[FR] Mudéjar Seville

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A dialogue among cultures

Al - Andalus, a different Europe

If we search for an element of cultural differentiation between Spain and other European countries, we will probably find the imprint left in our territory by the Islamic civilization for eight centuries as the most important factor. It was the nineteenth-century romantic travelers who first appreciated this trait that made Spain, and Andalusia in particular, as a modern writer has aptly called, "a close and comfortable East". Many testimonies have remained as relics of that phenomenon. Some of them are very obvious but many others remain discreetly housed in our intangible culture. We will focus mainly on the first ones, which are the most attractive ones for the curious and interested visitor to our city.

"Mudéjar" a name with history

The Castilian Spanish word "Mudéjar" comes from the Islamic "Muddayan", an adjective applied during our medieval period to any Muslim who was allowed to stay in the Christian territories and keep their religion and customs. In the nineteenth century, however, the term was adopted to describe all those artistic and cultural Christian expressions that manifested an Islamic origin. Mudéjar style starts in Seville in 1248 when the city was conquered from the Almohads by the Christian armies of Ferdinand III and extends in time to the present day in many ways. Traces of Mudéjar art are not concentrated only in a particular area of the city today but they subsume all Seville; however, we should admit that its northwest area, which was more populated by the Mudéjar but also less renewed due to historical reasons, is the one that preserves the largest amount of traces from that period.

Defeated or victors

During the Christian conquest, which was a long process that lasted as the Islamic rule itself, there were victors: the Spanish Christians, and defeated: the Spanish Muslims, but there was also a curious phenomenon which led to a paradoxical inversion of such roles. In matters relating to art and crafts, the supposed defeated ones finally made their culture prevail. Modern Spanish terms such as builder, roof, tile, adobe, irrigation ditch, pond and several other thousand words have an Islamic origin. The survival of Islamic buildings after the cities were conquered, the lack of craftsmen among the Christian settlers and the undeniable aesthetic appeal of its buildings and its brilliant ornamentation, made the victors assume the esthetics of the defeated as of their own, once the dramatic moment of the military occupation was over. Mudéjar communities became small from 1264 when they revolted against the Christians, but many of them started working in the arts of construction.

Christians in a muslim city

Military nobles who lived in Islamic palaces, nuns and monks who shut themselves away to pray in old Muslim palaces, bells pealing atop minarets, Christian believers and priests who prayed and celebrated the liturgy in the great main mosque for a century and a half, kings who wore silks made by Muslim hands, Christians who were baptized in baptismal fonts made by Moorish artists, were apparently contradictory historical facts that created a serene familiarity with the language of the ostensible defeated and a justified admiration for its  undeniable appeal. Brick work, plaster coatings, wood ceilings, baseboards, glazed ceramic flooring and inlay furniture were just some of the artistic expressions of this mixed-race city which was the Medieval Seville.

Mudejar and christian art

The Mudéjar style was gradually mixing with Christian artistic styles coming from the north. In Toledo, conquered in 1085 by Alfonso VI, taifa art will mix with Romanesque style, but when Seville was reconquered by Ferdinand III in 1248 the French Gothic style prevailed and got mixed up with the local Almohad style. Later, in the fifteenth century, the Cathedral was built in German Gothic style which is the one that got mixed with the Nasrid art that set in Seville in the fourteenth century from the Kingdom of Granada, whose monarchs kept excellent diplomatic relationships with King Peter I. The palace commissioned by this Castilian king in Seville is the best example of this phenomenon.

A christian city defended by muslmims walls

A gigantic Almohad wall built in the twelfth century with Islamic gates limited and protected Seville throughout the Christian medieval period. Not only its long battlements, its square-floored towers, its gates in Islamic style till they were renovated in the sixteenth century, but even its construction technique, based on the "mud wall", a mixture of lime, earth and boulders, show us their Almohad origin. Only in the nineteenth century this wall, which had protected the largest fortified city in Europe at that time for centuries, began to be destroyed. Sevilla was then the capital of the Almohad kingdom on this side of the Strait of Gibraltar. The fragment kept between the gate of the Macarena and the one of Cordoba is its sole remain.

Temples for prayin: The first christian parishes

The Christian occupied in 1248 an empty and deserted Sevilla from where the Islamic population had fled. The first settlers, without neither financial resources nor labor to undertake new constructions, simply began to occupy those useless Islamic buildings. The mosques were turned into Christian churches by simply placing an image of a crucified Christ or the Virgin Mary. Only in the late thirteenth century, especially after the earthquake of 1356, with financial support from King Pedro I, the construction of the new parish churches began. From those original churches, several still remain in the north of the city: San Gil, Santa Marina, San Marcos, San Julian, Santa Lucia, Omniun Sanctorum, Santa Catalina, etc. The main mosque would be replaced by the cathedral only in the fifteenth century.