After Cervantes knight errant Don Quixote, Spain’s most famous literary figure is surely Don Juan de Tenorio. The protagonist of countless poems, books and most famously of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, he is normally portrayed as a heartless womaniser and bragadoccio, and it as a notorious libertine that his name has passed into the popular imagination. In most versions of the story he comes to a much-deserved bad ending, being dragged away to hell by the statue of the father of one of the women he had tried to seduce, who he had killed in a duel.
But was there ever any such person? The Don is often said to be modelled on the historical Miguel de Mañara (1627-1679), and both his birthplace in Calle Levies and the Charity Hospital La Caridad, where as senior brother he made his name for charitable work among the city’s poor, feature in Seville City of Opera’s Ruta de Don Juan. However, since Tirso Molina’s The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, the first known literary work about Don Juan, appeared in 1630, when Mañara was just three years old, this connection has to be dismissed as a later fancy, possibly intended to discredit the brotherhood.
Statue of Don Juan in the Plaza de los Refinadores
There is a more likely candidate. In the 14th century a prominent noble family with the name de Tenorio lived in Seville (their house was on the site of what is now the Convento de San Leandro). During the reign of Pedro I “The Cruel” one Juan de Tenorio supported Henry of Trastámara in his bid to seize the throne, but was discovered and forced to flee. Beyond the name, there is nothing to suggest that the later stories were based on the personality or activities of the original, though they may have been intended to blacken the name of an opponent of the king, and to be a morality tale of the consequences disloyalty.
Beyond doubt, though, the character of Don Juan is Sevillano through and through. The connection is celebrated with a commemorative statue erected in 1975 in the Plaza de los Refinadores. The Hostería del Laurel, which features in Zorrilla’s 1844 play, is in the Plaza Venerables, and nearby is the Plaza Doña Elvira, named for the only woman who truly loved him. In some versions she is called Doña Ines de Ulloa, and a family of that name is known to have lived in the Plaza in the 16th century. The tomb of the original Don Juan is said to have been in the Franciscan Monastery, which formerly occupied what is now the Plaza Nueva.