Have you ever walked past something and wondered what it was and that left you puzzled? Me too. Before I got to know Seville I would occasionally stumble on a little oddity tucked away somewhere, sometimes there was no explanation, and other times because of my limited Spanish I couldn’t decipher the legend. My curiosity was piqued so I set out to unravel some of the mystery.
Welcome to my city, Seville. The most vibrant, cosmopolitan, historic, and fun city in the whole of España. That’s my opinion anyway. Wander through the tiny streets and alleyways and at every turn there is a surprise whether it be a tile on a wall, a statue where it is least expected, or a blue roofed dome of a church that has been built over a mosque, there is so much to see. Some of these treasures are hidden and it is easy to walk past and miss them altogether. Today I want to bring you some of those. It took several visits to Seville before I discovered all of these and learned the legends behind them. This is Spain and there is always a story or fable behind the reality. It’s up to you to decide which is real and which is not but knowing the legend makes the walk just that bit more interesting.
Roman Columns in Seville
Tucked away in a little side street these are easy to miss but they are an important part of the history of Seville. They are believed to date from the 2nd century and are the oldest man-made structures in Seville. Located in Calle Marmoles, beside what is now number 5, they are all that is left of, what is believed to have been a temple dedicated to Hercules, the mythical founder of Seville. They sit between 2 buildings and are easily missed.
There were originally 6 columns. When Don Pedro I (Pedro the cruel, or Pedro the just, depending which side you were on) was rebuilding the Alcazar he decided to move 2 of the columns and incorporate them in the building. One broke on the way and so the other was left in situ. In 1754 two of the columns were moved to the entrance to the Alamada de Hercules leaving the 3 that are currently in place.
The entrance to Alamada de Hercules
Hercules, champion of the weak and great protector, is the legendary founder of Seville. These 2 columns that originally came from C. Marmoles now stand at the southern entrance to Alameda de Hercules topped by statues of Hercules and Julius Caesar. At the other end of the plaza, topped with lions, are 2 much newer columns.
The Alameda de Hercules is the centre for nightlife and diversity in Seville with music venues, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and a quirky Arab tea shop. It is to Seville what Kemptown is to Brighton. During the day some of the most delicious tapas are served in the bars around the square.
|…..||The entrance to Alamada de Hercules|
While you are there, have a look at the Casa de las Sirenas, the mermaids house. At one time it was home to a noble family but fell into disrepair when the last owner’s wife died in the early 70s. In 1989 Seville city council bought it and restored it and turned it into a community centre running cultural activities and holding exhibitions.
The Stone Man in C. Hombre de Piedra
A short walk from the Alameda de Hercules in Calle Hombre de Piedra, between numbers 10 and 12, is the statue of a torso of a man. Tucked in a niche under the house and at knee level it could be passed by and missed completely.
Legend has it that during the 15th century, during a religious festival, Mateo el Rubio was drinking in a tavern with his friends. When the procession came by it stopped at the door of the tavern. All of Mateo’s friends went through the door of the tavern and knelt before the blessed sacrament, as was the law to do so at that time. Mateo refused and ridiculed those that did. At that moment the heavens opened and a lightening bolt struck Mateo, sinking him to his knees in the ground and turning him into stone where he has stayed for eternity.
The legend is a lot more fun than (what appears to be) the reality which is that this was the site of an old Roman bath which was later made public by the Arabs who moved the statue to stand beside the entrance. You choose what you want to believe.
To understand what happened to Mateo another walk through the alleyways to Calle Villegas will give you the answer.
On the corner of C. Villegas in the wall of El Salvador Church is the cruz de culebras, which originally stood at the cemetary of El Salvador. Why a cross should be dedicated to snakes, especially in the middle of a city, is beyond me but the important monument here is the law carved into stone beneath it. This is the law that was poor Mateo el Rubio’s downfall. On the stone, dated 1714 ,is inscribed the law made by Rey (King) Juan II which states that anyone who did not kneel before the blessed sacrament would be punished. ‘Even if it were in the mud’ people were expected to drop to their knees or suffer dire punishment. Anyone who did not kneel would be fined 600 maravedis, or would lose their horse, if they were christian, and imprisonment if he were a moor.
The law of King Juan II under the cross
Worth remembering if you don’t want to lose your horse or suffer the same fate as poor Mateo.
The Stone of Tears
|……||The legend behind this stone is, unfortunately, a heartbreakingly true one. It is quite small and insignificant but it is a testament to a good man, to humanity, and the brutality of the death penalty.|
In Calle Laureano, behind the Plaza de Armas, on the corner of Calle San Laureano and Calle Liñan is a small, square shaped stone known as the Tearful stone, or the crying stone.
In 1857, during the first Carlist war, a group of young people in Seville rose up against the tax system, took up arms and fled to the mountains. They were met by the army and a large number of them were killed. The rest were arrested and taken back to Seville where it was commanded that they all be executed. Many of these were juveniles, no more than children, and so the Mayor, Garcia de Vinuesa, made a desperate plea for clemency. The plea failed, they were all taken to the Plaza de Armas and shot. He was devastated, walked away from the Plaza de Armas, sat on this stone, and wept uncontrollably. 82 young people were killed that day.
Inscribed on the plaque above is:
According to popular tradition, on this stone, called since then La Piedra Llorosa (the stone of tears,) he sat down to cry heavily on July 11, 1857, the then mayor of the city when contemplating, after trying to prevent it without success, the execution of 82 young men from Seville , in the neighboring Plaza de Armas of El Campo de Marte.The city council of Sevilla dedicates this memorial in memory of the exemplary civic attitude of that mayor and as future reminder against the death penalty. Seville 1857-2008
The legend of Susona Ben Suson
In the heart of the Juderia in a tiny alleyway off of C. Agua you will find La Susona. This story is all the more tragic because it is true. It takes place in 1478 during the Spanish Inquisition.
C. Susona is easy to find because of the shop on C. Agua that makes delicious turron and candied nuts. You will smell it before you see it and is an absolute must if you are in the area. It is located just past the entrance to Susona and you can actually go through the shop and exit out the back to the house of Susona.
Susona ben Suson was the beautiful daughter of a Jewish convert to Christianity, Don Diego de Susona. Conversion to Christianity was the only way for many Jews to survive in the final years of the Jewish community in Seville. Despite converting many were faithful to their roots and hoped to bring about a restoration of Judaisim and held secret meetings to plan an armed insurrection. Don Diego de Susona was one of them.
Susona had aspirations and a christian boyfriend. She reported these meetings and the plan to her boyfriend who, in turn, reported them to the authorities and the conspirators were arrested. The full might of the Inquisition fell upon them and they were executed. Susona never left the house again and when she died, in her remorse, she ordered that her head be taken off and hung outside the house for evermore as a testament to her shame and the treachery of christians. It remained there for almost 200 years and was replaced by the tile with a skull on it that is there today.
‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ The balcony that inspired the scene in Romeo and Juliet
|…||Yes, I hear you. Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona, Italy, and, No, there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever set foot in Spain, let alone Seville, but, if you have those thoughts you would be wise to keep them to yourself. Sevillianos wont want to hear them.|
At the end of Calle Agua, named because of the channels inside them that carried water to the gardens of the Alcazar, and at the top of the steps that lead into the Murillo gardens, is a house with a very ornate balcony, said to be the inspiration for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. The history of Shakespeare’s relationship with Spain is sketchy, to say the least. There is certainly a suggestion that he came to Vallodolid in 1605 with a royal delegation, there is also a suggestion that he met the author Cervantes but there is no absolute proof that either of those things happened. Shakespeare certainly enjoyed the works of Cervantes, but did they ever meet? The jury’s still out on that one. In art and in love everything is possible.
Shakepeare’s history is fairly well documented but the years 1586-1592 are unaccounted for. It is suggested that during those missing years he went to teach in a school in Wales……………….. or did he?
Pledging allegiance to the King
NO8DO. Allegiance to the King on a drain cover
………………….NO8DO on a police car in Seville
Look down, look up, look sideways. Whichever direction you look you will see the logo NO8DO everywhere in Seville. There is no real certainty of this legend, but the most widely accepted is that in 1254 King Alfonso X fled to Seville to seek sanctuary from his son, Sancho, who led a rebellion against him. The people of Seville stood by the king and because of that Sancho decided not to attack the city, leaving his father surrounded by those faithful to him. In gratitude Alfonso gave the city this emblem. The 8 in the middle represents a skein of wool, so is continuous and has no ending. In Spanish a wool skein is Madeja so, reading aloud, NO8DO is spoken ‘No me ha dejado’, translation ‘has not abandoned me.’ Today Seville still proudly takes it as it’s own and posts it everywhere.
Millstones protecting walls in Seville
You are not seeing things. These are millstones and, yes, they do seem out of place in the wall of a house but they do have a very practical purpose. The streets of Seville are very narrow and in the 16th century houses were being damaged by the continuous passing of horse drawn carriages rubbing against the softer building materials of the walls. To protect the facades, disused millstones were brought in and built into the walls. A simple solution but a very attractive, if curious, landmark.
The old kissing corner
|……||The truth of this tile is that it was placed there in 2012 during the renovation of the Restaurante Don Elvira. The legend is much more romantic and interesting.|
This tile is to be found in the Barrio Santa Cruz on the corner of Calle Gloria and Plaza Venerables (where the Hospital of the Venerable is to be found.) Don’t forget that the legendary lover, Don Juan, was from Seville. There are, however, 2 different versions of this story. The first, Don Juan, the seducer, trickster and womanizer, who was turned to stone by the father of a woman he seduced, and a later version, equally tragic but much more romantic. This tile is related to the later version in which he is named as Don Juan Tenorio. Don Juan Tenorio falls in love with the beautiful 17 year old daughter of the Commander of Calatrava, Doña Ines de Ulloa who had led a pure, if lonely, life in a convent. The writer of this story describes young Ines as ‘the light from which the sun finds it’s brightness.’ The love is reciprocated, the commander is unhappy and kills Don Juan, and the beautiful Inez dies from grief.
Just 1 minutes walk along the C. Gloria is the Plaza de Doña Elvira, the said birthplace of Doña Ines and the place where she died from her heartache. It is impossible to see this tile and know this story and not believe that part of this romance was carried out in this square. It is expected that couples visiting this square kiss and take photos at this sign. How could you not?
If you enjoyed this there will be more to come. Would you like to hear about how there came to be a crocodile in Seville cathedral? or why there are no steps in the Giralda tower but you can climb to the top? Next time maybe, Seville is full of surprises.