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Semana Santa 2018

A bit late with this, as Seville’s annual religious extravaganza finished ten days ago, but better late than never.

For those who don’t know, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the world’s most important religious festivals, and the celebrations in Seville are probably the biggest and most fervent in Spain, drawing visitors from all over the country and from abroad.

During the course of the week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, more than forty processions make their way from their home churches and along the sacred way to be blessed in the Cathedral before returning home, some of them taking up to 12 hours for the round trip.

Each procession consists of (usually) two “pasos”, or floats, one with a statue of the Christ, the second with the Virgin, which are carried aloft by teams of men (costaleros) concealed beneath them, that are accompanied by brass bands and the penitentes (the guys with the pointy hoods, which are worn to preserve anonymity), and even for the non religious the overall effect is quite moving, with the statues swaying above the crowds as they make their way along their assigned routes.

Although it has changed a lot over the centuries, with the modern version developing in the 19th century, the roots of the festival go back to the mediaeval guilds and “self-help” religious brotherhoods, and these have long inspired considerable devotions. Some of the statues are of great age and artistic importance, the floats ornate, guilded, and in the case of the Virgins canopied and bedecked with flowers.

Definitely worth experiencing at least once, as there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.

The Archive of the Indies

Entrance to the Archivo

El Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) is the third, and probably least well known, of Seville’s World Heritage monuments, and is located between the other two, the Cathedral and the Royal Palaces, in one of the most impressive of such groupings anywhere in Europe. The Archive itself was created in 1785 by order of Carlos III, to house all the documents related to the exploration and administration of Spain’s overseas possessions, until then housed in several smaller archives that were no longer large enough to hold the volume of paperwork involved. Today, mauch of the Archive is housed in a second building nearby, but is still an important resource for historians studying the Spanish empire period.

Corridor with vaulted roof

The building itself was originally constructed as a Commodities Exchange, the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes, for the merchants trading with the New World. In the years after Columbus discovered the Americas (1492) Seville was awarded a monopoly of the trade, and the 16th century saw a rapid increase in commercial activity in the city. Because of its central location and proximity to the port, much of this activity went on around the Cathedral, particularly the Puerta del Perdón and the Fuente de Hierro (where the Sagrario church is now), causing considerable friction between the ecclesiastical authorities and the merchants. Eventually, in 1572, a purpose built market was commissioned by Felipe II, and was constructed between 1584 and 1598 according to designs drawn up by Juan de Herrera. Later, in 1717, after the silting up of the river had made it impossible for ships to come upriver to Seville, the market was transferred to Cadiz, and the building became a lodging house, until Carlos selected it as the site for the new archive.

The grand staircase

As we see it today the building is an impressive example of Italian influenced Renaissance arcitecture with a regular and balanced geometry, around a large internal marble floored courtyard. One of its finest features is the grand staircase, added in the late 18th century as part of the conversion programme. The gardens in front of the main entrance are much later, being added in 1928 as part of the creation of what is now the Avenida de la Constitución in preparation for the Spanish – American expo of 1929.

Fountain in the gardens

 

Premier Sherry Cocktail Bar in Seville

A new and welcome addition to the world of sherry in Seville, the Premier Sherry & Cocktail Bar had its official opening on October 19th, with a special master class tasting to showcase some of its brands. The sherry cocktail bar is the sixth establishment in the Premium chain, which was founded in 2010 by brothers Martín and Enrique Maíllo, and has until now specialised in spirits – rum, gin, whisky and vodka, together with a range of tonic waters. The sherry bar is therefore something of a new departure, but aims to maintain the high standards of the group in events, service and quality of product.

In most respects the ambiance is what you might expect of a cocktail bar, with concealed blue light at the junction of walls and ceiling shining through the glassware and serried ranks of interestingly coloured bottles lining the shelves. It’s relatively small size and hints of exposed brickwork give it a subtle sense of intimacy that is quite appropriate to the nature of sherry. The unique element of the decoration, though, are the diagrams along the side wall, designed by José Peñascal, detailing the various grape and sherry production processes, and how they result in the different styles of sherry.

Aside from offering great wines and cocktails, the Premier Sherry Cocktail Bar also gives private tastings, in both Spanish and English, by appointment only. The space can also be booked for private events.

The opening day tasting was interesting and lots of fun, with as good an attendance as the venue really allowed, and was headed by sherry ambassador Pepe Ferrer. An excellent range of sherries from the Consejo Regulador was accompanied by delicious snack pairings.

Many thanks to Cristina Botija and Desirée Ramos of Premium for organising the event, which I hope will be the first of many.

sherry ambassador Pepe Ferrer

pouring palo cortado

the sherry production wall

Pepe Ferrer, Enrique Mallío, Martín Mallío, José Peñascal

Photos Courtesy of azahar-sevilla.com

Premier Sherry Cocktail Bar
Jaen 1
Tel +34 955 133 032
3.00 pm – 2.00 am (4 am weekends)

Viña Galvana 2017


This week I was invited to a private tasting for this year’s edition of Bodegas Delgado Zuleta’s D.O Cádiz white wine Viña Galvana. Delgado Zuleta is of course best known for its sherries (it’s said to be the oldest bodega in the marco de Jerez), especially Manzanilla La Goya, but also produces local white wines.

The 2017 Viña Galvana (85% Palomino Fino and 15% Muscat) is a fresh, light wine with a bright pale gold colour and a touch of fruitiness, and pairs well with fish and seafood. Perfect for the summer weather. The label pays tribute to one of Sanlucar’s most popular events, the annual horse races on the beach which take place every August. The cata was presented by Jorge Pascual, the Director-General of Delgado Zuleta and enologist José Antonio Sánchez Pazo, with promotion by @ProbandoGastro.

The event was hosted by Cinta Romero and her team at La Cochera del Abuelo, who also provided a light post-cata lunch. Thanks to everyone who helped organise this very pleasant event.

New Menu Tasting – El Bacalao

El Bacalao, which currently has two restaurants in Seville (one in Plaza Ponce de Leon, the other in Calle Tarifa), has been a fixture in the world of gastronomy in the city for as long as anyone can remember. Recently they introduced a new menu, which was presented to the public via several tasting menu meals for bloggers and “gastronomy influencers” (which apparently includes me), so Wednesday last I took up my invitation and presented myself for lunch at the El Bacalao in Plaza Ponce de Leon, along with fourteen other guests.

The meal was served in the functions room behind the restaurant, and took the form of a tasting of thirteen menu items – four starters, seven main courses and two desserts, with either manzanilla sherry or white wine (even in small portions that’s a lot of food, but one has to be thorough).

As one might expect given the name of the restaurant, bacalao (salt cod) figured prominently in the menu, from the signature bacalao al ajo confitado, through pavias and croquetas to an excellent tartare. Other personal favourites included a lovely fresh spinach salad and the milhojas de cola de toro (oxtail). Many thanks to everyone at El Bacalao for making it such an enjoyable afternoon.

Velázquez | Murillo |Sevilla

This year is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Bartolome Murillo, probably Sevilla’s most famous painter, and has been officially declared the Year of Murillo. As part of the commemorations the Fundación Focus-Abengoa, in collaboration with the Prado Museum, London’s National Gallery, and others, has organised a very special exhibition comparing the work of Murillo and Sevilla’s other most famous painter, Diego Velázquez.

velazquez murilloThe two painters, born in Seville a generation apart (Velazquez in 1599 and Murillo in 1617), and having their formative influences there, nevertheless had quite different career trajectories, Velazquez leaving Seville to work at the Spanish court in Madrid in 1623, while Murillo spent his entire working life in Seville. It’s not known whether the two ever actually met in person (though they must have been aware of each others’ work), but while there is no record of a meeting, it’s not impossible as Murillo visited Madrid on several occasions, although art experts think that there was only limited reciprocal influence.

santa rufinaSanta Rufina by Murillo (left) and Velázquez (right)

However, it’s clear from the 19 paintings in the exhibition, 10 by Murillo and 9 by Velázquez, that there were common influences in the cultural world of Sevilla in the 17th century. This shows itself in both the choice (or commissioning) of subjects, especially in religious subjects pertaining to Sevilla such as the Saints Justa and Rufina and the Immaculate Conception, as well as of Saint Peter and the Adoration of the Magi, and the highly naturalistic style of the scenes of everyday life.

day to day lifeEveryday scenes by Velázquez (left) and Murillo (right)

It’s also appropriate that the exhibition is being hosted in the Venerables Hospital, a building that is of the early 17th century, and which has both a historical and current associations with the two painters. Around mid-January the exhibition, which continues until February 28th, surpassed the 50,000 visitor mark.

Velásquez | Murillo | Sevilla
Hospital de los Vernerables
Plaza de los Venerables 8
Open 10.00 – 18.00 (last entrance at 17.30)
General Admission: 8 euros
Free Admission Tuesday 14.00 – 18.00

Pando jamón cutting class

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Hams awaiting the cutter’s knife

In Spain, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a spot of jamón, so it was appropriate that I kicked off the festive month with a jamón cutting class at Pando’s restaurant in San Eloy. This seems set to become an important venue for gastronomical education events, and the jamón cutting class was the second time I’ve been there recently.

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Victor in action

The event itself was good fun, and attended by many local food bloggers and writers. After a bit of theory, we were treated to a demonstration by professional ham cutter Victor Fernández (yep, in Spain it’s a real profession), and of course we later got to sample the results of his labours.

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The finished plate. Care to join me?

All in all it was an enjoyable evening, and while I’m not likely to be doing any ham cutting myself, it was still interesting to learn more about this art and its secrets.

Semana del Arroz

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It seems that this is the season of Jornadas Gastronómicas in Seville (and nothing wrong with that, of course, especially if I’m invited for a free sample). This week (November 21-27) it’s the XX Edition of Las Jornadas Gastronómicas con Más Tradición – specifically La Semana del Arroz (Rice Week) – at the Taberna del Alabardero.

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The event was held in the central patio, normally in use as a restaurant as part of a complex that includes a café, bar, boutique hotel (just 7 rooms), and a catering and hospitality school, with the cooking of a range of rice dishes, including classic paella Valenciano and an arroz negro among others, under the watchful eye of master chef Juan Tamarit.

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For those eager to learn the secrets of cooking perfect rice like this there’s a three day school (November 22-24) running at the school in tandem with Rice Week.

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Seville | Sagardi – XII Jornadas Gastronómicas del Buey

Date: November 14th
Location: Hotel Palacio Pinello, Seville
Event: The inauguration of the menu for the Sagardi Restaurant Group’s XII Jornadas Gastronómicas del Buey

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Beef – before cooking

I was one of about 50 fortunates invited to this celebration of Basque cooking, organised by company founder Iñaki Lopez de Viñaspre and master butcher Imanol Jaca, and a menu arranged around the charcoal grilled txuleton steaks of mature Galician beef cold-room aged for 3-4 weeks. It proved to be an event worth waiting for. The setting was pleasant, the company friendly, and the service great. But of course it was the food that we’d come here for.

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Bresaola

We started with a little taster of bresaola, a thinly sliced salted and air dried beef that was really delicious, followed by an entree of alubia nueva de tolosa con sus sacramentos. This Basque speciality is a rich dark bean stew served with morcilla, and it was easy to see why this rather rare dish is so highly-prized.

Then the beef. Thick slabs of medium rare grilled meat that were both tasty and tender, and as much of it as you could eat. The side dish of fresh pimientos cooked over a wood fire was a perfect complement.

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Beef – after cooking

Afterwards came cheese – a Montaña Aralar sheep’s cheese – walnuts, and some rich dark chocolate truffles to finish, making a great finish to an excellent meal.

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Cheese

Many thanks then to Grupo Sagardi for organising the event, and our hosts Hotel Palacio Pinello. For those wanting to try the menu it’s available until December 11th.

Night Visit to Venerables Hospital

It seems that 2016 is to be the Summer of the Night Visit in Seville, as a number of important historic buildings open their doors as darkness falls for unique experiences in some of Seville’s special places. I’m planning on doing several of these, and last Tuesday was the first, a night visit to the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes, in the heart of the Barrio Santa Cruz. The visit, conducted by our guide Sergio Raya, was to be partly by “candlelight” (battery-powered) to better recreate the atmosphere of the hospital’s early days.

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Central Patio

Those early days were in the 17th century, a time of both great wealth for some, great poverty for many, scarred by general economic decline and repeated outbreaks of plague. The relief of hardship fell partly on the church, but mainly on the religious brotherhoods (hermandades) that are now better known for their role in the Semana Santa celebrations. One of these was responsible for founding the forerunner of los Venerables in what is now the Calle de Jesus de Gran Poder in 1627. It moved to Calle Amparo in 1659, and in 1675, while under the direction of Justino de Neve y Chavas, it was granted some land and houses on its present site in the heart of the Santa Cruz by Don Pedro Manuel Colón y Portugal (a descendant of Christopher Colón/Columbus), Conde de Gelves and Duque de Vergara. Building work took twenty years to complete, with Neve himself dying in 1685, but in 1698 the Hospital was formally blessed by the Archbishop of Seville.

The hospital is laid out in two stories around a central patio-courtyard, one of the most unusual in Seville as the central area is below the level of the surrounding colonnaded gallery, and the circular fountain is sunk still lower. Although visually pleasing, the primary reason for the unusual design was apparently the problem of drainage.

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Church and High Altar

Our first stop was the Hospital’s most important building, the Church (tending to men’s souls being more important than tending to their bodies). Although not large, the Church is densely furnished and decorated, with works by Valdés Leal, Juan de Oviedo, and others making it one of Spain’s most important Barroque church interiors. The symbolism of the paintings and sculptures was intended to reinforce the idea of the centrality of the Church and Clergy in the moral life of the nation and the source of all moral authority.

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Ceiling of the sacristy

From the Church we went on through the sacristy, which has a remarkable painted ceiling intended to make the room appear much higher than it is, to the sacristy patio, one of the areas of the complex not normally open to the public. This was in fact where the hospital’s first patients were housed before the completion of the building. At one end is “the back door” which gives access to Calle Consuelo, and at the other a door leading into another small patio with a fascinating history of its own. This was once the Corral de Comedias (a type of small theatre, similar in artistic and social function to the contemporary Globe Theatre of Shakespeare) de Doña Elvira, in its day (1578-1632) the most popular in Seville. It took its name from Doña Elvira de Ayala (born 1377), whose Palace was in the nearby Doña Elvira Square, the theatre being in the palace gardens. Theatrical luminaries of the day whose works were performed here include Tirso de Molina, Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega.

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Patio of Corral de Comedias

Next stop was the hospital ward on the lower floor (there was another on the floor above), a large open room with a high ceiling supported by a row of arches down the centre. The patients’ beds would have been arranged along the walls on either side, a model common to hospitals almost until modern times. From there we went up the main stairway with its ornate cupola with the Papal tiara and Saint Peter’s keys to the upper gallery. On the side next to the church a door leads to a screened balcony inside the church. Further on is the library, created in 1981, and housed in the original refectory, from the far end of which a narrow stairway leads up to our final stop, the Torre Mirador (watchtower), which has a mudejar style ceiling and views over the Santa Cruz, which looks very different from this height.

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Cupola of main stairway with Papal tiara and keys.

Thanks are due to both Focus Abengoa and Engranajes Culturales for the organisation of this fascinating tour, and more about other night tours and cultural experiences can be found here.