As someone who revels in the endless learning experience that is Seville’s millennia-long history, I am always thrilled with any opportunity to delve further into the city’s past. Walking around the centre, gothic churches, medieval convents and ancient alleyways in every barrio. I’ve blogged about San Salvador church, a VR tour of the city’s main monuments, the cathedral rooftop tour, and a interesting, novel exhibition combining art, history and fashion (a post which was selected for Word Press’ daily pick of the tens of thousands of blog posts published, Freshly Pressed).
One of the city’s recent rash of new historic attractions – as well as the Triana Ceramics Centre and the Pabellon de Navegacion – is Antiquarium, the Roman and Moorish ruins under the Setas (the huge mushroom shades also known as Metropol Parasol). Tucked away behind the stunning mosaics and remains of houses dating from the first century AD, is the glass-walled exhibition space which is currently hosting a fascinating display about the gates in Seville’s Old City walls: Puertas de Sevilla Hoy y Ayer.
Did you know that the city used to be completely surrounded by murallas (fortified walls), all around the old centre where the main road now passes, studded with 166 towers and 15 gates? These historic walls were built by the city’s Moorish rulers in the 12th century, on foundations laid by the Romans in 68AD; the muralla from each era covered a slightly different area of the old city.
The walls were designed both to protect the city from invading forces, and from the river Guadalquivir which frequently flooded, and remained in place until 1868 when they were almost completely knocked down to make way for wide urban avenues to modernise the city. Thankfully, one section is still preserved – in the Macarena district of the city, between two of the three remaining gates, the Puerta de la Macarena and the Puerta de Cordoba – and small random sections can also be found around the city, along with plaques commemorating the former sites of gates.
The three remaining gates are the Postigo del Aceite, near the Cathedral; Puerta de Cordoba, which is part of a church on the northern ring road, Ronda de Capuchinos; and Puerta de la Macarena. The locations of the gates that are no longer standing still give their names to spots on the edge of the old city, such as Puerta de la Carne in Barrio Santa Cruz, and Puerto Osario to the eastern edge of the historic centre, 150 years after they disappeared. That’s how highly Seville values its own history: the gate may not have existed within living memory, but we’ll keep its name up here anyway. Some were named for their key roles as gateways to roads from Seville to major cities nearby – Cordoba, Carmona, Jerez; others as entry points for essential produce and supplies – oil, food, fuel.
The exhibition explains how each gate had its own design and decoration, using pictures and even early photographs, starting with Puerta de Jerez, where the Metro stop and large fountain can be found today. Through this gate the last Moorish ruler left the city, after it was reconquered by Fernando III in 1248, ending a 500-year chapter in Seville’s history.
Next is the Postigo del Aceite, the yellow arch in a small section of wall which you can still see today – it leads from calle Almirantazgo, opposite the cathedral, to Plaza Cabildo in the Arenal – the archway is quite narrow and has high walkways on either side. This was where the all-important olive oil was brought into the city. The word aceite comes from aceituna (olive), and purists hold that aceite should never be used to refer to any other type of oil than olive oil.
After that came the Puerta del Arenal, which was where Garcia Vinuesa, another road leading from the basilica, meets calle Arfe. The multitude of ships arriving at Seville, Spain’s most important port for centuries, docked at the Arenal (which means sandy area) after which this barrio is named.
One of the most important gates was Puerta de Triana, which led to the river and across to Seville’s riverside barrio, for centuries the site of tobacco and ceramics factories, and birthplace of sailors, bullfighters and flamenco dancers. This was situated at the top of Zaragoza, at its junction with San Pablo – these days site of a ubiquitous Café de Indias. Inside was a prison for well-heeled political prisoners.
Puerta Real was named for the arrival of Fernando II in the city in 1576, and lies on Alfonso XII, before it meets Marques de Paradas. The sharp-eyed will notice a plaque on the narrow chunk of wall commemorating the location of this Royal Gate. This gate’s original name was Puerta Goles, a corruption of Hercules, according to legend the founder of Seville.
At the north-western corner of the old city, Puerta Barqueta was located at the point where the walls took the heaviest battering from the waters of the Guadalquivir, as the current was strongest here. In 1626 this gate was severely damaged by the worst floods the city had ever seen, and was rebuilt much higher than the previous construction. Apparently an Englishman who lived in the area at the time suggested that a stone plinth be erected with the legend: “Hercules built me, Julius Caesar fortified me with walls and towers, and a mayor ordered that I be destroyed, along with others.” The unusual sideways angle of the entrance itself was to avoid the full force of the river’s currents, and the gate was functional, without the usual decorative flair.
Puerta Macarena, still standing in its canary-yellow glory today, leads into one of the city’s most characterful barrios, and is located next to the church of one of Seville’s most beloved Virgins, a star of Semana Santa – La Esperanza de la Macarena. This gate was main entrance to the northern part of Seville, and was where the Catholic Kings entered the city. (Macarena is my old barrio – I used to live just inside the walls pictured at the beginning of the post, and it is “real Seville” – not touristy and full of interesting independent shops.)
The only original gate built by the Almohads, the last Moorish dynasty to rule Seville, is the Puerta de Cordoba, which is attached to San Hermenegildo church, on the Ronda de Capuchinos close to the standing section of wall.
Puerta del Sol was gate of simple, austere design, on calle Sol, so-called because it was directed towards the “salida del astro rey”.
The small, plain Puerta Osario, at the end of Matahacas and Escuelas Pias, may have taken its name from a Muslim cemetery outside the city walls.
The old Roman Road, the Via Augusta, left from Puerta Carmona, at the end of San Esteban, and water entered here along the Caños de Carmona from springs in Alcala de Guadaira. Like the Puerta de Triana, this gate was used as a jail for distinguished prisoners.
Puerta de la Carne was where meat enterered the city, having been bought in the market which supplied Seville’s residents located opposite outside the walls.
The last gate of the city to be built was Puerta San Fernando, also known as Puerta Nueva, which stood at the end of a new avenue leading from Puerta de Jerez, called San Fernando after the city’s patron saint. This gate, which only stood for just over 100 years, was the first portada (entrance arch) of the Feria.
The other main elements of the exhibition are a blown-up map of the old centre, so large you can clearly make out the numbered gates (hence my photos of them). This plan is divided into blocks like tables, so you can walk between sections and get a good look at each detail – convents, churches and other buildings are all numbered, with the lists at the side. A 3-D film gives a 360-degree view of what each gate looked like – bizarrely, inside the walls where the city stood, is empty on the film; lack of budget, I suppose. It also needs a commentary.
Finally, in the last room, there are braille models of the gates – a superb idea for the visually impaired – as well as photographs of modern-day Seville showing the site of each gate, with plazas, bars and shops named after them.
Puertas de Sevilla: Hoy y Ayer is on at Antiquarium in Plaza de Encarnacion until 22 February. Open 10am-2.30pm and 5-8.30pm Monday to Saturday, Sunday 10-2.30pm. Entry is 2.10 euros, free to Seville residents, those aged under 16 and disabled with companion.
UPDATE 6 February 2015: Unfortunately the Antiquarium has been closed due to safety concerns, until future notice. Lucky I got in there beforehand, and escaped unscathed with my notes and camera.