Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

View from the grand balcony 
                                                    click on images to see larger view 

In my travels I have beheld certain buildings that rank for me as some of the finest of Man’s achievements, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, Borobudur, the Pantheon, and the Alhambra amongst the many.  One of the most contemporary of these extraordinary buildings and one that I revisted this year is the Plaza de España, located on the edge of Parque Maria Luisa in the city of Sevilla, in Andalusia, Spain.   I had been their 24 years ago, and it changed my idea of what Man's potential is as an artisan.

Tile panel in the South Tower

Sevilla has a rich history spanning hundreds of years.  Dating back to Roman times, the city was then called Hispalis, a port located a navigable 100 kilometers up the Rio Guadalquivir from the Atlantic Ocean.  The city later became Ishbiliya, the capitol of the Islamic Almohad empire, a sect that came from Morocco.  As that kingdom declined, the city fell to Fernando III of Castilla in 1248.  In the next century Sevilla grew to be the most important city in Castilla, and controlled the trade from New World Colonies in the 16th Century.
Tile elevation of the building
 A large area of the city was redeveloped for the 1929 Iberoamerican Exposition, a World’s Fair, creating the Parque Maria Luisa, with the Plaza de España on one side.  The building was designed by Architect Anibal Gonzales as a venue to showcase Spain’s Technology and Industry exhibits, including the fine art of glazed tile that the city is known for.   The Exposition required 19 years to construct and featured buildings from numerous former colonies of Spain and a complex built by the United States which later housed he U.S. Consulate.  Each of the pavilions showcased the products, industry, and art of the representative countries, with the goal of improving relations and trade between them.  The fair was a very expensive venture followed by the Great Depression.  Scenes from the movies Lawrence of Arabia, and Star Wars, Attack of the Clones were filmed here.  I never saw the latter and can only imagine how it was used.

Plaza de España, moat, and North Tower
The Plaza de España’s building is an enormous arc flanked by soaring graceful towers with decorative elements reflecting that of the great Giralda tower on the Sevilla Cathedral.  A spectacular series of tiled alcoves represent the various provinces before a promenade.  The plaza itself is separated from the promenade by a moat that reflects the curve of the building, spanned by elegant bridges with ceramic balustrades.  Rowboats ply the moat filled with happy paddlers.
Bridge Balustrade in glazed ceramic

The plaza itself is a massive pebble mosaic of swirls and checkerboards and was the original inspiration for me to learn the art of pebble mosaic after visiting Sevilla in 1987.  A large central fountain in the Plaza was turned off when I was there, as were all of the fountains in Parque Maria Luisa, which was rather disappointing, but they may always drain them in the winter.
Plaza Pebble Mosaic

One of the most impressive aspects of the complex is the way that the building and the landscape before it are inextricably connected.  Every part plays to the whole.  Above the tiled alcoves is a grand curving colonnade, which supports a spacious arced balcony for taking in the entire plaza.  The building is something of a Renaissance blend of Islamic and Christian architectural elements to create what is called Mudejar style.  Mudejar is an aberration of an Islamic word meaning domesticated, which refers to the overthrow of their empire by the Christians.  The architectural result of this style is one of the loveliest on Earth.  Brick is the primary material of construction and is used to great decorative affect. 
Arcade view with Provincial alcoves
 Glazed tile, the decoration of which reached a pinnacle in Sevilla is used throughout the Plaza de España.  The provincial alcoves are truly extraordinary.  Each is flanked by a rectangular bench with outreaching arms, encouraging people to gather within them.  It works so well.  In such a huge and overwhelming space, people sit in intimate groups, soaking up the sun and light, reclining, embracing, and conversing while taking in the activities of the plaza and moat.  A mural representing historic events or iconic landscapes backs each alcove along with other scenes in framed panels.  Trompe l’oeil is used in the frames to create the illusion of 3 dimensional architectural elements that blend seamlessly with those that are actually are.  People visiting from various provinces can frequently be seen gathering in their home spaces for portraits.  It is like a great, beautiful textbook on the geography and history of Spain.

Gorgeous tile wall on a staircase

The plaza is greatly loved and used because it is so engaging, instructive, and gorgeous.  Every aspect is so well executed and literal, representing everything there is about the country the plaza represents.  For me it is the best of what architecture can be.
Province of Alava
Canary Islands
Don Quixote, the Ciudad Real alcove
Trompe l'oeil mural
Tile alcove mini kiosk

Lanterns, moat, bridge and the North Tower at dusk
Thanks for reading this, Jeffrey