My last Duchess – an interview with the Duquesa de Alba

The Duquesa with her third husband on their wedding day, outside her palace in Seville.

The Duquesa with her third husband on their wedding day, outside her palace in Seville.

The entrance of Palacio las Duenas in Seville, typically besieged by press

The entrance of Palacio de las Duenas in Seville, her preferred residence, typically besieged by press.

Back in 2009, I interviewed the Duquesa de Alba, who passed away last week in her palace here in Seville at the ripe old age of 88. The Duquesa was an aristocrat – the most titled noble in the world, in fact – but she wasn’t a stiff, stuffy type. Known as Cayetana, she dressed like a hippy with print dresses, flowers in her hair and beads around her ankles, loved flamenco, and was a keen amateur painter. She rarely missed seeing her favoured hermandad, Los Gitanos, in Semana Santa (Holy Week). She was married three times (and was widowed twice) and had six children. Hers was a full life, lived with enormous gusto almost to the very end (read my full biography of her).

Often this barefoot Duchess claimed to be “a normal person” – clearly she wasn’t, as someone with a fortune estimated at 3.5 billion euros, but she certainly had fewer pretensions than many in her position. She preferred her Seville palace, Las Dueñas, to other grander properties, and she said that she felt most at home in this city – and the Sevillanos loved her for that. My piece for the El Pais in English blog talks about the intense mutual affection between Cayetana and the people of Seville.

The interview was to coincide with an exhibition of paintings from her vast private art collection, held at the Museo de Bellas Artes here in Seville, with works by Titian, Goya, Chagall and Renoir. I was granted time with the Duquesa on the strict condition that I didn’t ask her about, or indeed mention, her family – the divorces and dalliances of her children were a constant source of fodder to the prensa rosa, and a constant source of preoccupation to herself. I promised that I would respect these parameters, and I did.

We had a long and entertaining conversation, about her taste in art, childhood memories and her experience of living in London, as well as subsequent visits. She was full of humour and insight, with an excellent memory, her speech slowed and slurred by illness, but her mind sharp. Her English was fluent, with an upper-class accent.

After I submitted my article, the newspaper which had commissioned it, an English-language publication based in Andalucia, couldn’t resist bringing in the gossip-mag angle – partly for context to explain who she was to those who didn’t know, but partly for a gratuitous tabloidy take, mentioning exactly what I’d been asked to avoid. My interview ended up being published with an added scandal-loving edge which I found mortifying. Luckily, when I sent her a copy, she loved it (phew!), sending me a beautiful thank you card – which I still have, obviously.

By then even more intrigued by this irrepressible octogenarian, I stood outside the Duquesa’s palace on the day of her third wedding in 2011 for hours in the heat, along with hordes of other Cayetana-philes, and was rewarded with a glimpse of the sprightly 85-year-old famously kicking off her shoes and dancing for the delighted crowds. I was also lucky enough to be invited to a flamenco performance held in honour of the Duchess of Cornwall when she visited Seville earlier the same year with Prince Charles – the Duquesa de Alba had met Camilla on a previous occasion in London, and the two Duchesses sat together in the front row. Afterwards she came over to greet some of those present, including myself.

Duquesa de Alba

Sevillanos (and those from further afield) signing the books of condolence in the Ayuntamiento.

To the best woman in the whole of my Seville. May God

“To the best woman in the whole of my Seville, the Duquesa de Alba. Rest in peace.”

"For the most illustrious woman which Seville has ever had, with much affection from a Sevillana. May God keep you ni his glory."

“For the most illustrious woman which Seville has ever had, with much affection from a Sevillana. May God keep you in his glory.”

Sevillanos queue up the stairs of the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) to pay their last respects to the Duchess.

Sevillanos queue up the stairs of the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) to pay their last respects to the Duchess.

Her death last Thursday was sad, if not unexpected, and the next day I went to pay my last respects at the capilla ardiente  where she was lying in state attended by her family (the Salon Colon of the Ayuntamiento was used, the largest room available – an estimated 80,000 people passed through in less than 24 hours). At midday on Friday her funeral was held in the Cathedral, and standing with the local press pack, I had a ringside seat at this sombre and moving occasion.

Alfonso's wreath to his wife reads: "I don't know if I knew how to tell you how much I loved you, I love you, and I will love you."

Alfonso’s wreath to his wife reads: “I don’t know if I knew how to tell you how much I loved you, I love you, and I will love you.”

Wreath from ex-King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia; many were surprised they didn't attend in person.

Wreath from ex-King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia; many were surprised they didn’t attend in person. Their daughter, Doña Elena, came instead.

Eugenia, the Duquesa's youngest child and only daughter, with her brother Jacobo.

Eugenia, the Duquesa’s only daughter, who was very close to her mother, is comforted by her brother Jacobo.

As someone who isn’t accustomed to the protocolo surrounding the death of a public figure, it was intriguing to see the spectacle, from the capilla ardiente and condolence books in the Ayuntamiento, to the funeral itself in the magnificent 15th-century basilica, conducted by the former Archbishop Cardinal of Seville.

Sevillanos applauding as the funeral cortege passes on the way to the cathedral.

Sevillanos applauding as the funeral cortege passes on the way to the cathedral.

The Duquesa was taken from the Ayuntamiento alongAvenida de la Constution to the cathedral, with crowds applauding as the procession past.

The Duquesa was taken from the Ayuntamiento along Avenida de la Constution to the cathedral.

The royal representative at the funeral was Doña Elena, sister of King Felipe.

The royal representative at the funeral was Doña Elena, sister of King Felipe. Many expected either reigning or former monarchs to attend the funeral.

The Archbishop Cardinal of Seville blesses the Duchess, swathed in the flags of Spain, and the Casa de Alba.

The former Archbishop Cardinal of Seville blesses the Duchess, swathed in the flags of Spain, and the Casa de Alba.

The Duchess' husband, Alfonso, cannot hide his grief, as he stands next to the Duchess's children.

The Duchess’ widower, Alfonso, cannot hide his grief, as he stands next to Carlos, 19th Duke of Alba, and the Duchess’s other children.

Over the first hours and days after she died, Twitter was filled with evenly-divided views, along the following lines. Either: 88-year-old extremely rich woman dies – big deal, when a penniless 80-something is being evicted from her home today; or: What an amazing woman, a force of life, she will be dearly missed in Seville.

The Duquesa was loved by a large number of Sevillanos because she adored their city so passionately, being an aficionado of flamenco, bull-fighting, Semana Santa and Feria. She also supported a number of charity causes, and helped individuals to pay for essential medical treatments which they couldn’t afford.

However there were plenty with no time for this phenomenally wealthy woman who led a life of privilege most can only dream about. As a terrateniente, she owned vast tracts of land, and her estates were subsidized by the European Union to the tune of three million euros per year. Parts of these fincas were not used for agriculture, as is the case with much land here in Andalucia, which many people see as grossly unfair when a considerable number of Andalucians don’t have enough to eat.

Whatever your view of her, she was a figure with an extremely high profile here in Spain. For this reason, I would like to show the full interview as it was originally submitted to the newspaper, as while not containing any major revelations, I think it offers a small insight into a fascinating, free-spirited, and controversial woman.

Portrait of Cayetana as a child by Spanish painter Zuloaga.

Portrait of Cayetana as a child by Spanish painter Zuloaga.

´´When I was a child, my father took me to the Prado every Sunday. I especially loved paintings by Velazquez and Goya,´´ Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, the most titled woman in Spain, otherwise known as the 18th Duquesa de Alba, tells me. ´´I have always loved art. When I was four years old Zuloaga painted me, but I fidgeted so much he said he´d never paint another child,´´ she recalls – and he didn´t. The resulting portrait, of the young Cayetana on her favourite pony, Tommy, also features her toys Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat, represented with spooky, staring eyes.

The Duquesa, now in her eighties, is still a keen art aficionado – not surprising since she´s the owner of one of Spain´s most important private collections, with over 600 works. So which are her favourite painters? ´´I love Impressionism,´´ she says. ´´Gaugin, Latour, but also Spanish painters like Velazquez.´´ When I ask her which are her preferred paintings in the current show, Coleccion Casa de Alba – 40 works (´´they couldn´t fit any more in,´´ she says, sadly) from her palaces in Madrid and Seville – she replies, ´´La Duquesa de Alba en blanco´´, the emblematic Goya of her antecedent, the 13th Duquesa (the artist´s patron and, allegedly, lover), in front of which she has been photographed many times, and a less controversial Renoir.

´´I am delighted the exhibition has had such a good response – it´s full every day,´´ she tells me happily. In earlier days, the Duquesa was a keen collector, and her favourite hunting ground was London. ´´I love the galleries, I used to go to the Marlborough Gallery (a leading contemporary art gallery in Mayfair) to buy paintings. I liked Picasso, but not Bacon or Hockney.´´

´´I lived in England when I was a child, while my father was Ambassador in London,´´ she recalls, switching to perfect English, with a refined, aristocratic accent and no trace whatsoever of Spanish. ´´We lived in Belgrave Square. I went to a convent school. I didn´t like it very much – the teachers were sarcastic, and I was away from my country. It was rather difficult,´´ she recalls with typical upper-class understatement.

But she retained an affection for the English capital. ´´I love London. I stay at Claridges when I´m there – it´s divine. I go to Marks & Spencers and Selfridges, which are wonderful.´´ (When I tell her Marks & Spencers is going to open in Marbella soon, she laughs and says, excitedly ´´Oh good!´´)

´´I go to the National Gallery and Tate Britain, and to Covent Garden for the opera – I love Verdi, and Italian operas in general. But I haven´t been for a while – my last trip to London was 10 years ago.´´ When I ask her about her views on current art, she replies that she likes contemporary Russian painters, but hasn´t heard of Damien Hirst´s pickled sharks. She likes Picasso – who wanted to paint her naked when she was 22, but her husband wouldn´t allow it (´´it would have been very shocking in that era,´´ she explains).

You get the feeling that she herself would have been up for it on her own terms, as a passionate, romantic young woman, whose first love affair was with a bullfighter at the age of 17 (see box). The Duquesa is one of the richest women in Spain, with an estimated wealth of 600 million euros (when I ask if this is correct, she replies firmly, ´´I have absolutely no idea´´) and has an eye-popping 50-odd titles, including 11th Duchess of Berwick, 11th Baroness of Bosworth, 12th Countess-Duchess of Olivares and 18th Countess of Palma del Rio.

Born Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, she is descended from the English royal family through an illegitimate son of King James II of England (also James VII of Scotland). King James bestowed on Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart (his surname means ´´son of James Stuart´´) the title of 1st Duke of Berwick; a painting by Ingres of Jacobo features in the exhibition. It was another of her antecedents who started the astonishing family art collection – Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duque de Alba, known as the Iron Duke, whose portrait by Titian is in the exhibition.

Gotya's painting of the 13th Duchess of Alba, rumoured to have been the painter's lover.

Goya’s painting of the 13th Duchess of Alba, rumoured to have been the painter’s lover.

When visiting Naples in the 16th century, he became interested in Italian art, and his patronage was continued by the 4th Duque. In the 18th century, the 13th Duquesa, Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva, was an enthusiastic sponsor of talented young artists. She also gave away inherited works by Velazquez and Raphael. When Maria Teresa died without an heir, the title passed to her nephew Carlos Miguel, 7th Duque de Berwick, who travelled around Italy collecting Italian and Dutch paintings.

The current Duquesa has added many 19th and 20th works to the collection, notably by Renoir, Picasso and Miro. Cayetana has three main residences, where her artworks normally reside: the Palacio de Liria in Madrid, the Palacio de Dueñas in Seville and the Palacio de Monterrey in Salamanca. She also owns other houses in Marbella and Ibiza, as well as fincas all over Spain. It is said that she can cross Spain from one end to the other without leaving her own estates, and that she has more titles than the Queen of England, who would have to bow to her, being of lower rank.

Although she was born in Madrid, the Duquesa prefers the Andalucian capital. ´´I feel more at home in Seville,´´ she says. She has received various honorary medals from the city, and is delighted that a statue of herself will soon be erected in the Jardines de Cristina, wearing what she described as ´´a very Spanish dress – not exactly flamenco.´

This despite marked opposition from her nemesis, Antonio Rodrigo Torrijos, IU leader and deputy mayor of Seville. Clearly she can´t stand Torrijos, as when I ask her about the Torre Pelli, a highly controversial 178-metre skyscraper being built in La Cartuja with the politician´s full support, she blames it on, ´´that terrible Communist´´, adding that ´´it´s not the mayor´s fault.´´ She also is less than positive about recent changes in her adoptive city. ´´It used to be a lovely town,´´ she tells me. ´´Now they´re spoiling it by putting in new things like cycle lanes. It´s terrible.´´ But, she is quick to add, and repeats several times in our conversation, ´´Í am not a political person.´´

She speaks slowly, a result of recent illnesses, but has no problem making herself clear, and is expressive and animated, with a playful sense of humour – she is fun to talk to and seems to enjoy discussing her art collection, and her earlier life. In fact, she is so lively that you get the impression of a much younger woman trapped in a rather aging body.

As a young woman, Cayetana says, ´´I used to paint a bit, and I loved sports like riding – I used to jump in shows. I also loved tennis and skiing´´. She still goes to the beach in the summer, with the rest of the Spanish population, where she allows paparazzi to take pictures of her in her colourful beachwear, being the free-spirited bohemian that she is (apart from the cycle lanes).

She has a notoriously complicated relationship with the press, which has an ongoing obsession with the private lives of her and her family – four of her six children are divorced, and she has a much younger companion who is not universally approved of – and this is reflected in her parting words to me, which are, said a little plaintively, ´´treat me well.´´

f you want to read more about La Duquesa, I blogged extensively on Click 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

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.

Game of Thrones Series 5: Twelve things you didn’t know about the Alcazar of Seville

Alzacar, Seville, Games of Thrones

Exquisite arcades of the Patio de las Doncellas, one of the Alcazar’s most famous areas.



Gallery of kings in the Ambassadors´Hall.

Gallery of kings in the Ambassadors´Hall.

The façade of the Palace of King Pedro, with a mix of architectural styles which inspired the Comares palace of the Alhambra.

The magnificent façade of King Pedro’s Palace, with a mix of architectural styles which is said to have inspired the Comares palace of the Alhambra, built by Mohammed V shortly afterwards.

Seville is abuzz with excitement about the news that series 5 of Game of Thrones will be filmed here in the city – at the Alcazar. The hugely successful HBO fantasy drama, which is inspired by European history and set in a magical medieval-era world, has a massive international fan base and has received widespread critical acclaim. Using the Alcazar as a location will bring Seville’s exquisite royal palace-fortress to global attention. (Personal confession: *whispers* I’ve never watched GOT myself, but will be remedying that situation by ordering some box sets shortly to bring myself up to speed.)

The royal palace – one of my own personal favourite monuments in Seville – has a long and fascinating history starting in Moorish times, passing through Gothic and Mudejar to Renaissance. In case you don’t know the Alcazares Reales, as they’re correctly named, here are some interesting facts about this beautiful complex of buildings. Plus some photos of its wonderful interiors and gardens, of course.

1) The Alcazar (as we’ll refer to it here) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; part of a complex along with the Cathedral and Archive of the Indies, across the same plaza from the palace. The complex won World Heritage status in 1987.

This triple stone arch is one of the Alcazars only remaining Moorish features.

This triple stone arch is one of the Alcazar’s few remaining Moorish features.


2) Contrary to popular belief, it is (mostly) not a Moorish palace – the Alcazar has one courtyard which dates from Moorish times, the Patio de los Yesos; three arches at the entrance of the Patio de Monteria; plus the exterior walls were built by the Almohads, who also built the Giralda and Torre del Oro. The rest of the Moorish-looking areas are, in fact, mudejar - made by Moorish craftsmen under Christian rule, adapting their art forms and skills to Christian styles. The mudejar part was finished in 1364.

Peacock in the Carlos Throne Room - animals couldn't be depicted in Arabic art; this is mudejar: by Moorish artesans, for a Christian king.

Peacock in the Phillip II Ceiling Room – animals couldn’t be depicted in Arabic art; this is mudejar: by Moorish artesans, for a Christian king.

For example, Islamic art cannot feature representations of people or animals, only geometric and naturalistic shapes and patterns. Mudejar art, on the other hand, has people, animals and fantastical creatures – for example, look out for the peacocks in the Phillip II Ceiling Room, above the triple arch, and the tiny heads on pillars in the Patio de las Muñecas. The legend goes that if you manage to spot them all, you’re either very lucky, or pregnant!

Seville, alcazar, Game of Thrones

An Arabic philosopher in the Patio del Yeso, the oldest part of the Alcazar – part of a dramatized night-time visit.

3) The oldest part of the Alcazar, the Patio del Yeso, dates from 1170-90. It was built by the Almohads, the last Moorish dynasty to rule Seville.

4) Archaeological excavations in the Patio de Banderas, the plaza you walk through when you leave the Alcazar, revealed Moorish, Roman and prehistoric remains – the earliest was a kitchen from the 8th century BC. Plans to preserve these historic gems for public view have been put on hold. If funds are the issue, then presumably the revenue from filming should remedy that problem, .

5) The Alcazar is the one of the oldest continuously inhabited royal palaces in Europe. The Royal Family stays in the Upper Palace apartments when they’re in Seville. This part of the palace was expanded by the Catholic Monarchs – they lived there in winter, as it was more protected from the cold and damp of the ground.

The Baths of Maria Padilla, a secret hideaway under the palace.

The Baths of Maria Padilla, a secret hideaway under the palace.

6) The Baths of Maria Padilla, with a hidden entrance in the Dance Garden, are so-called because this was the preferred place of King Pedro’s mistress Maria, who was declared Queen when she died.

Mudejar architecture: Islamic-Christian co-existence. Arabic characters spell out the phrase "Nobody is victorious but Allah", surrounded by Castillian Spanish "... conquering Don Pedro...".

Mudejar architecture: an example of Islamic-Christian co-existence. Arabic characters spell out the phrase “Nobody is victorious but Allah”, surrounded by Castillian Spanish “…conquering Don Pedro by the grace of God…”.

7) There is a bilingual/bi-religious dedication on the façade of King Pedro’s Palace – in Arabic and Castillian Spanish – as well as many other dedications around the palace which mix cultures, such as “Glory to our Sultan Peter!”

Artesonado door made by mudejar craftsmen.

Detail of artesonado door made by mudejar craftsmen.

8) The finest mudejar craftsmen worked on the Alcazar, as sent by Mohammed V of Granada who was repaying a favour which the Moorish king owed to King Pedro for lending him troops to quash a rebellion.

seville, alcazar, game of thrones

The Admiral’s Quarters, where the House of Trade was located.

9) Christopher Columbus met his royal patron Queen Isabella – of the Catholic Kings – here, to discuss the details of second voyage, in 1496. Part of the palace was used as the Casa de Comercio (House of Trade).



Alcazar, Seville, Game of Thrones

Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven was filmed in the Alcazar.


10) A number of movies have been filmed in the Alcazar, including Lawrence of Arabia, Reds, 1492: The Conquest of Paradise (including scenes of Columbus and Queen Isabella), and Kingdom of Heaven. The most popular part of the palace for shooting is the Patio de las Doncellas.

King Pedro and Maria de Padilla in the Patio de las Doncellas.

King Pedro and Maria de Padilla in the Patio de las Doncellas, in a dramatized night-time visit to the Alcazar.

11) You can visit the Alcazar at night: as part of the theatrical visits, where actors play roles of important people in the palace’s history (Columbus, Queen Isabella); and to hear a concert, as part of the summer concert season June-September.

Alcazar, Seville, Games of Thrones

Sunken garden with orange trees in the Patio de Doncellas; it was only uncovered ten years ago, having been paved over for four centuries.

12) The Patio de las Doncellas (Maidens) was restored to its original form in 2005, with orange trees planted in a lower patio by those clever Moors (who knew a trick or two about both gardening and irrigation) so the fruit could be picked easily from ground level, without having to reach up.


It is believed that the Alcazar will represent the kingdom of Dorne in Game of Thrones season 5, not yet featured in the series, while Osuna, a town in Seville province 90km east of the capital, will be Westeros and Essos. The TV series is based on the series of books A Kingdom of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin.

Game of Thrones series 5 will start filming in Belfast later this month – the production is based in Northern Ireland – with shooting in Andalucia expected to begin after the summer. The latest series, which was the fourth, finished airing in June. Average gross audience was 18.4 million, according to HBO’s figures.

Previous shooting locations for GOT have included Iceland, Croatia, Malta and Morocco. Tourism organizations in such filming locations have reported considerable increases in bookings after their locations appeared in Game of Thrones – one website saw increases of 13% in Iceland and 28% in Dubrovnik (Croatia). In 2013, bookings increased by 100% in Ouarzazate, Morocco, where season 3 scenes were filmed. It is estimated that filming in Andalucia will bring in around 80 million euros. Hopefully plenty of that will go into families’ mouths, rather than politicians’ pockets.