Las Dos Infantas Elegantes
Last time on Nostalia Album we left my father’s cousin, Anne, beaming on the quarry spoil of a Gibraltar beach. She was 15 and thriving in the crown colony, benefitting from good old-fashioned running wild under the Mediterranian sun while being properly educated at a nearby excellent school. We catch up with her two years later, dressed to the nines, standing beside her mother and being pestered by doves in Seville. The reverse of the first photograph reads, ‘Marie Louise Park, Seville, 1954’. Still beaming and immaculately dressed, I wonder what the big occasion was?
The clothes are such a good fit, were they homemade? Thinking back to my own colonial childhood, memorable for an education even more severe than that provided by Gib’s ‘focused’ Christian Brothers, the native ladies (as did my mother) made their own clothes to the English styles of the times. The result was, unlike today, everything fitted and matched. The most modestly blessed by nature looked more than presentable and the prettiest girls looked stunning.
One hesitates before Googling Gibraltar schoolgirls in the 1950s but then one does it anyway. Loreto Convent girls wore the same light grey, heavily pleated skirts but wore them much shorter. The girls photographed were very young, perhaps the older girls wore longer skirts? We shall assume Anne went to Loreto, did very well, ran up her own fourth form skirt and was rewarded with a trip to Seville.
Below my father’s aunt Lil’s left elbow sits the Hillman we saw at the filling station in Gib. Although the numberplate is difficult to make out, it could be G followed by four numbers which was the Gibraltar registration practice from 1912 until 2001. We must presume they drove from Gibraltar to Seville (a distance of about 125 miles) and, in the days of less traffic and fewer cars, were able to park in the palace gardens.
It is rude to glance upon a great aunt’s ankles and near unforgivable to comment about them. However, we must say what we see and they do look swollen. A sign of many things, we shall assume in this case of looking ‘well’, a complimentary northern idiom meaning being of a healthy weight. Remember, the converse in those times wasn’t size zero or the thigh gap but having tuberculosis or poliomyelitis.
It is indeed Marie Louise Park in Seville which is easy to find on Street View. The exact spot can still be stood on. Clicking on the link shows girls and their mothers still gather there (as do the doves) but the mums and daughters aren’t as well dressed.
This is, perhaps, the less fashionable end of Marie Louise (so to speak), the Plaza de América. The more famous vista being that of the Plaza de España about 600 yards further along the Guadalquivir River which bounds the park as it cuts Seville in two. The plazas have geographic names for a reason. Originally the gardens were of the Palace of San Telmo, gifted to the city of Seville in 1893 by the Infanta Luisa Fernanda, Duchess of Montpensier. An infanta being a daughter of the King of Spain. In this case, the daughter of King Ferdinand VII and his fourth wife (who was also his niece) Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies.
The Ibero-American Exposition of 1929
Two decades later, the gardens were redesigned in anticipation of the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, a world fair which ran from May 9th of that year until June 21st 1930. The Spanish gave themselves the best bit, the glorious Plaza de España which, as Puffins can tell just by looking at it, mixes elements of the Baroque Revival, Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival into what is known as ‘Regionalism’.
Amongst other things, the giant building hosted a book museum. Pavilions dotted about the gardens celebrated different countries of the Spanish-speaking world as well as the cities of Spain, regions of Spain, industries, agriculture and the arts. Portugal was included too as were her colonies. There was a Macao pavilion, no doubt packed with gaming tables and dubious-looking Chinamen. A replica of Columbus’s Santa María floated along the Guadalquivir complete with crew in costume.
To the south were agricultural displays next to a football ground built for the event. Still there, the stadium isn’t the 43,000-capacity Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan where Seville play, no it’s the 60,700 Estadio Benito Villamarín, home to Real Betis. Also as part of the sports complex were polo fields which don’t seem to have survived and, in a further sign that things only get worse, appear to have had a university built on top of them.
Around the park and display grounds, a little railway line linked all of these things together. The engine sheds can be seen to the right of Picture 2.
Some of the other buildings remain, above is the magnificent Argentinian pavilion. For some reason, the Street View link is too long to post, so Puffins will have to trust this modest reviewer of old photographs when he assures them a statue of Simon Bolivar sits in the centre of a roundabout opposite the pavilion. As ever in the disappointing modern day, all about is chopped in two by a dual carriageway. We must use the mind’s eye to imagine elegant Spanish women (perhaps with an appropriate hint of mulatto about the complexion – owing to a great grandparent’s brief colonial indiscretion) and sophisticated Iberian gentlemen wandering the quiet boulevards between the exhibits in place of cars, cars and more cars.
Back at the Plaza América, I wonder if the special occasion was Anne leaving school? Perhaps after excelling at everything like a swot? There’s bound to be one in the Worth-Saying family somewhere. Perhaps as a special treat she was taken on a trip to the building behind in Picture 5? Even in my day, the local custom was to be properly dressed when entering a public building. Gentlemen in shorts or jeans were turned away. Besides abhorrence at plunging necklines, short skirts and short sleeves, Ladies even had to wear a scarf about the neck and shoulders.
During the 1929 exhibition, the flat-roofed building with the arched windows was the Pabellon del Bellas Artes, latterly the Museo Arqueológico. Among other antiquities, it houses the Carambolo treasure which, as every Puffin knows, contains a small figurine of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, reminding of possible Tartessian roots to Seville.
After leaving via the gift shop, Anne is pictured being pestered by doves again. She is also wearing a new broach about her neck. Upon investigation, this is a damascene broach pin depicting a Spanish guitar and probably a sombrero-style hat or possibly a medal. Damascene means decorated with layers of different metals. So named after a resemblance to damask silk or for the Damascus origin of decorative swords, depending upon which 1950s gift shop salesman you believe. Spanish damascene tends to be credited to Toldeo, just south of Madrid, but as the tourist industry developed such nick nacks became ubiquitous.
One is tempted to assume that Picture 6 was also taken in the Marie Louise gardens but palm trees, ornamental lamps and the less decorative square windows in the background draw us to Seville Cathedral where, reassuringly, 70 years later there are still carriages for hire.
Although re-development of the surrounding buildings makes identification difficult, I hope Aunt Lil and her daughter were on the Avenida de la Constitución next to the Archivo des Indias. The archive was established in 1785 by King Carlos II in order to centralise all the documentation regarding the administration of the Spanish empire. Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1987, 43,000 files, 80 million pieces of paper and 8,000 maps are preserved there.
Unfortunately, this author’s favourite piece of Spanish imperial printed ephemera isn’t amongst them. Marooned in the New York Public Library Rare Book Room, Theodor de Bry’s 1594 engraving entitled ‘Feeding the Sodomites to The Dogs’ is a self explanatory description of better times when Conquistadors, ironically dressed in skirts and tights, (rightly) helped the Almighty with His intention in a 16th century Panamanian swamp.
As for the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, reputed to be the fourth biggest church in the world, it was completed in the early 16th century and holds the remains of Ferdinand III of Castile. It was not always so. During the Moorish occupation, Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf’s mosque stood on the site. Originally converted for Christian worship after Seville was recaptured by Ferdinand III, it was subsequently rebuilt. The original minaret survives although Christianised at the top with the addition of bells, columns, a dome and a statue called ‘El Giraldillo’ which depicts the triumph of the Christian faith. Known as La Giralada and an impressive 343 ft in height, it is said to resemble the minaret of Marrakesh’s Koutoubia.
Between the Marie Louise Gardens and the cathedral and during their carriage ride, what will the ladies have seen of this Spanish provincial city seven decades ago? Helpfully a 1954 video clip entitled A Brief Visit to Seville is available on YouTube. Many of the places described above can be seen. Added to which, towards the end, the filmmaker flies past Gib en route to North Africa.
Where were Anne and her family dispatched next? This weeks clue, another Royal Navy posting, this time to where the White Ensign no longer flies. Find out where next time on Nostalgia Album!
© Always Worth Saying 2022