Spain’s fourth largest city, Sevilla is renowned for its many rulers, poets, and artists. Cervantes’ tales of Don Quixote began in a Sevilla prison; Rossini’s Figaro, The Barber of Seville, also originated from the metropolis. Sevilla’s diverse culture and mix of Moorish revival and neo-Mudéjar architecture beautifies the city; a reflection of its extensive history. Sevilla’s María Luisa Park, with its own rich history is a landscape of arts and culture.
In the 1920s, extravagance was still a way of life in the city of Sevilla. At the time, it was one of the most avant-garde and modern cities in Spain. Sevillanos were redirecting the Guadalquivir River, constructing a new harbor, and building factories. King Alfonso XIII, along with Sevillanos elected to host an exposition that would focus on Latin-American countries, devised as a social, economic and cultural exchange of commerce and ideas.
Twenty-seven years earlier, the Infant María Luisa Fernanda, the younger sister of Queen Isabella II, bequeathed acreage that belonged to the former royal residence, Palace of San Telmo, on Sevilla’s southern side. For the exposition, the French landscape gardener, Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, the architect for the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, was hired to redesign the former royal grounds.
Forestier honored the ground’s original design, but transformed them into a paradisiacal half-mile of verdant gardens with orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and elms complete with sunken gardens and flowerbeds. In the park, grand avenues and boulevards crossed in hidden arbors with statues, Moorish fountains and a lotus pond was skirted with rustic stone and a pergola.
To draw attention to the 1929 Exposición Iberoamericana (Ibero-American Exposition), the city constructed a permanent structural complex even bigger than the city’s Fabrica de Tabacos (Tobacco Factory) that employed as many as 12,000 women to roll cigars. It took over 20 years of planning, went 15 years over schedule, and only lasted one year. However, the architectural and cultural landscape that the expo left behind still marvels today.
Designed by the Spanish architect, Aníbal González, the Plaza de España, a majestic architectural complex, was built in 1928 as the Pabellon de Andalucía, the principal building to exhibit Spain’s technology and industry.
As the heart of the world fair, the Plaza de España was and still is considered “World Fair architecture” at its grandest, a composite of neo-Mudéjar, Art Deco, Renaissance Revival and even a little Baroque. Its splendid spires emulated the bell towers of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The plaza’s towers crowned the crescent-shaped pavilion at each end, and were built tall enough to be visible around the metropolis.
The vast semicircular brick structure envelopes a 500-meter canal and its curved façade follows the contours with a large central fountain. Along the inside portico and along the side of the building are a few million painted ceramic tiles called azulejos. Along the wall, by the canal, are 48 alcoves with benches, each one is covered in azulejos portraying allegorical scenes and maps that represented each of the Spanish provinces.
The immense colonnades and staircases adorn the façade. Four bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain, Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Leon, still lead to the pavilion’s center and represent the four medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
At the other end of the park is the Plaza de America where three additional pavilions remain in the park, also designed by González, but each highlighting a different architectural style. The Royal Pavilion in a neo-Gothic style was the royal residence during the Ibero-American Exposition and is now occupied by town hall offices. The former neo-Renaisance Pabellón del Renacimiento contains Sevilla’s archaeological collection and the treasure of El Carambolo. Across the plaza, the former Mudéjar pavilion houses the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions of Andalucía.
Today, the Plaza de España houses government offices and the remaining 1929 structures, along with the park are a major tourist attraction. The site has been the location for several movies such as the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, two Star Wars films and The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen.
Stretching along the Guadalquivir River, the María Luisa Park in Sevilla is open access to visitors. With its wide-shaded boulevards, museums, Moorish fountains, monuments and architectural mélange, and now that the park’s gardens have matured, the talent of the landscapers can be realized – it is one of the most beautiful parks in Spain.
By: Dawn Levesque