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1. Visits to discover the influence of France in Seville
The French people have left such a deep mark on the city that it is impossible to describe and recognize it without relating its main monuments to our neighboring country.
The visits of famous French figures such as Dumas, Doré, Matisse or Delacroix, and such famous works as the ‘Barber of Seville’ or ‘Carmen’ contributed to significantly enrich the cultural and artistic heritage of Seville.
In addition to those artists who came to Seville following the Romanticism movement or with the ideas from the Enlightenment, the involvement of French architects and engineers in notable works of enormous tourist interest -such as the Cathedral or the María Luisa Park- was also a key point for the city.
Below we present some of the most determining examples, as well as certain details or historical events related to French that marked the future of the Andalusian capital.
- Cathedral of Santa María de la Sede: the church of Seville was built by architects and stonemasons from outside Spain, including an important Frenchman from Normandy.
- Streets and squares: the War of Independence was key in the urban reorganization of the city, an image that we can appreciate today.
- Triana Bridge: it is a replica of a famous bridge that existed in Paris, and which was a source of inspiration for many expressionist painters.
- The so-called ‘Royal Five-year period’: the transfer of the capital from Madrid to Seville brought with it a large number of urban interventions. This decision was made by the first Bourbon to reign in Spain.
- San Telmo: the palace was the residence of the second most important family in the country in the mid-19th century. Antonio de Orleans was part of it.
- María Luisa Park: a prestigious French garden architect was responsible for its renovation and reorganization at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Bougainvillea: one of the most beautiful plants in Seville is named after a well-known explorer, the first Frenchman to go around the world.
- Operas: two world-famous titles, the ‘Barber of Seville’ and ‘Carmen’ have the city of Seville as the main setting of their plot. They are based on works by French authors.
- Painting: great Gallic masters of the brush and engraving, such as Delacroix or Doré, found in the 19th century a city full of light and color to capture on their canvases.
- Literature: Romantic writers from different European countries such as France, fell in love with the tradition, history and legends of Seville, where they developed their novels and plays.
2. Guided walking and cycling tours of Seville with the legacy of France as a backdrop
Do you want to know the main places of interest in Seville that are related to the French-speaking world? Do you want to discover where Matisse lived in Seville or what Delacroix painted during his stay in the city? Would you like to visit Seville following the French past and its main interventions in the city? Contact Macarena Tours and discover Seville with themed tours in which the participation of the French people become the common thread of History.
The numerous places of Seville that are related to the French past allow interesting routes to be traced through the capital. There are multiple possibilities, from routes focused on an eminently historical aspect, to itineraries with a more humanistic and literary perspective.
The French legacy in Seville can also be limited by specific periods in History or topics, such as the Enlightenment or the War of Independence. Even a bike circuit through certain green areas lets you to connect the most French history and botany in the city.
Macarena Tours offers several itineraries that will make you to understand in a global way the heritage that the French have left in the city. We show you a guide with the most outstanding places and monuments that directly or indirectly relate the Sevillian heritage with France and that are part of our circuits.
2.1 Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Sede
After several centuries of Muslim rule, there was no experience with stones in the south of the peninsula. That is why the presence of Romanesque in southern Spain is minimal compared to what can be found in the north. Many artists and experts in the development of large construction projects decided to move from Flanders, Italy, Germany or France to put their knowledge and experience into practice.
One of the first to participate in the construction of the temple -which had just been planned at the beginning of the 15th century- was Charles Carlin, from Normandy. Together with other compatriots such as the sculptor Lorenzo Mercadante of Brittany, they were the ones who laid the foundations and created a school to build the largest temple in Christendom at that time.
Builders and sculptors
Carlin‘s interventions and directives were essential for the configuration of the Cathedral, which was laid out on the foundations of the former main mosque from the Almohad period. Its immensity and its diaphanous appearance -if we except the choir that is located in the central part- leave anyone who enters this marvel austanded.
For his part, Mercadante became responsible for the sculptures that decorate the oldest entrances to the Cathedral, located on the west façade. These are the gates of San Miguel and Nacimiento, on the Constitution Avenue.
2.2 Urban fabric
A few meters from there is one of the busiest streets in the historic center of the city. Francos Street, full of hotel and restaurant establishments, as well as traditional businesses. The name of the street comes from the important French-speaking community that lived in Seville back in the 16th century, during the Golden Age of Spain.
After the Discovery of America, the Andalusian capital became one of the most important and busiest ports in the world, as it was here that the Catholic Monarchs decided to establish the headquarters of the House of Trade. This institution meant exponential growth for Seville in both economic and material riches as well as artistic and cultural wealth, thanks to the enormous attraction that living in such a prosperous and active metropolis meant for European merchants and intellectuals.
Thus, Germans, Genoese, Placentines (from Piacenza), Portuguese, French and many other peoples decided that Seville was too tempting not to try to build a better future there. The streets of Alemanes, Genova (today Constitution Av.), Placentines or Francos are a vivid memory of that time.
Many of the streets and squares that currently exist in the city are due to interventions that the French army carried out after the Napoleonic invasion. The troops took the city during the War of Independence, staying here between February 1810 and August 1812. In those two and a half years, the French commanded by Marshal Soult transformed the city.
The demolition of several temples, convents and institutions, either because of their state of preservation or because of decisions made by the high command, made room for large open spaces dedicated to markets, squares or places of recreation.
Some of the best known are the Plaza Nueva (where the San Francisco Convent was located), the Plaza de la Encarnación -better known as ‘de las Setas’, place of the former convent of the Encarnación- or the Plaza de Santa Cruz, in the center of the seat of the old parish of Santa Cruz.
2.3 Triana Bridge
If we go to the river and take a walk next to the ‘Torre del Oro’ –Golden Tower– we will see that there is a bridge that, due to its characteristics, attracts our attention. It is the Triana Bridge, or Isabel II Bridge, as it was built during her reign. The oldest bridge in Seville connects the Triana neighborhood with the center of the city. It was created in the middle of the 19th century, but for its construction they were inspired by a bridge that crossed the Seine in Paris: the Carrousel Bridge.
That bridge, now disappeared, was so well known that expressionist painters such as Gauguin, Renoir, Monet or Van Gogh himself made a picture of it. Undoubtedly, the Spanish work is a great image of what that bridge was, although today the bridge is self-supporting and both the pillars and the singular circles do not have a support function, but rather a decorative one.
2.4 Capital Status
The first French sovereign to rule the country was Philip V, Duke d’Anjou. For more than four years, between February 3, 1729 and May 16, 1733, the Bourbon grandson of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, established his residence in the Alcazar of Seville. The reason was none other than trying to alleviate his deep melancholy due to the serious depression he was going through. Perhaps a new and warmer environment away from La Granja, where he lived, favored the recovery of the monarch, although the final choice for Seville is not clear.
The king slept during the day and roamed the palace gardens at night, which exasperated the court. It seems that the only thing that made him run away from his sorrow and grief were the concerts of Carlo Broschi, a Castrato singer better known as Farinelli.
The transfer of the Court to the Sevillian capital was an unusual event. There had only been a change in the capital until then since its establishment in Madrid by Felipe II in 1561. On that occasion the transfer of the Court was made to Valladolid by a short time in the early seventeenth century.
The gardens of the Alcazar therefore comprise a place clearly marked by the French past. But the visit to one of the most beautiful palaces is also linked in a certain way with the French crown. The Mudejar Palace was ordered to be built by King Peter of Castile, married to Blanca de Borbón. The wife of this controversial monarch was born in France.
But really, who did Pedro I fall madly in love with? Buy your ticket for the Real Alcázar and hire a guided tour with an official tour guide to learn about the Mudejar Palace and the history of this sovereign.
During the so-called ‘Lustro Real’ -Royal Five-year period (1729-1733)- the city changed its configuration, mainly due to the construction of new buildings that made it possible to accommodate the extensive entourage that accompanied Philip V. But in addition, important institutions and places for festivities were created. For example, a small wooden bullring in the Arenal quarter, which a few years later, in 1737, would lead to the building of a permanent ‘plaza de toros’, the Real Maestranza.
Thus, it could be said that the royal permission of a Bourbon, in short, a Frenchman, was determining for the origin of the most famous bullring in the world. Buy your ticket through its official website.
In the middle of the 18th century, different initiatives were carried out to revitalize the nation’s economy. It is with Philip V but also with his son Fernando VI with whom industrial facilities projects for the production of luxury products and other items are started. The political system of France, developed in the time of Louis XIV by his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, was the source of inspiration for these royal manufactures in Spain.
The first Bourbons brought this economic model to Spain through the so-called Royal Factories, such as that of Crystals in La Granja of San Ildefonso, that of Tapestries of Santa Bárbara in Madrid or the one of Armies in Toledo. Various institutions were founded in Seville: the Royal Saltpeter Factory, the Royal Artillery Foundry, the Royal Armory in the Alcazar, and the Royal Tobacco Factory in Seville.
San Luis de los Franceses
The execution of some very representative works in the past and present of the city was also completed. An extraordinary example is the Church of San Luis de los Franceses -a former Jesuit novitiate- which was inaugurated in 1731.
2.5 San Telmo Palace
If we go down the Guadalquivir to the port, we will reach one of the most beautiful palaces in Seville, the Palacio de San Telmo, currently the seat of the Presidency of the ‘Junta de Andalucía’– Regional Government of Andalusia. This place is also closely related to France in the same years in which the works of the Triana bridge were carried out.
The former School of Mareantes (hence the name of the building, in honor of the patron saint of sailors) was sold to the Dukes of Montpensier in the mid-19th century. The youngest son of the last King of France, Louis Philippe, had married María Luisa Fernanda, the younger sister of the Queen Isabella II of Spain. Two years after the marriage they flee from Paris due to the revolution of 1848 and finally take refuge in Seville. After spending a few months in the Alcazar, they acquired the palace, where they immediately moved.
The so-called ‘Corte Chica’ (second most important family after the one formed by the queen) gradually gained the affection of the Sevillians with their works of patronage and charity. After the death of her daughter María de las Mercedes, Merceditas, at just 18 years old, María Luisa gave herself to prayer and decided to donate the palace to the Archdiocese and a large part of its gardens to the town hall: the current María Luisa gardens.
2.6 Parks and gardens
It is probably the most beautiful and pleasant park in the city. As we have seen, its name comes from the donation that María Luisa Fernanda de Borbón, the queen’s sister, makes to the city as a gratitude to the Sevillian people who, in general, loved her so much.
The gardens were left behind and in a deplorable state over the years. However, the arrangement of the park became one of the primary objectives from the first proposal that was made in June 1909 to celebrate the Ibero-American Exposition in Seville. The contest would be delayed until 1929. The current Plaza de España is called after the former pavillion of Spain, undoubtedly one of the most prominent.
Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier was the person in charge of carrying out the recovery and renovation project of the park. The French garden architect had a notorious experience after the celebration of the universal exhibitions of 1889 and 1900. What were his main performances? Find out and stroll through this wonderful park on this panoramic bike tour of Seville.
The Universal Exhibition held in 1992 was a resounding success and served to place the city in the world. In addition, endless public works and infrastructures were carried out, with landmarks for the country such as the arrival of the first high-speed train line (AVE). Unfortunately today there are very few pavilions left from that great event. The old French pavillion is one of them.
It is one of the most characteristic plants in Seville. Native to South America, this climbing plant owes its name to Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French sailor and explorer who brought it to Europe from Brazil.
It was the naturalist Philibert Commerçon who gave it this name, in honor of his friend. He made the first French circumnavigation with him, between 1766 and 1769. As a curiosity of this trip, the Parisian Count of Bougainville also took the botanist Jeanne Baret as an assistant. She is considered the first woman to go around the world. Although the young woman had to do it disguised as a man -Jean Baret.
Those who stroll through the city in summer are amazed by the intense colors of its red, fuchsia, orange or yellow flowers. The plant needs a lot of light and in the south it is certainly possible to find it, especially with the arrival of good weather. A beautiful gift for the eyes with a French flavor.
3. Literary and artistic itineraries
One of the best known and most represented operas in the world, ‘Carmen’, is set in Seville and is due to a French writer. The piece set to music by Bizet is based on a novel by Prosper Mérimée. The artist got the inspiration in the Seville Royal Tobacco Factory. There he located his work in which the protagonist was a cigar maker woman called Carmen.
Today, the visit to the old factory is a must for the curious who come to Seville. They can learn a little more about what this important royal manufacture meant as well as about this world-famous work.
3.2 ‘The Barber of Seville’
But the French musical contribution in Seville does not stop there. Another famous composition takes places here thanks to the Parisian Beaumarchais. The author of ‘The Barber of Seville’ never visited the Andalusian capital, although he focused on it to build up the plot of his story.
The young Figaro, his friend Count Almaviva and his beloved Rosina usually appear today in the bucolic neighborhood of Santa Cruz, where it is said that the story takes place. Take part in this route to know the locations that could inspire the French author.
3.3 Gustave Doré
The French engraver Gustave Doré traveled to Spain with his partner and friend Charles Davillier. Following in the footsteps of artists such as Washington Irving or Lord Byron, the Alsatian and the Norman baron made an extensive tour of the country between 1862 and 1873, which would give them enough time to learn about Hispanic culture.
Both the illustrator and the writer threw themselves into the most deeply rooted traditions in their visit to Seville, such as bullfighting and Holy Week. They contributed enormously to the spread of the romantic image of Andalusia that began years before. Get to know this multifaceted figure and find out what brought him to the city and what his most recognized works are. Do you know where he enjoyed the processions from?
3.4 Alexandre Dumas
The writer came to Spain in 1846 to cover the wedding of the Infanta María Luisa Fernanda – Queen Elizabeth II’s younger sister – with Antonie d’Orleans, Duke of Montpensier and son of the French King Louis Philippe. After the marriage in Madrid, Alexandre Dumas would reach Andalusia through Despeñaperros and would cross this region to reach North Africa.
Dumas considered that cigar and cigarette in Seville are ‘basic necessities’. The writer was surprised by the enormous attachment Sevillians had to tobacco. In addition, a distinctive trait of Andalusian women strongly attracted his attention. Do you want to know what? However, other features of the Spanish people did not like to him at all. Book one of our tours to learn more details!
Eugène Delacroix visited Seville on one of his trips to the Maghreb. The romantic painter par excellence in France was in love with Hispanic culture, a mixture of civilizations and religions vividly materialized in rich palaces and magnificent fortresses throughout the country.
Like many travelers of Romanticism, such as Lord Byron, Richard Ford or Georges Sand, he had a special predilection for the exotic, and both southern Europe and North Africa provided them with beautiful and seductive pictures to portray or use for inspiration. On his way to Morocco and Algeria in 1832, the painter stopped in Cádiz, Algeciras and Seville, among other towns.
Would you like to know what were the drawings that he made in Seville and what aspects were the ones that fascinated him the most? Reserve your place in the literary-artistic tour of ‘French Seville’ and relive the 19th century in the city.
One of the main precursors of Fauvism, Henri Matisse, traveled to the south of the Peninsula at the beginning of the 20th century. He came looking for light and in Andalusia of course he found it. He reflects in his paintings the effect of this experience.
Matisse produced a portrait that is kept in Prague, at the Národni Galerie. It is about the gypsy ‘Joaquina’. This young woman, who was actually called Dora, was an excellent flamenco dancer. Despite the short time that he spent in the city, the painter fell in love with this traditional dance and, in general, with the Spanish festival.
With whom did the artist correspond? How many paintings did he leave in the city? Did he paint many more works? Why did he hastily leave? Receive all the information on a route in which you will get to know Seville from a very different artistic perspective.
We are Víctor Fernández (Bachelor’s Degree in Audiovisual Communication and Master in Journalism) and Clara Nebrera (Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts), founders of the Macarena Tours brand, formed by a team of official tour guides specialized in private visits in Seville and its surroundings.