Albert Frederick Calvert.

Southern Spain online

. (page 6 of 13)
Online LibraryAlbert Frederick CalvertSouthern Spain → online text (page 6 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and attracts strangers from all parts of Europe.
Though a somewhat overrated festival, I think it more
distinctive and original in certain of its aspects than
the gorgeous religious ceremonies by which it is
preceded. The wealthier families of Seville rig up for
themselves on the fair-ground "casetas," or temporary
residences of wood or canvas, with two or more
apartments. A great deal of expense is lavished on
the upholstering and decoration of these pavilions, and
those of the four principal clubs are fitted up in the
most luxurious fashion. In the evening the jeunesse
doree of the city drive out to the fair in smart traps
drawn by dashing little horses with jangling little bells,
and visits are exchanged at the casetas, where as the
evening becomes cooler, dancing takes place, to the
sound of the piano, the guitar, and the castanet. The
pretty senoritas of Seville have no objection to going
through the graceful measures of the South in full
view of an uninvited audience who crowd round the
opening of the tent and from time to time give vent
to admiring "Oles!" and bursts of hand-clapping.


Southern Spain

Dancing will be interrupted at 8.30, when everyone
comes out to look at the firework display. Then
of course there are the usual popular amusements —
the inevitable bioscope, the gramophone, and all sorts
of shows. Peasantry and aristocracy alike dress their
very best on this occasion. The smartest toilettes and
the most picturesque of native costumes are seen side
by side, the latest confections of Worth and Paquin
and costly heirlooms handed down from the days of
Boabdil and Gonsalvo de Cordova.

Whether such an intermingling of all classes, of the
richest and the poorest, could take place with mutual
enjoyment and comfort in any country but Spain, is a
matter open to doubt.

The object of the fair is, I believe, the sale of cattle,
and about eighty thousand beasts are to be seen on the
Prado de San Sebastian. To say that the most
sanguinary bull-fights complete the festivities is
perhaps superfluous. The most skilful and renowned
toreros are engaged on this occasion, and the arenas
literally smoke with the blood of bulls and disem-
bowelled horses. Smithfield and Deptford can show
nothing in comparison.

The religious ceremonies, of which travellers talk so
much, are not for the most part peculiar to Seville, as
it ought to be unnecessary to remind them. The
tableaux in the processions struck me as theatrical, but
as being on the whole as well represented as similar
show-pieces in our pageants. The famous Dance of



The Pearl of Andalusia

the Seises is reserved for the octaves of the Immaculate
Conception and Corpus Christi. It has been described
over and over again. There is nothing irreverent
about the performance, which is in itself graceful and
quaint ; only carried out before the high altar it strikes
one as rather meaningless. So, I suppose, most such
functions impress those who are unprepared for them
by temperament and education. There cannot be much
doubt that the ceremony originated in an attempt to
attract the ungodly to church — an early and respectable
precedent for the methods of the Salvation Army.

Others have it that the dance is a survival of some
pagan ceremony — which will remind us that we have
so far neglected the monuments of the Romans which
were bequeathed to Seville. These are not very
numerous or interesting. Only a fragment remains,
at the north-east angle of the city, of the massive wall
which Caesar built, and which completely girdled
Seville as late as the reign of Juan II. It was
strengthened, tradition tells us, by i66 towers, which
were freely used as prisons by later rulers. The
Cordoba Gate- marks the site of the dungeon of the
canonized Hermenegild. Close to it is the Capuchin
Convent, built upon the foundations of the palace of
the Roman governor, Diogenianus, and afterwards
associated with MuriUo. A noble aqueduct built by
the Romans, and known to-day as the Canos de
Carmona, still brings water from Alcala de Guadaira
to Seville. Everyone who visits Seville is expected

8i "

Southern Spain

to make an excursion to the ruins of Italica, a few
miles on the other side of the Guadalquivir. There
is remarkably little to see when you get there, and not
much is known about the place. There were few, if
any, private dwellings here, and it existed rather as
the place of meeting and distributing centre for the
colonists scattered over the district. It was indeed
raised to the dignity of a municipality by Augustus,
but petitioned to be restored to its old rank of a
Roman colony. It did not prove unworthy of its
connection with the great capital. Hence sprang the
illustrious line of the ^lii, and many of the eminent
Roman Spaniards who conferred such lustre on the
early empire are believed to have been natives. The
town was embellished in those palmy days with
temples, palaces, amphitheatres, and baths, quite out of
proportion to its population.

Its downfall, like its earlier history, is mysterious.
Here Leovigild placed his headquarters when besieging
Seville. Then came the Arabs, who dismantled it and
carried off columns and blocks of masonry on which
are founded the Giralda and other important buildings
in the neighbouring city. Italica disappeared from
history ; and all you can see of it to-day is a few
remains of walls and earthbanks outlining the amphi-

It might not be worth the journey were it not that
it can be included in an excursion to the villages of
Santi Ponce, Castilleja la Cuesta, and the Cartuja.


The Pearl of Andalusia

The parish church of the first named wretched village
is remarkable as the last resting-place of the illustrious
Guzman el Bueno, that Spaniard of the Roman mould
who refused to save the life of his son at the cost of
the fortress of Tarifa, which he held for his king.
The hero's kneeling effigy dates, as the inscription
beneath informs us, from the year 1609, the three
hundredth anniversary of his death. The modern
traveller, whose sympathies are usually more with the
aesthetic than the heroic, will be more interested in
the lifelike St. Jerome, one of the finest works of
Montanez, to be seen over the high altar. The saint,
regarding a crucifix devoutly, beats his breast with a
stone. On either side are beautiful bas-reliefs of the
Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi.

The convent was inhabited first by the Cistercians,
next by the Hermits of St. Jerome. It presents
rather the appearance of a fortified abbey of the middle
ages. The church is divided into two naves, each of
which was a distinct church — one, 1 suspect, belonging
to the monastery, the other to the parish ; a not
uncommon medieval arrangement. I almost forgot to
add that it contains the ashes (literally) of Dona
Urraca Osorio, a lady burnt to death, as I have said,
by Pedro the Cruel.

At Castilleja la Cuesta — a village on the height — is
the house where Hernando Cortes died in 1547. The
house has been converted by the Due de Montpensier
into a sort of museum. The Conquistador's bones


Southern Spain

repose in the land which, with so much intrepidity and
ruthlessness, he won for Spain.

The old Charterhouse or Cartuja is now occupied
by the porcelain factory of Pickman & Co. It lies on
the west bank of the Guadalquivir, a few minutes'
walk from the railway bridge. It was founded in the
first decade of the fifteenth century by Archbishop de
Mena, and was the burial-place of the Riberas, till
their remains were transferred to the University
Church. There is little to see except some stalls
carved, if I remember aright, by Duque Cornejo, in
the little chapel.

You may return to the city through the transpontine
quarter of Triana, a collection of whitewashed houses
inhabited chiefly by gipsies. To distinguish these no
longer nomadic Bohemians from the lower-class
Andalusians around them is not an easy task. As at
Granada, gipsy dances arc got up by the guides and
hotel people, and here, I am told, they possess the
merit which a Frenchman denies to those of the other
city — impropriety. The patron saints of Seville,
Saints Justa and Rufina, were potters in this quarter.
In their time the Carthaginian goddess, Astarte or
Salambo, was much venerated in the Roman city.
The commemoration of the death of Adonis took
place in the month of July, when the image of the
goddess was borne in triumph through the streets,
while the people following with cries and lamentations
deplored the untimely end of her beloved. A strange



The Pearl of Andalusia

survival, this, on soil so far to the west, of the hideous
Punic rites ! The two maidens, newly converted to
the religion of the Crucified, refused to do reverence
to the image as it was carried past, and were haled
before the governor, Diogenianus, in his palace by the
Cordova Gate. They were put to death in due
course, and have received more honour since from
architects, sculptors, and painters, than Venus- Astarte
in all her glory received from her devotees.

Before leaving Triana, visit the Church of Santa
Ana, to see the exquisite Madonna of Alejo Fernandez,
whom Lord Leighton considered the most conspicuous
among the Gothic painters. There is a regard for
beauty in the figures, not by any means obtrusive in
most of the paintings of the period, though the
awkward pose of some of the angels shows that the
artist had not quite emancipated himself from Byzantine
influence. And the thought occurred to me as I made
my way back to the Delicias Gardens, where the
people were driving out to take the air, and knots
were collecting round musicians and mountebanks —
when the whole city was yielding itself up to the
sensuous charm of the summer night — that the art of
Fernandez was expressive of Seville : of a people in
whom the sense of beauty and the joy of living cannot
be extinguished, though at the call of religion they
reluctantly keep their faces half turned towards sad
facts and yet more sombre unrealities.



" They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep."

The sands of Asia are strewn with the ruins of cities
once the gorgeous capitals of mighty empires. Here in
Spain the followers of the Prophet raised a metropolis
as splendid as any of the new Babylons of the East ;
and its fall has been wellnigh as great as theirs. We
need not credit all the assertions of the Arabian writers
(for the scribes of that nation, as Cervantes remarks,
are not a little addicted to fiction). We can hardly
believe that Cordova in its prime contained 300,000
inhabitants, 600 mosques, 50 hospitals, 800 public
schools, 900 baths, 600 inns, and a library of 600,000
volumes ; but there is evidence enough to satisfy us
that this was in the tenth century the most magnificent
and populous city in Europe, Byzantium alone excepted.
Now it is a small provincial capital, bright, white, and
coquettish, utterly without the solemnity and majesty
which should invest the seats of vanished empires.
Here greatness has been swallowed up in insignificance,




not in desolation. The Court of the Khalifas, the
Western Mecca, does not lie in lordly ruin like a
fallen Colossus, but has sunk into mere pettiness.

Victor Hugo draws, as only he knew how, in a couple
of lines, a picturesque sketch of Cordova, but this
hardly corresponds to the impressions of the modern
traveller. The houses may be old (some of them
certainly are), but in their coats of dazzling whitewash
they look brand-new. Gautier very sensibly remarks
that, thanks to whitewash, the wall which was erected a
century ago cannot be distinguished from that which
was erected yesterday. Its general application " imparts
a uniform tint to all buildings, fills up the architectural
lines, effaces all their delicate ornamentation, and does
not allow you to read their age." Cordova, which was
formerly a centre of Arabian civilization, is now nothing
more than a confused mass of small white houses, above
which rise a few mangrove trees, with their metallic
green foliage, or some palm trees with their branches
spread out like the claws of a crab ; while the whole
town is divided by narrow passages into a number of
separate blocks, where it would be difficult for two
mules to pass abreast. Such is Cordova to-day, and I
doubt very much if its external aspect was a whit more
splendid or by any means as pleasing in the days of its
glory. Some authors write as if they imagined the
Mohammedans built their capitals on the lines of Paris
and Washington. A visit to Constantinople or to
Cairo would remove that impression. Imagine Cordova


Southern Spain

covering three or four times its present area, its windows
obscured with lattices, its walls less white, its streets
filled with a noisy mob of beshawled and beturbaned
men — black, brown, and white — with noble mosques
and elegant minarets here and there, and you will have
a fair picture of the capital of the Western Khalifate.

Of its outward seeming only. Its culture and refined
social life merited for Cordova the title of the Athens
of the West. When all Europe was sunk in barbarism,
medicine and chemistry, the natural sciences, the arts
and philosophy, all found a refuge here. Culture was
diffused through all classes of the population, if only
very superficially, to an extent never perhaps equalled
elsewhere. And though there was little initiative or
originality about the scholars at Cordova, their labours
contributed to keep alive a taste for the humanities
which otherwise would never have revived in Europe.
The comforts and amenities of life were carefully studied
in the Western Khalifate. All the products which
minister to luxury were at that time the almost exclusive
property of the Moslem world, and to the bazaars of
Cordova were brought the choicest spoils of Egypt,
Persia, Arabia, and Hindostan. And at the head of
this urbane and flourishing commonwealth sat the great
Umeyyad khalifa, emulous of the glories of Bagdad and
Cairo, and eager to surpass them in elegance and

Of those great days all that remains is the Mezquita
— and that is much. Next to St. Peter's it is the



largest of Christian temples, and certainly among the
most ancient. As a Mohammedan place of worship,
it ranked in sanctity with the Mosque of Omar at
Jerusalem, immediately after Mecca, which it was
indeed designed to eclipse. It was Abd-ur-Rahman's
ambition to focus all the interests of Islam at this point
within his own dominions. Spanish Moslems were
taught that a pilgrimage to the "Zeka" of Cordova
was in all respects equivalent to a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Hence Sancho Panza's saying, "Andar de Zeca en
Mecca." That the Umeyyad khalifa succeeded in
diverting the Faithful from the old shrine to the new
is doubtful, but he and his successors spared no pains
to render their mosque one of the wonders of the
world. In the year 786, seized, it is said, by a sudden
inspiration, Abd-ur-Rahman convoked his council and
declared his intention of raising a temple to Allah on
the site of a Christian church. The Moslems had
already appropriated half of the Basilica of San Vicente
to their use, suffering the Christians to perform their
rites in the adjoining portion. The khattib was
commanded to approach the unbelievers to negotiate
the purchase of the whole edifice. The Christians
stood out for a high price, and got it. They received
a sum equal to ;^400,ooo of our money, and
permission, moreover, to rebuild all their churches in
the city that had existed at the time of the Conquest.
When we remember the violent seizure and "purifi-
cation" of the Church of St. Sophia by the Turks,

89 '2

Southern Spain

seven hundred years later, we can see how little Islam
had learnt of toleration in the meantime.

The old basilica was accordingly demolished and the
mosque begun. The khalifa set apart a portion of his
revenues for the work, and laboured himself upon it
for an hour each day. Thus encouraged, his subjects
of all ranks made it a point of honour to contribute
either their personal labour or their money to the great
work. Though most of the columns came from the
marble quarries of the neighbouring town of Cabra, as
many as possible were brought from the most distant
parts of the Mohammedan empire, from the works of
civilizations which Islam had subdued. The mosque
was to be a monument to the triumph of the Crescent.
Its dimensions as projected by the founder were four
times less than those of the existing building.

The successors of Abd-ur-Rahman obtained the
assistance of Byzantine craftsmen, and embellished the
mosque with rich mosaics. Almost a quarter of the
actual building was added by Al Hakem II., and
the eastern half by Al Mansur. To effect this last
expansion, a cottage beneath a palm tree had to be
acquired. The old lady to whom it belonged
refused to budge till an exactly similar abode was
found for her. This was done at last, after a diligent
search, and a liberal donation made to her to boot.

Thus was reared this mighty temple of Islam on
European soil, at a time when the state of the
Christian world went far to justify the exultant words





of the khalifa : " Let us build the Kaaba of the
West upon the site of a Christian temple, which we
will destroy, so that we may set forth how the Cross
shall fall and become abased before the True Prophet.
Allah will never place the world beneath the feet of
those who make themselves the slaves of drink and
sensuality, while they preach penitence and the joys
of chastity, and while extolling poverty, enrich
themselves to the loss of their neighbours. For these,
the sad and silent cloister ; for us, the crystalline
fountain and the shady grove ; for them, the rude and
unsocial life of dungeon-like strongholds ; for us, the
charm of social life and culture ; for them, intolerance
and tyranny ; for us, a ruler who is our father ; for
them, the darkness of ignorance ; for us, letters and
instruction widespread as our creed ; for them, the
wilderness, celibacy, and the doom of the false martyr ;
for us, plenty, love, brotherhood and eternal joy."

The face of the world has changed somewhat in ten

It must, I think, be admitted that the Mezquita, to
European eyes, is fantastic and interesting rather than
beautiful. It may be compared to a forest of columns
or to a seemingly endless series of parallel aisles
spanned by low horseshoe arches. It does in truth
remind one, as one writer observes, of a gigantic
crypt. The additions of Al Mansur, may be dis-
tinguished by the pointed arches. Otherwise there
is little of the variety insured in Christian churches by


Southern Spain

the distribution of the parts. It is only in the
columns themselves that we find any relief from
the prevailing uniformity. There are interesting
differences in their capitals, and in their bases also,
which are, however, buried underground. In the
ruder carving is seen an attempt on the part of the
Moorish masons to copy the work of the more skilled
craftsmen of Rome and Byzantium. The mean
vaulting overhead is modern. It is gradually being
taken down and replaced by the beautiful carved
ceiling of white larchwood which Murphy described a
hundred years ago. He says : " Above the first arch
is placed a second, considerably narrower and
connecting it with the square pillars that support the
timber work of the roof, which is not less curious in
its execution than are the other parts of the building.
It was put together in the time of Abd-ur-Rahman 1.,
and subsists to this day unimpaired, though partially
concealed by the plaster-work of the modern arches.
The beams contain many thousands of cubic feet ; the
bottoms and side of the cross beams have been carved
and painted with different figures ; the rafters also are
painted red. Such parts as retain the paint are
untouched by worms : the other parts, where the paint
no longer remains, are so little affected that the decay
of a thousand years is scarcely perceptible ; and, what
is rarely to be seen in an edifice of such antiquity, no
cobwebs whatever are to be traced here. The timber
work of the roof is further covered with lead ; and




the whole has been executed with such precision and
taste, that it may justly be pronounced a chef-d' ceuvre of
art, both with respect to the arrangement of the different
parts, as well as to the extent and solidity of the whole."

But what must have lent so much of beauty to the
building originally was that, instead of being enclosed
with walls as it is at present, its long arcades opened
into the groves of orange trees without, which were
simply their natural continuation — a graceful and
symmetrical plan which one would like to see
attempted in modern times. Though, too, every
Mohammedan temple is necessarily simple in plan
and can never approach the Christian churches in
elaboration and gorgeousness, here Moslem art
exhausted its ingenuity on the embellishment of those
more sacred parts of the building such as the
Sanctuary and the Maksurrah.

The Sanctuary or Zeka has been spared to us. It
is a little heptagonal recess, paved with white marble
and roofed with a shell-like cupola of marble of a
single block. The sides are formed by dentated
horseshoe arches which interlace and enclose each
other in a beautiful complication. Here in the
southern wall is the recess which indicated the
direction of Mecca, and towards which the worshippers
turned ; it is adorned with exquisite mosaic work and
with inscriptions from the Koran and the names of the
architects. In the Sanctuary was preserved for several
centuries after the Reconquest the superb " mimbar "


Southern Spain

or pulpit of Al Hakem II. " It was of marble," says
Senor de Madrazo, " and of the most precious woods,
such as ebony, red sandal-wood, bakam, Julian aloe,
etc. ; it cost 35,000 dineros and 3 adirames. It had
nine steps." We are told that it was composed
of 36,000 pieces of wood, joined with pins of silver
and gold, and encrusted with precious stones. Its
construction lasted seven years, eight artificers being
employed upon it daily. This tribune was reserved
for the khalifa, and in it was deposited the principal
object of the veneration of the Moslems of Andalusia
and Al Moghreb — a copy of the Koran supposed to
have been written by Othman and stained with his
precious blood. This treasure was preserved in a
binding of cloth-of-gold sewn with pearls and rubies,
covered with the richest red silk, and placed on a
lectern of aloe-wood with nails of gold. Its weight
was extraordinary, and two men could carry it only
with difficulty. It was placed in the mimbar, when the
imam read from it the prayer of the Azulah, and was
then placed in the treasury with the gold and silver
vessels used in the ceremonies of the " Ramadan."

The Maksurrah is now transformed into the chapel
of Villa Viciosa. Here sat the khalifa when not
officiating as imam. Little is visible of the original
decoration, except the cupola, similar to that of the
Sanctuary. Adjacent to this chapel another has been
discovered which it is thought will prove to be the
treasury to which Madrazo refers.




When Cordova was taken by St. Ferdinand in 1236,
the mosque was reconsecrated as a Christian cathedral,
but little alteration was made in the original structure.
It was in 1523 that the unfortunate idea possessed
the bishop, Don Alfonso Manrique, to build a new
church in the middle of the Mohammedan temple. So
proud were the Cordovans of their great monument,
that the municipality threatened the innovators with
death if they ventured to carry the project into
execution. However, this decree was overridden by
an order from Charles V., who knew so little what he
was about that on visiting Cordova a few years later,
he bitterly expressed his regret at having allowed the
mosque to be interfered with. Two hundred columns
had been swept away to make room for the existing
chancel, choir, and lateral chapels. Though we resent
their appearance here, these parts of the church are not
wanting in taste and richness. The reredos of jasper
and bronze is painted by Antonio Palomino, and
flanks a sumptuous and beautifully moulded tabernacle.

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryAlbert Frederick CalvertSouthern Spain → online text (page 6 of 13)