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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.