Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tesoros de Sevilla

Ridiculously heavy picture heavy post below--it may take some time to load this. Be patient, it´s worth it, I promise.
View from the fortress tower, Alhambra, Granada

Hasta dos semanas que llegó en Sevilla y ahora es possible a decir que estoy viviendo en Sevilla [It´s been two weeks since I arrived in Seville and now it´s possible to say that I´m living in Seville]. I´m a local at the supermarket down the street. I can actually understand most of what the sportscasters are saying on the TV (watching the Olympics from a Spanish perspective is certainly one of the oddest memories I will have of this trip). I have regular routes to and from the Archives, the best cafés, and I am no longer afraid to wander around on my own. Provided it´s daylight, that is. I have already found some amazing things at the Archives...but, boy, it´s a tough slog. My eyes start to cross after about 5 hours. They claim to be open from 8 to 3, but, really, they don´t like it if you arrive at 8 promptly and they chase us all out at 2, which means I have an effective work day of 8:30 to 2. Not a lot of time. At all. I wish I could show you pictures of the documents I´m working with, but I´m not allowed to bring a camera into the Sala de Invesitgaciones. I also forgot to copy the images I have of the Archives main building...Those will have to go in the next post, probably my last before I leave on Saturday. There is an incredible exhibit up at the Archives right now, called Hilo de la Memoria [Thread of Memory], that includes all of the most important documents related to Spain´s long history with its American colonies. Maps I´ve never seen in English publications...the originals of Luna´s, de Soto´s, and Coronado´s journals, among many others. It brought tears to my eyes. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience above and beyond the incredible thrill of handling the brothers and sisters of these treasures in the building next door. After some rough starts that were due to a lack of instructions and some linguistic difficulties, I am at last working smoothly there. At least I was, until Friday. I lost an entire work day to an unkown (to me, stupid Americana) Spanish national holiday: Dia de la Virgen. I was headed down to the Archives, wondering idly why )I kept passing so many well-dressed Sevillanos on the street. I NEVER see that many locals down near the touristy Cathedral area; especially not at 8 am. And then I rounded the corner and ran smack dab into a wall of people. La Virgen, who is installed in the so-called Silver Altar of the Cathedral, was on promenade, carried with all due pomp and circumstance through the streets of Sevilla. Of course, I was out without my camera, but I did manage to capture some shots of her on my cell phone. Once I don´t have to pay an exorbitant international rate to send the photos to myself, I will post them here. The crowd surrounding me, up until her arrival, were idly smoking, chatting, and catching up on local gossip. Once we heard the chant to La Virgen in lovely male descant a hush spread across the hundreds of people pressed against me. The sun had risen and shimmered on her silver brocade and gilt crown as incense and prayers sipraled into the azure sky. An unforgettable moment...easier to savor because it came upon me so unexpectedly. Until I can show you those shots, content yourselves with an image of her in her permanent location inside the Cathedral:The entire altar, from candlesticks to awning pillars were covered in beaten silver...mined, I´m quite sure, from Nueva España using Indio labor.
The gf and I toured the entire Cathedral last Saturday. The guidebooks all claim that it is the largest gothic building in existence...I´m not sure about that, but it is certainly overwhelming.

One does get the Church´s point as soon as one walks through the enormous doors. Well, see for yourself:
A shot down the main aisle toward the Choir screen
The main altar itself, encrusted with gilt and painted carvings that detail the hierarchy of the Church and all Christianity

And, as an added bonus, the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Can you imagine a more fitting encounter for an American researchers working on the history of contact between Spaniards and Native Americans? I can´t. It was splendid.
After we toured the church we took a climb up the Giralda, or belltower, that was once the watchtower during the Moorish occupation of Sevilla. Built to accommodate horses, the entire tower ascent is by ramp, rather than stairs, which made for a lovely climb punctuated at regular intervals with exquisite views of the city and even more breathtaking panoramas from the top. Here´s the Barrio Santa Cruz, that I walk through every day to get to the Archives. Note the rooftop swimming pools. I´m not sure why, but that really amuses me.
Once you get back down the Giralda you exit through the Corte de Naranjas, or Court of the Orange Trees, also built by the the excellently engineered watering channels for each tree would indicate.
Here´s a closeup of the intricate, and well-used door handle to the Court´s gate.
I´m in love with this object. It´s a perfect combination of craftsmanship...utilitarian and beautiful, full of poetry and prayer. The next day (Sunday) we toured the Alhambra. As I´m sure you know, the Alhambra is a city/fortress on a hill overlooking Granada (about 3 hours from Seville). It´s a world heritage site, and it´s easy to see why once you´re there. My study of this building (up until then) was limited to the Arabic periods of occupation, so I was unprepared for the many building campaigns we toured...everything from the original fortress with remains of soldier´s houses:
To the various cooling gardens

to a palace built by Charles V

Until we got to what I was waiting for, the Arabic-period palaces

And baths with pierced roofs

Unfortunately, the famous fountain of 12 lions was undergoing conservation, but I still got to see some marvelous plaster and tile...this is colored plaster, formed with wooden molds pressed into the wall while the plaster is still wet

Not to mention fountains, some leaping for joy

Others proffering tranquility in the afternoon heat

I took over 150 photos that day, which was quite a feat given the speed at which our excellent guide was moving us through the many venues. I´m eternally grateful to the gf for arranging the bus tour and guide. It would have been frustrating and exponentially more difficult to make that trip on our own. Unlike the trip to Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez was a charming place full of delightful breezes and a hint of the nearby ocean. We loved coming out there. And of course, there was the Escuela Real del Artes Equestrianas...Royal Riding School...the reason for our visit. While we were not allowed to take pictures during the show (a little over an hour of some of the most amazing ridign I´ve ever seen), I did get a few shots of the grounds and riders who were warming up:

As I´m sure you all know, this school, while founded only relatively recently, reflects centuries old riding traditions with their origins deep in the countryside of Andalusia. Before going into the show ring, we toured the grounds, which are set in a 19th century estate, complete with palace:

Jerez is famous for its sherry (jerez is Spanish for sherry) and the Escuela was surrounded by sherry bodegas, which we didn´t have time to tour unfortunately, as we went to the carriage museum after the show. The museum maintains carriages from the 18th century to the present, including the coach used in the most recent royal wedding, as well as continuing the tradition of carriage-training horses. The gf even got to pat a carriage horse´s velvety nose as we toured the stables. It was a good day.

This, my last weekend here, I spent playing tourist in areas of the city I had not yet visited, including the Torre de Oro (once covered entirely in gold leaf, now long gone) on the edge of the Guadalquivir River

The plaza de Toros, built in the 18th century

with lovely little plazas inside the walls like this one

The weekends are for exploring, the weeks for work. I have one more all-too short week here. I will be madly requesting folios and filling out copy request sheets. I hate that I won´t even be able to see the copies I´ve requested...they will send them to me. I have to trust that they will give me what I requested. I don´t have time to transcribe everything I´m here to see and that fact is driving me a bit batty. I only have time to take quick notes, fill out the copy requests for the entire document, and then move on. It reallyis a commando raid on the AGI, but is already yielding some very interesting results. I must say (and I´m surprising myself a bit here) that I think I really do love Sevilla, despite the difficulties, sewer stench, and persistent gypsies. I am enternally grateful for this unparalleled opportunity. Thank you University of Delaware, especially the History Department, the Graduate School and the Center for International Studies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ceiling of the third palace, Alhambra

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