from the cares of government, to breathe the scented air of evening.
Quiet reigns in these flowery courts, only the voices of birds are heard
among the orange-trees and tangled roses.
There are many beautifully adorned chambers in this palace of delight.
Alfonso, Pedro, Isabel, Charles, and Philip all reconstructed or added
to the wonderful pile first erected by Yusuf. The old buildings once
stretched to the river, the Golden Tower forming one of the defences.
Before the Moors came to Seville, a Roman prætorium stood on this
ground, and it was in 1181 that the Morisco architects began to plan the
Alcázar. Much of the present building is of Mudéjar, or late Moorish,
origin. The details that should be studied are the pillared windows, the
marble columns, the fine stalactite frieze, the arches, the azulejos of
dazzling colour, the choice decoration of the doors, the marble
pavements, and the half-orange domes–all representative of the art of
We must now inspect some more of the monuments of Seville. King Pedro’s
Church, Omnium Sanctorium, is an example of mixed Christian and
Mohammedan architecture, with a minaret and three portals. The
Ayuntamiento is an exceedingly flamboyant building in the Plaza de la
Constitucion, with two façades, one of them fronting the Plaza de San
Fernando. The older and finer front was designed by Riaño.
The Archbishop’s Palace, which dates from the seventeenth century, is
not a good example of the plateresque style. The only picture in Seville
by Velazquez, a much restored canvas, is in the palace. The Lonja
(Exchange) was built by Philip II., and finished about 1598. It is a
square, imposing structure, but scarcely beautiful in form or
decoration. A splendid doorway, very luxuriantly decorated, is that of
the Palace of San Telmo, where there are very lovely gardens.
The modern life of Seville concentrates in the two principal plazas, in
the Calle de las Sierpes, and in the Park of Maria Luisa. Very pleasant
are the palm-shaded squares and the walks by the Guadalquivir. In the
tortuous white alleys you come unexpectedly upon charming wrought-iron
gates, through which you catch glimpses of cheerful patios. Some of
these lanes are so narrow that a pannier-mule almost bars your road. And
above this fair city the sun shines almost perpetually, while the
smokeless air has a wonderful clarity.
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan