Moorish Mementos In Seville

Besides the Giralda, Alcazar, and Torre d’Oro, Seville is full of minor memorials of the Moors. Houses are still standing which were built by them, and a large number of private edifices in Moorish style date from the close of the fifteenth and the early part of the sixteenth centuries. Among these are the Casa de los Abades, now used as a pawnbroker’s, but once occupied by the abbots, from which came its name, and a house of the Duke of Alba, which had eleven patios and a hundred fountains, all of which are now in a decayed state. The Casa de Pilatos, which belongs to the Duke of Medina-Ceeli, is the best preserved and most beautiful Moorish house in Seville. It was built by the family of Don Enriquez, the father of the first Marquis of Tarifa, and receives its name from having been copied after the house of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, which the marquis had seen in his pilgrimage. Like most of the houses in Spain, the exterior is plain, and gives no idea of the beauties to which the gateway leads.

You enter through a courtyard into a patio which is simply enchanting, formed by two light galleries, resting on a double row of arches, supported by marble columns. In the centre, upheld by four marble dolphins, is a graceful fountain crowned with a head of Janus. All the walls are wainscoted with Moorish tiles, which have the sheen of changeable silk; and above the tiles the walls are covered with the most delicate patterns of stucco tracery. In these walls are niches occupied by the spoils of Italica, the Roman ruin outside of the town. Four colossal statues, which stand at the angles of the patio, are Roman goddesses. The pavement is of marble, and the whole effect is delightful. Large and beautiful rooms open from this court, whose walls are covered with azuelos and arabesques, and whose ceilings are of wood, carved, gilded, and colored in the most delicate and exquisite taste. Among these rooms is a chapel, where a column is shown which was presented by Pius V. The faithful believe that to this identical pillar our Lord was bound during his scourging, but unbelievers are satisfied to think that the Pope had the column made to imitate the original. De Amicis says, wittily, that Pius V. would scarcely have committed the unpardonable error of depriving himself of such a valuable relic, for the benefit of the first comer!

The whole palace is full of architectural beauties, and as full of sacred traditions, such as the place where Peter sat when he denied our Lord, the window from which the maid-servant recognized him, and the place where Jesus was crowned with thorns.

As we went out after a couple of hours pleasantly spent in the house, we read this inscription over the portal, “Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanun laboraverunt qui oedificant eam ” ( ” Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it”). Above this are carved the date of erection, the name of the founders, the three crosses of Jerusalem, and the family arms. Such is the Casa Pilatos, the most beautiful Moorish palace in Seville.

It is not a long drive to the Delicias, the promenade along the Guadalquivir, where every evening the beauty and fashion of Seville drive in their carriages, and alight for a walk in the garden full of flowers and under the avenues overhung with umbrageous trees. One turn of the road takes you around the Torre d’Oro, or Golden Tower, which was the key of the Alcazares. It was originally a small fortress, from which the environs and the river could be watched. It is orange-colored, and from the tint of its tiles, as they shone like cloth of gold in the sunlight, came its name, though some traditions say that it was once a Moorish treasure-house, and afterwards the place where the gold which Columbus brought from the New World was deposited. It has been used as a lighthouse, and is now occupied by the offices of a steamboat company. To such base uses do we come at last! But it is still a thing of beauty in the view of the city, and when the setting sun shines through the clear atmosphere of Andalusia, it gleams in the yellow lustre of its ancient glory, while the festive crowd of carriages, filled with elegantly dressed ladies and drawn by caparisoned horses, circles around its base.

The Alcazar, one of the most beautiful Moorish buildings in Spain, often enlarged and extended, is a part of the great palace which was the place of royalty when Seville became an independent kingdom. Without, it looks like a fortress, surrounded by high walls with towers and houses, which form two courts in front of the main building. The wall is plain, but the entrance is through a superb horseshoe arch, ornamented with gilded and painted arabesques. Walking thence through some lofty rooms with decorated wooden ceilings and tiled wainscot, one comes to an open court with elegant arches on the four sides, supported by delicate marble columns. There are fifty-two of these, of which forty are in pairs. Brilliant azuelos line the lower walls. Above, the arches, walls, window-frames, and doorways are covered with intricate and fanciful arabesques, like the figures on Oriental carpets, or the fine work on lace veils. The Hall of the Ambassadors and the Hall of Justice are decorated in a similar manner, but here the coloring and beauty of the patterne are inimitable. The facade glitters with gold and vivid colors, the little pillars are of choice marbles, the interlaced work glows with brilliancy, and the ceilings are adorned with manifold patterns, which shine like silver and mother-of-pearl, or are domed with orange-shaped recesses, which blend into each other and form the gorgeous interior of a resplendent cupola. Parts of these rooms have been often reproduced in paintings and photographs, but no adequate idea can be obtained of their wonderful beauty from these partial copies. It is a place of enchantment, like one of the palaces of the Arabian Nights, or a creation of the kaleidoscope, brilliant with light and color.

These splendid rooms have witnessed some of the darkest deeds which have blotted human records. Here Don Pedro the Cruel received the Red King of Granada, who came with his Moorish chiefs and his costly collection of jewels to a royal banquet; and the guest was murdered by his host, who thus became the owner of the gems, the costliest of which, by the mutations of fortune, is now the great ruby of the English crown. Here, too, the same sovereign had his brother Don Fadrique assassinated, having invited him to come and see the tournaments. Dark stains are shown upon the marble pavement, which are just as genuine blood-stains of the victims as similar spots shown in Holyrood and other places where famous crimes have been committed. It was a relief to go out_ of these magnificent rooms, haunted with the spectres of such hideous deeds, into the lovely gardens of the Alcazar.

These are extensive and of varied beauty. They were laid out by Charles V., and are a mass of terraces, and paths between myrtle hedges, with fountains and fruit-trees, and flower beds in lavish profusion. It was a favorite pleasure to come after the noonday heat into these gardens, where a gratuity would secure prolonged strolls among murmuring waters and aromatic odors till near sunset, and to carry home roses and hyacinths and other fragrant flowers to adorn our little salon in the Hotel de Madrid.

In all our walks and drives, we passed and repassed the Giralda. This is the feature of Seville. It rises three hundred and fifty feet into the air, and is surmounted by a bronze figure of Faith, fourteen feet high and weighing twenty-eight hundred pounds, which with strange though unintended sarcasm forms the revolving weather-vane. The tower takes its name from the vane, girar meaning to revolve. It was built in 1196 by Abu Jusuf Jacub, as a muezzin tower for the mosque erected by his father. The lower portion is of stone, and the walls are nine feet thick near the base. There is an inner wall in the centre, which supports thirty-five landing-places built upon brick arches, between the outer and inner walls. Inclined planes of brick connect these landings, and the angle is so slight that the ascent to the belfry is easy and could be made on horseback. From the platform, at the height of one hundred and fifty feet, which was the top of the Moorish tower, once rose a spire with four enormous gilt balls which could be seen for miles away. This was thrown down by an earthquake in 1395, and the upper stories of the structure were built nearly two hundred years later. This upper part of the tower contains the belfry with its thirty-five bells, which are rung by a blind man. He was ringing very frequently on the day when I went up, for it was a festival, and I asked him if he never missed the time. He seemed surprised at the question, and said in reply, “How can I when I’ve nothing else to do ? “The belfry is girdled with this motto, “Nomen Domini fortissima turris.” Above the belfry is a balustrade, and above that a cupola, and the whole is crowned by the revolving statue. The copy in New York, on the corner of the Madison Square Garden, differs slightly in detail from the original and has a statue of Diana for its weathervane.

The Giralda is at once imposing and beautiful. Its surface is plain and bare, up to a certain point, and of a pink color; but there is nothing remarkable except the exactness of its angles. At the height of about sixty feet, beautiful agimez windows of different styles and richly decorated panels of Moorish work adorn the sides; then comes a cornice of arched work in exquisite designs. There is something very noble and impressive about the Giralda, and the view from the top is superb. Seville, a mass of white houses amid gardens of green and gold, lies beneath; the Guadalquivir bends gracefully along the edge of the city and bears its commerce in many varied craft: then, in the distance, it sweeps away through the verdant plains to Cadiz and the sea. The towers of the Alcazar, the domes of many churches, covered with red and green tiles, the mighty cathedral at the foot of the tower, the Montpensier palace of St. Elmo, and the mass of verdure in its gardens, in the distance little villages nestling on the hills, further on the peaks and ranges of the Sierra Morena, and over all the deep azure of the sky, cloudless and pure, form a scene to delight the eye and fill the memory with visions of beauty that can never fade.