The medina and the market: colours of Tangiers street life

Women selling fruit and vegetables in a square in the medina of Tangiers.

Women selling fruit and vegetables in a square in the medina of Tangiers.

Tangiers, Morocco

A woman shells peas to sell in the street.

Tangiers, market, Morocco

A mix of dried spices, leaves and flowers. Moroccan cuisine is highly aromatic.

The classic colours of Morocco at a spice stall.

The classic colours of Morocco at a spice stall.

market, Tangiers, Morocco, Medina

Stalls have an amazing variety of goods, including garlic, ginger and volcanic pumice stone.

Tangiers, medina, Morocco

A turquoise street in the Medina with yellow and red houses.

For me, the most memorable part of my all-too-short visit to Tangiers was wandering through the Medina – the old city, just below the Kasbah. In my last post, I talked about our guide, Aziz. If I had been trying to find my way through alone, I would certainly have got horrendously lost – normally a fun part of exploring a new city, but when you’ve only got a day, with lots to see and learn, not ideal. But as it was, Aziz knows these labyrinthine streets and took us up steps, around corners, and under archways. We saw the real Tangiers, which is a third-world city without running water in some homes, with refuse on the streets, and with a vital sense of life. As I said in a previous post, this is my first time in a developing country in over a decade, so I was looking through newly naive eyes.

Morocco, Tangiers

Coloured, patterned leather slippers are reminiscent of tiles and plasterwork, with their intricate patterns.

House in the medina, in a shade close the famous albero of Seville.

House in the medina, in a shade to close the famous albero of Seville.

Tangiers, Morocco, market, olives

Fat, juicy olives in all colours, in the market of Tangiers.

When I  mentioned to a very well-travelled, highly-experienced photographer friend that I was going to Tangiers, and asked what advice would she give me – especially in case of not-ideal climatic conditions (it rained) – she just said “colour”. Only showers, as it happened, but those zingy colours can’t be suppressed by a light downpour – houses, spices, clothes (not the djellaba, the long hooded kaftan, which we only saw in earth tones – white, grey, brown or black).

Berber, market, Berber market, Tangiers, Morocco

Berber women selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

market, Berber, Berber market, Tangiers, Morocco

Produce from the countryside in hand-woven baskets.

oranges, Tangiers, Morocco, market

A moped trailer piled high with oranges, fresh from the farm.

We were lucky enough to be in Tangiers on a Sunday, when the Berber market takes place. Berbers are the native people of Morocco, before the Arabs arrived; they’re nomadic, tribal people. They come into the city – mostly women, but men too - bringing their fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs (and even live chickens, too) to sell on the pavement next to St Andrew’s Church, by the Grand Socco, on Sunday mornings.

Some handy tips for visiting Tangiers

One euro = around 11 dhirams. Most places accept euros, but give change in dhirams.

Some Moroccan women don’t like being photographed; I tried to avoid capturing their faces.

Alcohol is served, but discreetly, as Morocco is a liberal Islamic country – mostly in tourist hotels, and smarter bars and restaurants.

Kif (marijuana) smoking is tolerated for Moroccans, and very popular among the young, but illegal (if also popular) for tourists. Beware.

In future posts, I’ll be looking at Tangiers in artistic, musical, cinematic and literary terms, as well as telling you about the trip I took out of the city to the coast.

My most popular posts of 2013, plus a mini-review

Colourful Spanish wear words are fascinatingly anatomical and religious.

Spanish swear words are fascinatingly anatomical and religious.

You lot seem to think I’m quite amusing. What am I, funny like a clown?

En serio – my most popular new posts, published last year, are mostly silly ones. Well, not silly – highly intelligent, witty and astute, of course.

Plus a bit of culture – phew! I wouldn’t like to think you come to my refined blog just for some light entertainment. Por favor!

So what can’t you get enough of? Let’s find out.

The top five most-viewed Scribbler in Seville blog posts of 2013 are (drum roll):

1) Five Things Spanish People Say (And What they Really Mean) 

This is also my all-time most popular post. A controversial look (see comments) at how to know when someone means something totally different from what you think they’re saying. OK, so it’s actually about swearing, exaggeration/fibbing – and jamón. The stuff of real-conversations life here in Spain.

Number two post of 2013: contemporary Spanish fashion designers' interpretations of Zurbaran's saints.

Number two post of 2013: contemporary Spanish fashion designers do Zurbaran’s saints.

2) Art+fashion+religion=a richly-textured show in Seville

Frocks by contemporary designers reinterpreting famous paintings of saints by 17th-century Sevillano artist Zurbaran. Dead clever. This one was “Freshly Pressed” (as in the badge, top right), which means it’s one of only eight posts chosen by the kind folks at WordPress to feature each day from the tens of thousands posted daily. Which was nice. So if you found my blog through Freshly Pressed, a special hello – it’s good to have you.

3) False Friends and other Fine Messes

We’ve all made an arse of ourselves by mixing up two similar-sounding words in a foriegn language – one innocuous, the other devastatingly embarrassing or offensive. If you haven’t let us in on your experience yet (the comments are much more entertaining than the post, believe me; careful you don’t spill your tea on your PC or tablet as you chortle), then come on over and join the group therapy session – it’s time to spill.

Ceramic celosia (Moorish lattice screen) of new museum.

Ceramic celosia (Moorish lattice screen) of new museum.

4) Celebrating Seville’s azulejo heritage: a sneak preview of Centro Ceramica Triana

Ah, some more history and culture *breathes a sigh of relief*. This museum of tiles, with a winning mix of groovy contemporary architecture, original Moorish brick kilns and some exquisite antique azulejos, was scheduled to open in September 2013, then October, then November, then December, and it’s still not open in January 2014… you get the picture. Well, what do you expect? We’re in Spain, people! Which makes this post even more valuable, as it’s all you can see of it for now.

cadiz, carnaval

The Queen with her Beefeaters. Sort of.

5) Carnaval de Cadiz, family style

Where can you find sea urchins, sand architecture, man-sized bumble bees, and the Queen in drag? At Spain’s craziest carnival, of course. Probably our best daytrip of the year, out of many. And we even dressed up, sort of.

I know I’m also supposed to say Where I Went and What I Did last year in the round-up, so here goes with my new discoveries: Doñana National Park; Ubeda, Baeza, and picual olive oil; Paul Read; Latin-American belenes; the Feria de Jerez; Mr Henderson’s Railway; Costa Ballena, and a cooking class. As you can see, an international jetsetter I am not (used to be, many years ago). National neither; daytrips in Andalucia, often with the family, is more my thing.

I hope you enjoy reading these posts. As long as at least one of them raises a smile, I’m doing my job.

Torrijos 2013: a picture post

Devotees (or the merely curious, like us), head for the chapel to see the visiting Virgin, and the Christ statue.

Devotees (or the merely curious, like us), head for the Hacienda’s chapel to see the visiting Virgin, and the Christ statue.

Another year, another Romeria de Torrijos in the village where we live. For weeks beforehand, the horses and oxen are trained and prepared in the fields around our house, carriages practise-driven, carretas decorated in brightly coloured tissue paper, and of course flamenca dresses and accessories sought out, examined and donned.

This year was perfect weather – blue skies, but not too hot. We missed the procession of ox-carts due to a prior social engagement, but stayed later to make up for it. I’m always intrigued by the chapel of the Hacienda de Torrijos, the Arab-era estate where the romeria takes place.

An image of Jesus was supposedly discovered 400 years ago by a hen pecking near the chapel wall, a dubious event related in a tiled niche. But enough to convince the faithful/supersitious/gullible (delete as appropriate) creyentes, who leave small silver offerings – arms, legs, cows, horses - to ask the Son of God to cure their, and their livestock’s, ailments – as well as messages of thanks.

I will leave the rest of the photos (and captions) to speak for themselves. Hasta la proxima!

Clapping hands in time to the song, as men play the guitar. Romerias are about friendship, feasting and flamenca.

Clapping and singing, as men play the guitar. Romerias are about friendship, feasting and flamencas.

A typically animated group enjoying their lunch, with the Hacienda de Torrijos behind them.

A tableau of romeros enjoying their lunch, with the Hacienda de Torrijos behind them.

This way you can't lose your glass when you move around visiting groups of friends, while at the same time displaying your football allegiance.

This way you can’t lose your glass when you move around visiting groups of friends, while at the same time displaying your football allegiance.

Horsemanship starts young in Valencina, and obviously he has to look the part, in his traje corto and Cordobes hat.

Horsemanship starts young in Valencina, and obviously he has to look the part, in his beautiful traje corto and Cordobes hat.

When my daughter lost her new balloon (dalmatian with turqoise collar), only candy floss could cushion the blow.

When my daughter lost her new helium balloon (dalmatian with turqoise collar) to gravity, only candy floss could cushion such a terrible blow. My son’s bubble gun was more grounded, thankfully.

I love the way the sunlight falls on these horses' arses (so to speak).

I love the way the sunlight falls on these horses’ arses (so to speak).

A horse-drawn cart kicks up dust crossing a field.

A horse-drawn cart kicks up dust crossing a field.

My daughter Lola poses with some romeros - pilgrims (Chaucer overtones make that word sound so wrong in English).

My daughter Lola poses with some romeros – pilgrims (the medieval overtones make that word sound so wrong in English).

This hibiscus flower is the new fashion for flamenca hair accessories.

This hibiscus-style flower is the new fashion for flamenca hair accessories.

Entrance through the left arch, exit on the right - the chapel of Hacienda de Torrijos

Entrance through the left arch, exit on the right – the chapel of Hacienda de Torrijos

Huge exotic shell looks incongruous against the azulejos of the chapel entrance.

Huge exotic seashell looks incongruous against the azulejos of the chapel entrance.

Little silver ofrendas to give thanks to Cristo de Torrijos for curing feet, legs and hands.

Little silver ofrendas to give thanks to Cristo de Torrijos for curing limbs and extremities.

The story of how the image of Cristo de Torrijos was found - by a hen!

The story of how the image of Cristo de Torrijos was found insde this very wall - by a hen!

El Salvador’s hidden history: where Seville was born

Salvador

Tracing Seville’s history through the ages . Roman…paleo-Christian…Visigoth…Muslim….Christian (Phoenician missing, probably because there’s nothing physical to see, sadly).

I’ve written before about how Seville is built in successive layers – as new tribes and rulers arrived, so they constructed over the previous inhabitants’ monuments and places of worship. Roman over Phoenician, Visigoth over Roman, Moorish over Visigoth, Christian over Moorish – as well as recycling their building materials, so elements from different eras, civilizations and religions would come together to make up a curious, culturally unique edifice. For example, you can’t walk far in the centre of Seville without stumbling over a Roman column, whether it’s in a grand mansion, propping up a lopsided building, or just randomly placed in a plaza.

Salvador church seen at night.

Salvador church seen at night.

But finding one place where all these different layers, eras, races, coincide in one place is a challenge. Now you see it all come together, in the Divino Salvador church. Colegio del Salvador is Seville’s second-most-important basilica, and on this site have existed Phoenician, Roman, Visigothic and Moorish temples. And now, during the hot summer months, you can explore its millennia of history at night, enjoy the less punishing temperatures, and get the after-dark atmosphere of a key part of the city’s history – in fact, where it all began, no less. Visits have been running since April, but the night tours only started in July.

We’re going back to 800BC. The Phoenicians, who came from modern-day Lebanon, are searching for suitable territories to settle. Coming upon an area next to a loop in a river, they catch some fish, find it to their taste, and decide to stay. As they’re so close to the river, which floods frequently, they build their wooden temple on stilts, which may be the root of the city’s earliest name: Hispalis (“built upon posts”).

The next race to occupy this city are the Romans, whose basilica is constructed here and whose forum – the central feature of their conurbations – is probably in Plaza Alfalfa, a few streets away. You can see Roman houses and streets in Antiquarium museum, under the Setas.

Surviving mosque from the same period as Ibn Adabbas, in Huelva province.

Surviving mosque from the same period as Ibn Adabbas, in Huelva province.

After the Romans come the Visigoths, few traces of whose stay here remain; some columns from their temple were used by their Moorish successors. However we do know that the sixth-century Archbishop San Isodoro, one of Seville’s patron saints, made the city into a centre of Paleo-Christian (early Christian) learning. They are followed by the Moors, Muslims from North Africa, who build the city’s mosque, Ibn Adabbas, on this very spot in 879AD; at this stage, the city is called Isbyllia. For three centuries this mosque is the focus of religious worship, with the Zoco, or market and trading area, in Plaza del Pan behind the church and in the narrow streets around, which still remain.

The mosque's minaret, with later belltower added on top.

The mosque’s minaret as it is today, with later belltower added on top.

As the city grows, a second, larger mosque is built in 1172; but the city is reconquered from the Moors by Rey San Fernando less than 100 years later, and this mosque is demolished to make way for the cathedral. The mosque’s patio for pre-prayers ablutions, and minaret, the Giralda, remain to this day. Around the same time, a church is also built over the Ibn Adabbas mezquita, leaving only the patio, with its Roman columns, and alminar (minaret), which has a belltower added later to lend a Renaissance toque, as was often the case. This original, medieval temple collapsed in 1671, and in 1712 the final version was finished – the Colegial del Salvador church we can see today.

When the Church authorities decided to carry out much-needed structural work on the Salvador 10 years ago, they pondered over what was causing damp in the church’s pillars; could it be an underground water source? Digging down, and dealing with whatever they found there, was going to be such a big job, they took a year to make the decision about whether or not to go ahead. That’s a long time, even for Spain. When they did, they found some astonishing relics – so we can be thankful they took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and addressed the problem head-on, digging out those 20 million tonnes of debris. the restoration work finished in 2008.

salvador


Patio de Naranjos of the original mosque; the pillars are half buried underground.

The tour starts in the Patio de Naranjas – Patio of the Orange Trees. Our guide is Florencio Quintero, an art historian whose company Conocer Sevilla offers cultural tours; he is clearly enthused at revealing to people the hidden secrets of this most beloved church. He explains that the arches originally had much taller columns, but so many layers have been built over them that the ground level has raised, and they’re only half their original height.

The crypt with its arched alcoves, or chapels, and remains of 13th-century church's floor.

The crypt with its arched alcoves, or chapels.

The floor plan shows the location of relics from various eras around the crypt.

The floor plan shows the location of relics from various eras around the crypt.

Floor from medieval church, with typical ceramic tiles. They've last well, haven't they?

Floor from medieval church, with typical decorative ceramic tiles. They’ve lasted well, haven’t they?

We walk down stairs to the crypt, entering a long, low-ceilinged chamber with arched alcoves along the side. In the centre are sections of flooring from the medieval post-Reconquest church – terracotta tiles alternated with small decorated pieces, much as you see in Sevillian houses today. How little some thing have changed over seven centuries.

We are shown various religious relics – as Florencio explains, the value is as much theological as archaeological – the oldest sacrament of the church. Nameless bodies found were buried with their face towards altar – the church was east-west, with a hole in the ceiling where bodies were lifted down from chapel for burial underneath. You can see photos of the skeletons found in the crypt; I was hoping for real thing.

Stone tablet with Arabic inscription - 11th-12th century.

Stone tablet with Arabic inscription – 11th-12th century.

Translation from Arabic of inscription, blessing Mohammed, as ordered by Al-Mutamid.

Translation from Arabic of inscription, blessing Mohammed, by order of Al-Mutamid.

A perfectly preserved stone tablet from Al-Mutamid’s time (the 11th-century Almohad ruler) – inscription in Arabic with translation. A column found, with text detailing the official founding of the mosque, is in the Archaeological Museum, and is in great demand by researchers into Arabic history.

Roman pillar, part of the temple's second stage.

Roman pillar, part of the temple’s second stage.

Roman lettering on a stone plaque.

Roman lettering on a stone plaque.

Roman remains (it’s not chronologically arranged) include pillars and another stone inscription.

The underground stream, which flows into the Guadalquivir river, which has caused such damage to successive buildings on this spot.

The underground stream, which flows into the Guadalquivir river, and has caused such damage to successive buildings on this spot.

But for me, as spellbinding as are these tangible pieces of evidence linking Seville’s past together like a historical chain, what is most fascinating is altogether more simple: water. For there is an underground stream which flows through this space. Pure, clear, fresh water from an aquifer which has played havoc with the structures built on top of it for centuries. Secret, hidden, and now we get to see it. It’s like finding buried treasure. To return to the mundane, when it rains, and the level rises a dangerous amount, the water is pumped out, to limit the risk of a flood which could damage these priceless artefacts.

The mosque when built, in the ninth century.

Plan of the mosque when built, in the ninth century; the patio de naranjos is the dark area on the left.

The second church, built in the late 17th century. The first one collapsed.

The second church, built in the late 17th century. You can see how the patio de naranjos has shrunk.

Other interesting points are photographs of a surviving mosque from the same era, which gives you an idea how Ibn Adabbas would have looked, and plans of how the building changed over the centuries, showing how the patio de naranjos gradually became smaller.

Florencio in full flow, inside the main basilica with a gilt retablo in the background.

Florencio in full flow, inside the main basilica with a gilt retablo in the background.

The next part of the tour is the main section of the church, which has vast, elaborate gilt retablos (altar pieces), representing everything I hate about Catholic basilicas – huge, over-the-top, gaudy and not remotely spiritual – they’re intending to inspire awe rather than a love of God. There ain’t nobody here but us chickens, so it’s silent and empty, and you can stand around without worrying about getting in the way of someone’s praying. It’s not what I’ve come here to see, but the scale is undeniably impressive.

A behind-the-scenes look at the Virgen de las Aguas, who watches over her congregation from on high.

A behind-the-scenes look at the Virgen de las Aguas, who watches over her church from on high.

The patron saint of this church is the Virgin de las Aguas, and she sits in a chamber above the nave, called a camarin. When the Catholics took over a temple from their conquered foes, they put the most important symbol of their religion, the Virgin, where the Mihrab, the niche in the wall which indicates the direction of Mecca, was located. The camarin is not normally open to visitors, so it is a palpable thrill for the Sevillanos on my tour to see this statue up close. At Corpus Cristi, when the procession goes past the window, she is turned on her revolving platform so she can look out of the window at the passing faithful. I’m not saying anything.

Halfway up to the roof.

Halfway up to the roof.

Inside view: stained glass windows are one of the features you can get close to on this visit.

Inside view: stained glass windows are one of the features you can get close to on this visit.

The next part of the visit involves climbing steep stairs in a narrow circular well up to the balconies of the church. Unfathomably, we’re given small radio receivers which transmit organ and choral music of poor sound quality. The soaring notes would provide a subliminal soundtrack, if they didn’t sound like they were being playing down a bad phoneline.

Narrow steps - those of wide girth should take note.

Then it’s up again, this time emerging onto the roof. The space inside the staircase is warm and close, at 11pm, so during the day it must be unbearably hot. The views make it worthwhile, though, seeing down to Plaza del Salvador with people milling, chatting, drinking and eating – the smell of frying fish rises up and teases my appetite. A light breeze is refreshing and welcome.

And on up to the top, with even narrower stairs; definitely not for the claustrophobic. I wait until the person ahead is well out of sight before I venture in to the tight stairwell.

Giralda and cathedral at night, seen from the roof of El Salvador church, its arch-rival.

Giralda and cathedral at night, seen from the roof of El Salvador church, its former arch-rival.

We walk all the way around the roof, from Plaza del Salvador to Plaza del Pan, passing the Patio de Naranjos. We can see the Giralda and Cathedral, which has always been this temple’s rival in the church’s power battles; the Setas, a more recent addition to the skyline; and the Torre Pelli, the city’s next – highly (boom boom) controversial skyscraper, which is taller than the Giralda.

Small cross and ceramic pot on roof of church.

Small cross and ceramic pot on roof of church.

The Setas (Mushrooms) as seen from El Salvador. Looks like a spaceship landed.

The Setas (Mushrooms) as seen from El Salvador. Looks like a spaceship landed.

I’ve been up on the cubiertos (roof) of the Cathedral, and it’s always a marvel to see stained glass windows from the outside, and details only designed to be contemplated from the mortals’ ground level, close-up. As usual, opinions of the Setas differ – one group agrees that they’re not ugly, just “in the wrong place” – would be better in one of the modern parts of the city, such as Sevilla Este (where FIBES, the conference centre is).

We aren’t rushed, and it’s a real delight to wander along the rooftops (I can’t get Chim Chimenee out of my head), at night, at my own pace, watching people below, and spotting the famous buildings on the skyline at 360 degrees. We’re a little lower than the walkway at the top of the Setas, or Metropol Parasol, as it’s known.

Down the tiny staircase.

Down the tiny staircase.

Plaza del Salvador, a popular venue for carousing of a night.

Plaza del Salvador, a popular venue for carousing of a night.

Finally, it’s time to renegotiate those scary steps again, all the way down, and then out through the patio, and into the street – Plaza del Salvador. It’s weird being back on ground level, and I walk all the way around the church in a daze. So much history inside that building – and a river! Seville never ceases to amaze me with its hidden histories. I will never discover them all, but that’s good too – always another secret to be revealed.

If you’re at all interested in the history of Seville, religious architecture, or the Romans or Moors, then this night-time visit to the Salvador church is not to be missed.

La Huella de lo Sagrado guided tour costs 12 euros and takes place with a minimum group of 10 people; the night tours are available until 15 September. To reserve a place, go to www.catedraldesevilla.es/reservas

Art+fashion+religion=a richly textured show in Seville

The modern interpretations of Zurbaran's saints.

Contemporary Spanish fashion designers’ interpretations of Zurbaran’s saints.

Zurbaran, Seville, SEvilla, Santa Clara, Santas de Zurbaran, Elio Berhanyer

Santa Casilda and a sketch of her modern-day modish equivalent by octogenarian Spanish fashion legend Elio Berhanyer.

I’ve never been a big one for religious art – all those side-lit, mournful, downright spooky figures gazing heavenwards leave me cold. No emotional or spiritual connection. Probably not surprising, given that I’m an atheist.

I can appreciate a good, solid, stone Gothic archway in a church, and maybe a lofty domed ceiling or some jewel-coloured stained-glass windows – the rooftop tour of the Cathedral was amazing – but paintings of angels, saints, Our Lord and His Mother? No, gracias. Give me a Picasso, Klimt or Bridget Riley any day.

However when holy images are combined with something more to my taste, like frocks – well, that’s another matter altogether. Some genius had the idea of reinterpreting a series of works by Zurbaran, the 17th-century Spanish religious painter, as contemporary fashion, thereby opening up the paintings’ appeal to a much wider audience (for example, me). Santas de Zurbaran: Devocion y Persuasion, at a newly-opened art space in a restored convent near the Alameda, is proving popular, with queues round the block at weekends (I went on a Friday; one of the advantages of being freelance).

The finished version of Santa Casilda V21 - the flowers on the net underskirt relate to a miraculous story about her life.

The finished version of Santa Casilda V21 – get that glorious silk cape. The flowers on the net underskirt relate to a miraculous story about her life.

At the time, the painter was fiercely criticised for depicting these 17 holy women – including a pair of Isabels, Casilda, Eufemia; martyrs, princesses and other unfortunates who met sticky ends, often involving swords and fire – as wordly señoras. In his paintings, the santas virgenes wear rich, extravagant fabrics with gold decoration and exquisite jewellery; they were condemned as “profane”. Many were commissions for the New World, some painted by his apprentices, and were sent to convents in Lima and Buenos Aires.

Zurbaran’s father was a haberdasher, so the painter knew all about how to make the finest, most sumptuous fabrics come alive on canvas: silk, velvet, brocade, the folds, the tones, the drapes. He would have made a fabulous costumer designer. No bland, amorphous, classical shifts for his saints. These are in shades of gold, turquoise and vivid olive green, with voluminous cloaks of shot silk, ruched into bows on their backs. Some said he was immortalizing the nobles of the day in “divine portraits”. Flattery is not ill-advised for a court painter.

This is how Vittorio y Lucchino interpreted Santa Isabel de Hungria.

This is how Victorio y Lucchino interpreted Santa Isabel de Hungria – dig the ruched leggings.

Contemporary fashion designers, including Seville’s own Vittorio & Luccino, who designed the Duquesa de Alba’s wedding dress; Cordoban master Elio Berhanyer, who dressed the likes of Ava Gardner and Cyd Charisse; and doyenne of bright colours and hearts, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (met her once, extremely nice lady), have come up with their own modern-day versions of the saints’ apparel. They’ve used every fabric from heavy brocade (think stately-home curtains) to shiny pink plastic (Barbie doll). The range of tastes is part of the appeal – everyone will love and hate some, but most will emerge with a favourite or two from the 21 creations (which are shown on mannequins, not real models as seen here – in case you were wondering). Before you go upstairs, look at the 1960s pink flower-print silk Balenciaga evening gown: it sports the same cape/train seen on many of Zurbaran’s lady saints. His influence on the worlds of theatre, design and art is undeniable.

The exhibition is being held in Espacio Santa Clara (not to be confused with another nearby previously-religious-now-cultural building, Santa Ana), a historic building which began as an Almohad palace; was then inhabited by Don Fadrique, whose famous tower – built as a lookout/love-nest to canoodle with his stepmother – is in the patio; and latterly was used as a convent until 1998. The space has two long galleries, ideal for hanging paintings (described in the audioguide as “bedrooms”, which leads to the interesting translation: “the Holy Virgins that are exposed in the bedroom” – *adolescent snigger*); the patio is used for flamenco performances and concerts. The ground floor gallery has very dark lighting for this show, with only the works and their accompanying text illuminated, giving a dramatic effect; upstairs, where the gowns are displayed, is lighter.

Zurbaran, Espacio Santa Clara

The upstairs gallery has the frocks – fashion heaven. On the left are two angel outfits, in celestial yellowy-orangey-gold.

The stars of the show, for me, were Santa Casilda, with her theatrical, uber-glamorous gunmetal-silver cape – her roses refer to a miracle when the bread she was taking to Christian prisoners, an act of mercy forbidden by her father, turned into flowers; Santa Isabel of Hungary; Pedro Moreno’s angels; and Santa Dorothea (mustard-yellow velvet with little applique flowers on the edges of the jacket’s sleeves and hem), one of a group of creations by Berhanyer’s students at the near end of the fashion gallery. A nice idea, to give the next generation of designers a platform such as this, but most don’t work, a few are downright cheesy, and some of the workmanship is frankly shoddy, with uneven pleats and folds, puckered fabric, and stitching coming undone. I just hope they’re not final year students. Similarly, some portraits by apprentice painters from the school of Zurbaran serve to show just how far they were from their master’s genius, with flat colours, dull textures and unattractive faces.

The audioguide (see below) is well worth it, explaining clearly the background to the exhibition, Zurbaran’s life, and the story behind each saint, what fate befell her and the motive for her “attributes” – the objects she holds which refers to some key event in her life (often her fate): flowers, fruit, a book, a spear, a saw (yes, really. Grisly lot, these 17th-century Spanish Catholics.)

I also recommend the brochure, 3 euros (never can resist a glossy brochure; there’s also a much pricier hardback catalogue), which features colour photos of selected paintings and dresses, and a list of the saints with fascinatingly bizarre information about who/what/where they’re patrons of: Agueda/Agata – wetnurses, breastfed babies and Catania; Isabel de Portugal – the jealous, victims of adultery and false accusations, and social workers; Matilda – lost children, women deceived by their children, queens, women on their second marriage, and widows. Between them, they seems to have all female bases covered, don’t they?

If you stop at the brochure stand, be sure to look out for the shoes – each pair, designed for their outfits, is displayed on a shelf. The lady who sold me my brochure didn’t know why they weren’t with their corresponding clothes, especially since many are mentioned on the audioguide.

Santas de Zurbaran: Devocion y Persuasion is on at Espacio Santa Clara (calle Becas, near the Alameda) until 20 July. Monday to Saturday 10am-3pm and 6-9pm; Sunday 10am-3pm. Expect long queues at the weekend. Free for Seville residents, 6 euros for others. Audioguide 1.20 euros (included in 6 euro ticket).

Watch the video of Eva Yierbabuena dancing in the Santa Casilda dress, in the patio of Espacio Santa Clara.

All photos courtesy of Fernando Ruso/Ayuntamiento de Sevilla