A meeting of minds and Moorish magnificence by moonlight

Palacio Carlos V - a recent construction by the Alhambra's standards.

Palacio Carlos V – one of the more recent constructions by the Alhambra’s standards.

The circular interior of Charles V's palace. He was the first Holy Roman emperor and liked to make a statement.

The circular interior of Charles V’s palace – he was the first Holy Roman Emperor.

When you work from home, as I do, Social Media isn’t just for watching hilarious viral videos of animals falling off bicycles, comparing notes about X Factor, and poring over photos of your friends’ kids.

It’s a lifeline to other, like-minded people with the same interests, in the same field of work, often in broadly the same region. Anyone who sits alone in their house, shuttered away in an office/cubbyhole/sitting room/garden shed in front of a computer for a large part of the day, will know what it feels like to operate in a vacuum. Noone else to bounce ideas off, commiserate, celebrate, or just ruminate with.

So, when you’re largely isolated, and you live abroad too, an online forum of people who live in the same country as you, speak the same language as you, and have an enormous collective knowledge base to which you contribute and which you benefit from, is a godsend.

I’m lucky enough to be a member of one such Facebook group. Who’d have thought that Zuckerberg’s beast, great for selling unwanted furniture and stalking ex-boyfriends (plus engaging with customers, as any SM consultant will tell you), would be a launch pad for such a dynamic collaborative meeting of minds. Entrepreneurs, marketers, writers, bloggers, and creative types who live in Spain, and are passionate about the country. The name is WABAS: Writers and Bloggers about Spain.

A view of the Alcazaba, the fortress, from the entrance to the Nasrid palace.

A view of the Alcazaba, the fortress, from the entrance to the Nasrid palace.

Last year I attended the group’s second national annual get-together, in Malaga, which was hugely enjoyable, interesting and constructive. This year the WABAS venue was Granada. Friends, wine, expertise and the Alhambra. Meeting online friends in person (do they look like their photo? Are they what I expected?). It’s a winning combination.

We learned about topics relevant to media-savvy expats in business. We talked. We listened. We agreed. We disagreed. We ate. We drank. We drank some more.

these niches were used for jars of water, a symbol of hospitality, vases flowers or perfume.

These tiled and decorated niches were used for jars of water, a symbol of hospitality, vases flowers or perfume.

And we visited the Alhambra. At night. It was only my second time in this wondrous complex of Moorish and Renaissance palaces, the first having been nine years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. As an occasional tour leader in Seville, I was delighted that we were taken around the Alhambra by an excellent guide, Maria Angustia from Cicerone Tours. As this native granadina informed us, Maria Angustia is the patron saint of Granada.

She also told us that the Alhambra, which dates from the 13th century when this part of Spain was ruled by the Moors – cultured Islamic rulers from north Africa – was self-sufficient; its own independent mini-city. With no natural water source, usually an essential factor in establishing a settlement, the hill above Granada wasn’t an obvious location to build a palace; a river fed by the Sierra Nevada had to be diverted to provide water for the sultan’s new palace. But the Nasrid ruler Muhammed I obviously had a vision in mind. Titbits like these, about how the monument was initially planned, bring history to life.

We started our tour at the Palace of Carlos V, King of Spain and the first Holy Roman Emperor, for whom the phrase “the empire on which the sun never sets” was coined. He also built the Casa Consistorial (original Town Hall) in Seville and held his wedding to Isabel of Portugal in the Alcazar of Seville. This 16th century palace, a few centuries more recent than the Nasrid Palaces which are the main draw of the Alhambra, is unusual in that it was the first building to be square on the outside, and round inside. The Palacio Carlos V is used for concerts and exhibitions.

Arabic calligraphy and tiles.

Arabic calligraphy and tiles in the Mexuar Palace.

 

Arabesque detail of an archway in the Comares Palace.

Arabesque detail on an archway in the Comares Palace.

Painted decoration on a ceiling of mocarabe, modelled after stalactites in a cave where Mohoma took refuge.

Painted mocarabe decoration on a ceiling, modelled after stalactites in a cave where the prophet Mohammed took refuge.

 

Artesonado (decorated painted wood) ceiling in the Mexuar Palace.

Artesonado (decorated painted wood) ceiling in the Mexuar Palace.

Entering the first section of the Nasrid Palaces, the Mexuar Palace, we saw examples of the extraordinarily complex, multi-layered decoration for which the Alhambra is famous as the most perfect example of a Moorish palace in the world. A combination of geometric alicatado tiles, with designs made from tiny pieces of ceramic; the intricate white relief sections, often with plant motifs and Arabic calligraphy inscriptions, called arabesque; the coffered artesonado wood ceilings, with their gold details; and coloured mocarabe decoration (see photo above), and you have a dazzling array of never-ending abstract art, 360 degrees, on every surface. Maria called it “an explosion of imagination”.

Washington Irving was an American writer and diplomat who lived in the Alhambra in the 1820s.

Washington Irving was an American writer and diplomat who lived in the Alhambra in the 1820s.

We visited the rooms occupied by Washington Irving when he lived in the Alhambra as the US Consul. Most well-known outside Spain as the writer of books such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra brought the then-largely abandoned, but mercifully still intact, palace to the attention of a worldwide audience, drawing visitors to a then-unknown part of Spain for many years to come. This American author and hispanophile – he wrote several books about the country – is revered in Andalucia, and you can even follow a Washington Irving route across the region.

Two of the 12 marble lions on the Fuente de los Leones.

Two of the 12 marble lions on the Fuente de los Leones.

Courtyard of the Lions, with trees behind. The night sky with shadowy trees was full of mystery, while the courtyard by heaving with other visitors.

Palace of the Lions, with trees behind. The night sky with shadowy trees was full of mystery, while the courtyard was heaving with other visitors.

One of the most celebrated monuments within this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Fountain of the Lions, recently restored. Each of the 12 carved marble animals is different, but the fountain wasn’t lit up at night when we there, so it was difficult to see their faces, with individually modelled eyes and mouths. Maria explained that the water has to be to very carefully controlled to ensure that it flows out of the lions’ mouths at precisely the same speed. As always with such fabled beasts, theories abound as to why there are 12 – signs of the zodiac is one possibility.

Courtyard in the Comares Palace - water was essential to Moorish architecture, for its soothing sound, artistic (reflective) qualities and cooling effects in the sweltering summer.

Courtyard in the Comares Palace – water was essential to Moorish architecture, for its soothing sound, artistic (reflective) qualities and cooling effects in the sweltering summer heat.

The Alhambra was very busy on the night we visited, too much so for my liking, and Maria told us that 50 visitors enter the complex every five minutes – that’s 600 an hour – and that the palaces are open for 14 hours a day. Three million visits per year.

Afterwards, we went out for tapas, as you do, and I exchanged guiding notes with Maria, and reacquainted myself with fellow WABASers, as well as converting virtual online friendships into real ones, over a few bottles of good Spanish white wine from Rueda. Networking in real life and online is a necessity for today’s freelancers, and if you can do it with the surroundings of such a legendary city like Granada, all the better.

For practical information on visiting the Alhambra, see this useful post by fellow WABAS member and resident Granada expert, Molly Sears Piccavey.

 

Eight paws and four hooves – our new donkey

Two kids, two dogs, donkey, husband.

Two kids, two dogs, donkey, husband.

Getting to know my new "child".

Getting to know my new “child”.

Over the past 11 years since I’ve been living in Spain, I’ve acquired one husband, two children, and two dogs (in that order). Now our family has grown again, with a new arrival – a baby donkey.

It’s a long story – isn’t it always? We were out for a walk with the dogs one sunny Sunday afternoon, and we came across a donkey, as you do. It wasn’t tethered, it didn’t have any food or water, and looked pretty sad and lonely, if in good health and well-fed. As it was a hot day we decided to take it home to give it some water, at least.

Gentle Lucero was a donkey delight.

Gentle Lucero was a donkey delight.

Luckily we had a fenced off area of our large garden which had been used for growing vegetables, but was currently abandoned and overgrown. So in went Lucero, as the kids christened our new four-legged friend, and we went out to buy him a halter and some food. Lucero was a quiet, calm animal, male but not “whole” as they euphemistically describe it. Right from the start, I made it clear to Zac (8) and Lola (5) that the donkey wasn’t ours to keep, that someone would come and collect him and take him home soon, that we were just looking after him.

Their dad took them out for rides on Lucero in the olive field next door. The donkey nuzzled them and followed them about – I had never realised these gentle creatures were so affectionate. Before long Zac and Lola were donkey-doped, hooked on this furry creature the same height as them, with soft, kind eyes and nibbly lips. Zac, who is a typically bouncy and active eight-year-old, spent hours in his enclosure just talking to the animal and being with him.

Our Labrador Buddha gets to know Lucero the donkey.

Our Labrador Buddha gets to know Lucero the donkey.

Inevitably, given that everyone around here knows everyone else and their animals, word got back to the owner that we were looking after his beast, Pepe. He came to collect Lucero/Pepe on the Wednesday night, when the kids had just been out for a ride on him. Who would have thought that in just four days (three of them spent at school) two small children would become so strongly attached to a burro? They were both inconsolable when Lucero was loaded up to be taken back home.

The owner stayed chatting to my husband for while, and I had to ask him abruptly to go, losing my usual excessive British politeness (Not “I say old chap, would you mind awfully slinging your hook, the nippers are a little upset”, but “LEAVE NOW!”) as they were prolonging the painful agony of farewell for my weeping, desperate children, something no parent can cope with well.

Men are often a softer touch as fathers, in my experience (“Daaaad, Mum won’t let me watch TV/have some biscuits/buy a PlayStation – pleeeeease, go on, can I, pleeeease?”) and my husband couldn’t bear to see his darling niños in a state of such abject misery. So what did he do? He promised to get them their own donkey, of course. Dentro de poco (very soon). And so it all began.

He found someone among his wide circle of friends and acquaintances who had a young donkey ready to be separated from his mother. They arranged a barter deal and along came Polly. A *male* donkey. He’s now called Bolly.

Bolly is welcomed into his new home.

Bolly is welcomed into his new home.

Young donkeys can be nervous, a little aggressive, unpredictable, very affectionate and full of energy. Bolly is all of those things. He loves playing with the dogs, although the pecking order is still being established as our Labrador is always convinced he’s top dog – as he told the small dog in no uncertain terms soon after he arrived (having been passed on by two families). The small dog was found by my husband when he was a week old – the only survivor of an abandoned bitch with her litter of puppies.

Taking Bolly out for his first walk in the olive grove.

Taking Bolly out for his first walk in the olive grove.

Bolly meets the horses next door.

Bolly meets the horses next door.

Lola rides Bolly along the lane.

Lola rides Bolly along the lane.

I am learning fast about donkey behaviour, making lots of mistakes, and trying to be a good donkey owner. My husband is more instinctive, having had animals as a child (we had small dogs, hamster and guinea pig). The children ride Bolly bareback (on a leading rein), and they’re all getting used to this new experience. Like anything with a new animals, it’s not always a smooth ride. Bolly likes playing tug of war with the lab, whose old, deflated football, the toy he arrived with a year and a half ago, is used as the tugged thing. They chase each other around the garden. It’s not always good natured, and there are plenty of tellings-off, so we’re constantly on our guard for animal shenanigans.

One friend who knows lots about horses and lives in rural France has been a huge source of advice and support, suggesting books and videos about donkey behaviour. They are very intelligent creatures, she told me – yes, they’re famous for being stubborn, but that’s just because they take time to process information and then make a decision. Horses are faster to decide.

Beautiful tiled entrance arch to our local horse, donkey and oxen fair.

Beautiful tiled entrance arch to our local horse, donkey and oxen fair.

Gines, Sevilla, feria

Welcome. The Gines Town Hall thanks you for your visit. We hope you enjoy the authentic taste and feel which you experience at Una Para en Gines.

A feast of donkey excitements. Caramelo, a famous donkey who dances like a horse, is a star attraction.

A feast of donkey excitements. Caramelo, a famous donkey who dances like a horse, is a star attraction at this Gines fair.

Caramelo the dancing donkey at Una Para En Gines.

A dancing donkey (not Caramelo) at Una Para En Gines.

Two colourful rocieras on their mules.

Two colourful rocieras on their mules.

Donkey racing - not the most elegant sport, but great fun to watch.

Donkey racing – not the most elegant sport, but great fun to watch.

Soon after Bolly arrived, with extraordinarily good timing, I was told about a local livestock fair called Una Parada en Gines, in the next town from here, with oxen, horses and, yes, donkeys. Races, pulling contests, dressage… live music, bars, food…girls in feria dresses, a colouring/in tent…  your typical Spanish town fair. One morning, a young man doing a PhD in donkey behaviour came to do a donkey meet-and-greet with small children from local primary schools, so I took the opportunity to fire some questions at him, which he answered very good naturedly. Bolly might still be anxious from being separated from his mother, he told us, so we should be patient with him.

I didn’t much like seeing the donkeys, including tiny miniature ones, squashed together in small pens, but I suppose that’s what happens at these fairs. It was interesting to see the different breeds – I worked out that Bolly is a Catalan donkey.

It’s a steep learning curve for the whole family – kicking, biting, head-butting v hugs and gentle body contact (leaning in) – but we’re getting there.

Una Para en Gines takes place at the end of September in Gines, a town near Seville. Find out more here.

 

 

Filming Game of Thrones in Seville’s Alcazar

Clapperboard from Game of Thrones, Series 5, episode 9. Being shot in the Alcazar, Seville.

Clapperboard from Game of Thrones, Series 5, episode 9. Being shot in the Alcazar, Seville. Photo: copyright Enrique Cidoncha/Canal+ España

Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) Copyright Enrique Cidoncha (Canal+)

Danish actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, has been setting hearts ablaze in Seville during the filming. Photo: copyright Enrique Cidoncha/Canal+ España

Deobia Oparei, who plays Areo Hotah. Copyright Enrique Cidoncha/Canal+ España

Deobia Oparei, who plays Areo Hotah, trusted servant of the House Martell. You can see the fabulous azulejos (ceramic tiles) on the wall. Photo: copyright Enrique Cidoncha/Canal+ España

 

 

Ellaria Arena, played by Indira Varma.

Ellaria Arena, mistress of Prince Oberyn of House Martell, played by Indira Varma. She’s checking out the amazing gold ceiling of the Ambassadors Hall. Copyright Enrique Cidoncha/Canal+ España

Seville has been abuzz for the past week as Game of Thrones, HBO’s mega-hit, critically-acclaimed medieval fantasy drama series, is filmed in the Alcazar. In this fifth season, the exquisite palace is a central location – in the fictional city of Sunspear, seat of the House Martell and capital of Dorne, the southernmost of the famed Seven Kingdoms. Furniture and palm plants have been added to transform the magnificent rooms with their colourful tiled walls into a Dornish palace – the scenes above were shot in the Ambassador’s Hall, with its extraordinary gold ceiling.

Sevillanos have been tweeting photos of themselves with stars such as heartthrob Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays incestuous Kingslayer Jaime Lannister, in tapas bars and around town. There have been plenty of jokes by excitable young Sevillanas about finding out which hotel he’s staying in, and how much they’d like to pay a visit to him in his room. The actor has received all this attention with good grace and a constant smile.

Here you can see Nicolaj in full costume (although many would prefer him without). The local press carried a story about the actor entering the Alcazar, which has still been partly open to the public during filming, where the staff at the ticket office failed to recognise him – clearly not GOT fans or Twitter users. Treating him as they would any normal visitor, they asked him to pay the entrance fee. Rather than kicking up a “Don’t you know who I am?”-type stink, instead he paid without a fuss and went inside to get on with his job. What a dude. Needless to say, many “The Lannisters always pay their debts” comments ensued.

Yesterday, some press were allowed onto the set (my invitation must have been lost in the post/spam folder, but I couldn’t have made it anyway, as I’m out of town) and the Canal+ España photographer took these photos which they kindly gave me permission to use. The channel also shot some video footage, a tantalising taster of what will be on our screens in a few months’ time (scheduled airing date is April 2015).

It’s hugely exciting to be able to see what’s been going on behind the high fortified walls of the palace-fortress built by King Pedro the Cruel in the 14th century using the finest Mudejar craftsmen, many of whom then went on to build the greatest Moorish palace of all: the Alhambra. I’ve lurked around by the entrance gate, and peered over the barriers, along with other curious onlookers. So this tasty morsel of visual delectation has been received with great enjoyment.

The series is using interiors of the Alcazar, as well as the gardens, including the Pool of Mercury and the Baths of Maria Padilla, hidden under one of the patios.

Mercury's Pool, where some scenes were shot; the water was dyed blue.

Mercury’s Pool, where some scenes were shot; the water was dyed blue.

The Baths of Maria Padilla, one of the rumoured settings for Game of Thrones.

The Baths of Maria Padilla, one of the rumoured settings in the Alcazar for Game of Thrones.

 

The two script writers, David Benioff and Damian Weiss, held an open interview session which makes for fascinating reading – they revealed that season five will feature flashbacks for the first time. For a full account of the session (in Spanish), which has some gems about the actors and their characters, click here.

Today the action moved to the Renaissance town of Osuna, 100km south-west of Seville, where they’re shooting in the bullring, built by the architect of Expo 29’s Plaza de España, Anibal Gonzalez. I’ll be posting on that soon – if you’re a fan, look out for pictures of the actors in the town – photos of Emilia Clake (Daenerys, or Khaleesi – Queen) and Iain Glen (her devoted retainer Jorah) have been tweeted. They’ll be there until the end of the month, so GOT fever is far from over.

Fishy business: Seville’s new aquarium

Still from a video about how they moved the shark from an aquarium in neighbouring Portugal to the new aquarium in Seville.

Still from a video about how Margarita the bull shark was carefully transported from an aquarium in neighbouring Portugal to her new home in Seville.

It’s been far, far too long since my last blog post. It’s not that I’m short of ideas – quite the opposite – more that other things take precedence, like work, kids, donkeys (more about that soon).

So coming back with a blast, here is Scribbler in Seville on the city’s newest visitor attraction: the Aquarium.

Situated, appropriately enough, by the river, it opened last week, and I had a look around with all the other local press. The aquarium has 7,000 animals, from tiny fish to sharks, both freshwater and marine.

The Great River, Guadalquivir, starting point of Magellan's voyage - and for your journey through the aquarium's marine life.

Al-Wadi Al-Kabir (the Great River), so-called by the Moors who ruled Sev ille for 500 years, starting point of Magellan’s voyage – and for your journey through the aquarium’s marine life.

Freshwater fish: carp and sturgeon.

Freshwater fish: carp and sturgeon.

Taking the round-the-world voyage of Magellan, which departed from Seville in 1519, as its theme, the place takes us on our own journey from the waters of the Guadalquivir, via the Canary Islands, to the Amazon. At the oficial opening which I attended, we were also shown a video about the transportation of the star attraction, Margarita the bull shark (how fitting for Seville), from her previous home in Portugal.

The 400 species are well displayed in 35 tanks, although if you’re used to large-scale aquaria like the London one, this is small by comparison. I also think it’s somewhat overpriced, at 15 euros for adults and 10 euros for children. That said, it is fun, educational and interesting – information about each species in a tank is shown on small LCD displays for a few seconds, so if you spot something you like, you have to wait for it to come round again. Here are some inhabitants.

A sea cucumber, in the special "Touch Touch" area.

A sea cucumber, in the special “Touch Touch” área.

Starfish can be gently picked up.

Starfish can be gently picked up.

You can touch sea urchins, though watch out for those spikes.

You can touch sea urchins, though watch out for those spikes.

Rock pool - but no buckets or nets, obviously.

Rock pool – but no buckets or nets, obviously.

There’s one area, calle Touch Touch (sounds better in Spanish: Toca Toca), where you can, guess what, (very gently) feel the creatures – including sea cucumbers, starfish and sea urchins.

The "nursery" of the aquarium has fish roe.

One of the “babies” of the aquarium: skate eggs.

Little sacs containing fertilised fish eggs, known as mermaid's purses.

Little sacs containing fertilised fish eggs, known as mermaid’s purses.

In the “nursery” you can see roe of skate, and egg cases.

A slippery customer, this giant octopus didn't want to pose for a photo.

A slippery customer, this giant octopus didn’t want to stop waving his tentacles about.

A sole lying flat on the sandy floor - perfect camouflage.

A sole lying flat on the sandy floor – perfect camouflage.

Press getting their first view of the shark tank.

Press getting their first view of the shark tank.

A bull shark in the massive Oceanarium.

A bull shark in the massive Oceanarium.

But the main attraction of the Aquarium is the massive Oceanarium, nine metres deep and one of the largest shark tanks in Europe containing two female bull sharks, one of which is called Margarita, as well as tuna, grouper and mackerel. You can walk right underneath this tank, though the tunnel, as well as seeing it through many different windows.

One of my favourite features in any aquarium is the brightly-coloured tropical fish, which you can see in the Tropical Cove and Coral Reefs. Striped, spotted,

A ray, the most elegant swimmer of all, with its "wings".

A ray, the most elegant swimmer of all, with its “wings”.

A scary-looking scorpion fish.

A scary-looking scorpion fish.

Beautiful fish.

Beautiful tropical fish.

Another beauty.

Another beauty.

and one of my personal favourite, the flamenco fish.

and one of my personal favourite, the flamenco fish (my name for it).

The non-fish inhabitants include anacondas (large aquatic snakes) and caimans (small crocodiles), but personally I don’t much care for them. Turtles, however, are wonderful animals. The Aquarium has a turtle recovery programme which will see the reptiles released into the wild in Almeria’s Cabo de Gata.

A turtle, part of their recovery programme.

A turtle, part of their recovery programme.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Aquarium is situated by the river, on Calle Santiago Montoro. This is close to the Puente Delicias, with the entrance off the roundabout by the 1929 Expo Pavilions of Morocco and Colombia, which sit on the corner Avenida de la Palmera and Avenida de las Razas.

Entrance prices are 15 euros for adults and 10 euros for children, disabled and OAPs. Opening hours in October are 10am-8pm Monday to Thursday and 10am-9pm Friday to Sunday. For more information see acuariosevilla.es

Centro Ceramica Triana – inside Seville’s now-open tile museum

tiles, Triana, Seville

The entrance to the museum, in Calle Antillano Campos, next door to Ceramica Santa Ana.

 

Beautoiful ceramic tiles on pillar base in the museum's entrance.

Beautiful ceramic tiles on pillar base in the museum’s entrance.

Almost a year later than scheduled, the Centro Ceramica Triana, which explores the history of Seville’s world-renowned, centuries-old azulejo (ceramic tile) tradition in the  riverside barrio, is finally opening. I was shown around in an exclusive preview a year ago – here’s the full and detailed blog post I wrote about it then. Originally the opening was intended for early October 2013, but the date shifted back and back, partly due to complications in restoring some of the more delicate and ancient pieces (or at least that’s what I was told), and probably also due to the Ayuntamiento (city council) bickering with the Junta (regional government) about various aspects of the new centre. Coming from different sides of the political fence, they tend not to see eye to eye.

I had heard a recent rumour that the museum would be opened to coincide with the Vela Santa Ana, Triana’s own feria (20-27 July, in Calle Betis as seen in my header photo), and on Tuesday a friend confirmed that the museum was indeed now unofficially open for visits, free of charge, until its official inauguration in a week’s time.

So on Wednesday, the night before our departure for the annual summer visit to England, I went to have a look. Girls in colourful stripey wrap dresses were showing small groups around the new museum. No photos are allowed at this stage, as the museum is pre-inauguration, so I will have to explain in words rather than visually, plus with some previously unused photos from my visit last year. Why not wait till it opens and then take photos? I hear you ask – well that won’t be for another month, and if I don’t write something now, most likely I never will.

Upon entering, we were taken to a dark room where an audio-visual presentation explained the raw materials used in making azulejos – water, from the river Guadalquivir, which has shaped the identity of Triana, famous for its sailors who ventured across the oceans with Columbus and Magellan; and alartigo mud, from its banks, whose texture is ideal for moulding (the word for mud, barro, is used for uncoloured natural brown ceramics). Pigments are used to colour, or glaze, the ceramic pieces.

Basins for grinding and mixing pigments to colour the tiles.

Basins for grinding and mixing pigments to colour the tiles.

Tiles showing the colours used.

Tiles showing samples of the colours used – these now adorn the wall of one of the patios.

The short presentation used video very effectively, projected onto screens on both walls and floor – a boy kneading clay with his feet, and potters painting designs onto pieces. After this we went into a room displaying ceramics at each stage of the production process, with explanatory panels in both English and Spanish, themed around the four elements: earth (the mud), water (used to make the clay), fire (to heat the kilns) and air (to dry the pieces).

In another room, pieces of bizcocho (not cake, but unfired pottery) were arranged on the wall in an appealing mosaic style – small plates, letter tiles and bricks all donated by Montalvan, one of the most important ceramics factories in Triana, which closed just two years ago. You can still see its wonderful façade close by in calle Alfareria (Pottery Street); if you go, be sure to look up as you’re standing on the pavement – even the underside of the balconies are tiled.

The kilns in Ceramic Santa Ana's factory were named after famous bullfighters who hailed from Triana.

The kilns in Ceramic Santa Ana’s factory were named after famous bullfighters who hailed from Triana.  You can see these tiles by their respective ovens.

We saw beautifully constructed round kilns, dating from the 16th and 20th centuries – from large ones, metres deep, to small ones close-packed with shelves to accommodate tiles; a well; a millstone for grinding the pigment colours; basins for the same; and sample tiles with each colour. My previous post has ample pictures of these.

A Ceramica Santa Ana advertisement, mid-20th century.

A Ceramica Santa Ana advertisement, mid-20th century, as seen last year; it’s now up on the wall.

Then it was upstairs to see the pieces themselves – the don’t-miss ones I would suggest you look out for are the 12th-century Islamic carved pillars, with intricate horseshoe and scalloped arch designs; and the alicatado tiles with those geometric designs which decorate the Alcazar palace (tiling of interiors was introduced by the Moors in the 12th century).

Of special interest to British visitors are those produced at the Pickman factory, built by Englishman Charles Pickman in the then-abandoned historic La Cartuja monastery, especially an exquisite late 19th century white vase with a lily design, and huge panel showing birds, plants and insects: swallows, butterflies and peacocks, part of the Victorian obsession with the natural world. Pisano tiles from the Renaissance played an important role in the development of the art, where a design is painted over a section of tiles, in bright yellows, greens and blues, to make a large, detailed picture – as seen in the Carlos V section of the Alcazar.

Triana, azuljo, tiles, tiles, azulejos, Santa Ana, Ceramica Santa Ana

Ceramic tile map of Sevilla in Plaza de España; red circle marks the location of the new museum.

For those interested in the history of Triana and of Seville, a blown-up black and white photo showing the Ramos Rejana factory offers a fascinating insight into how the barrio looked about 100 years ago – one metal bridge is visible over the Guadalquivir, Puente Isabel II or the Triana bridge (between the D and A of GUADALQUIVIR in the tiled map show above). The impressive San Jacinto church is clearly visible in the photo, with many tall “bottle” chimneys next to it, like those which can still be seen today at La Cartuja (brown building at bottom left of map above).

Intriguingly, a map from 1929, showing the location of ceramics factories at the time, marks Plaza de España, which was to become the greatest showpiece of Triana’s tile industry and was Expo 29’s piece de resistance, as being “Under construction”, while a whole new Nervion barrio based around Gran Plaza was never completed. You can learn about all the sad succession of ceramics factories which closed down from the end of the 19th century until just a few years ago. One of the most enjoyable parts of my visit was the section on the barrio of Triana itself: its corrales (communal patios shared by gypsy and other families), music, festivals – and people, the Trianeros themselves.

Triana, El Rocio

The house of the Triana hermandad in the town of El Rocio, used to accommodate pilgrims during the famous spring pilgrimage, is decorated with ceramic tiles made in the barrio.

You start off by watching a video, where aging but sprightly Trianeras describe how they life was in the corrales – 6 or 7 to a room, 4 to a bed plus mattresses on the floor. Only bread to eat, “but we were happy, because we laughed, we sang, we danced.” Scenes of local devotion such as Semana Santa, Corpus Chico and El Rocio emphasise the role played by the independent-spirited riverside area in religious festivals.

In addition, you can listen to different types of flamenco songs, or palos, from seguiriyas to bulerias, plus one I’d never heard of called a debla. Finally, an interactive screen has maps showing points of interest around the barrio - buildings, churches, corrales, and of course pottery workshops. I was intrigued to learn that where the Faro de Triana restaurant is located, by Triana bridge, used to be an estacion maritima – maritime station, or dock. As shown in the video about Triana, there are still gilding, pottery and sculpting workshops manned by artesans in the barrio. And last year, there was talk of offering pottery demonstrations and classes at the museum itself. Who knows, maybe this exciting new attraction will inspire a revival of interest in these traditional, treasured arts.

Centro Ceramica Triana is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm.