Photo Post: Moroccan Art and Architecture at the Fundación de las Tres Culturas

The legacy of the 1992 World Expo has certainly left its mark on Seville – the high speed AVE train was inaugurated to bring visitors to the Andalusian capital and, along with it, loads of tourist dollars. For six months, millions of patrons streamed through Isla de la Cartuja, a sliver of land between the Guadalquivir and the canal and into over 100 country-represented pavilions and themes.

The Legacy of the 1992 Expo Seville

I could see the remnants of many of those buildings 25 years after the doors shut when I moved to Seville, and most had since fallen into disrepair or repurposed as government buildings. I’d often use the empty space to run, dodging weeds and broken glass on uneven pavement.

Once of the few permanent structures is the Pabellón de Marruecos, a gleaming gem of architecture and Moroccan handiwork that site between the Cartuja Monastery, Science and Discovery pavilions. Funded by the Moroccan king and gifted to Rey Juan Carlos I as a sign of cooperation, the structure is extravagent

I’d been past the Pabellón countless times, intrigued by a seemingly new building free of overgrown weeds and graffiti. Thanks to a tweet, the occupants of the building, Fundación Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo, invited me to a free guided tour. 


I arrived by bike as Toñi was beginning the tour at the building’s exterior. Based on an eight-point star, and shaped as thus I was amazed at the inclusion of so many hallmarks of Arabic, Mudéjar and Islamaic architecture, from the arches that led into the atrium to the outdoor fountain that once pumped gallons of water through the space. 

The striking glass wall is meant to represent Morocco’s entrance into the 21st Century.

Sunshine on the Pabellon de Marruecos

All of the work on the pavilion was designed and overseen by Hassan II, and the extensive artwork inside mirrors traditional procedures – including the eggshell plaster in the basement! While the nearby Alcázar palace is a lesson in grandeur, the Morocco Pavilion feels refreshingly modern while tipping its hat to an extensive cultural heritage (plus, patrons are encouraged to touch everything!). From wood to plaster to tile, I wandered from room to room flabbergasted at the symbolism and beauty of every room.

This is one of those places you’ve got to see to believe, so I’ll show you:

detail of Moroccan Pavilion of 92 Expo

Moroccan Lute

Moroccan Art on Display in Seville

Sumptuous Basement of the Fundacion Tres Culturas Sevillla

A visit to Fundacion Tres Culturas Sevilla

Eight pointed Star of Islam

The visit begins in the lower level, “an oasis” as Tonñi explains, going as far as pointing out that there are palm trees carved into the support pillars, just like in a desert oasis. With soft colors and devoid of mentions of idols or gods, the central fountain is surrounded by wood and plaster reliefs.

The sumptuous main hall gets all of the glory – this is where conferences, concerts and even fashion shows are held – but the underground room is calming and striking.

Fundacion Tres Culturas Cupula

Grand Hall and Fountain Fundacion Tres Culturas Sevilla

Great Hall Moroccan Pavilion Expo 92

arches and sunlight

Moroccan woodworking

Moroccan Tile Work

I asked my boss that afternoon if she’d gone to the Expo when she was younger. “Why yes!” she said, eyes lit as she slammed an open palm on my desk. “I was a tour guide – microphone and all! – and got to go to all of the pavillions!” When I mentioned I’d been in Morocco’s earlier than day, she through her head back and waxed poetic about the fluffy couscous that was served on the third floor’s exclusive restaurant.

Moroccan Restaurant Expo 92 Sevilla

Remaining Pavilions from the 92 Expo

Old and New in La Cartuja

To me, the Fundación Tres Culturas bridged more than the past and the future – it bridges cultures and understanding. The Alcázar, the Mezquita and the Alhambra appear dormant compared with a breathing organism dedicated to preserving Spain’s three historic cultures.

The Fundación de las Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo is open daily to members, with free guided tours being given on Tuesday mornings at 11am through their online booking system. Concerts, Arabic and Hebrew classes and conferences are among their other cultural offerings, and they boast an extensive library with free membership.

This coming Wednesday and Thursday, the Fundación Tres Culturas will be hosting a benefit event for Syrian refugees. Listen to Syrian music and watch whirling dervishes in the main hall of the Fundación. Tickets are 10€ and 100% of the proceeds go to the Centro Española de Atención al Refugiado in their effort to aid refugees. For more information and tickets, check their page. They’ll also be participating in Friday’s Noche en Blanco Sevilla, providing free evening tours until the wee hours.

Seville Snapshots: Reflecting on Art at the Guggenheim, Bilbao

On an unexpected school field trip to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, I quietly captured photos of the art that surrounds the museum while students posed for photos with friends. Admiring a silver bubble-esque statue that arises from a rectangular pond outside the museum, I pondered the artist’s creation.

Unable to get closer to the art due to a railing to prevent you from falling in, I peered through my camera lens and zoomed in and realized this art piece is more than just what meets the eye on first inspection.  The surrounding sights- river, wave-like metallic museum and visitors all become part of the piece. A piece that stops you and reminds us to take a moment to enjoy, appreciate and reflect about what is going on around you. 

The Guggenheim is open Tuesday- Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm and is open everyday July and August.

General admission is 13€ with discounts for students under 26 and retirees. An Audio guide included for museum patrons to enjoy a self-guided tour about the history of the museum, architecture and some of the exhibits.

You can enjoy the sculptures outside the museum anytime!

For more info, visit

Lauren David writes at Roamingtheworld, which began in 2007 when she set off with a one-way ticket to travel from Eastern to Southern Africa solo. Nine months later, she accomplished a dream and stayed put in the San Francisco area until she got itchy feet 3 years later and moved to Andalucía, Spain in 2011. She’s traded sunny skies, free tapas for picturesque landscapes and occasional snowstorms in Basque country. Her blog is about life as an expat, travels, food, and the unexpected. Visit her atRoamingtheworld and follow her on Facebook.

My Favorite Holy Week Bars in Seville

Danny and I decided to make one last stop for the night, mostly fueled by our bladders than our ganas for another beer. I ordered a Coke and dipped into the bathroom while Danny paid.

Two minutes later, as I left, the lights had been lowered, and Danny looked pale under the glow of a projector. He pointed to a screen, which showed an image of a bloody Jesus from a black-and-white film.

“Oh, you get used to that,¨I cooed, but he had already downed his beer and was halfway through the door. Novatos.

“Not cool, Cat. We’re no longer friends.”

For me, the week-long revelry that surrounds Seville’s Holy Week has meant just a ten-day travel break for me. Living in Triana’s vortex of cofradías meant that braving Semana Santa, locked inside my house while life-sized depictions of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ passed below my window. Paso de pasos, quite frankly.

Still, I have become more and more fascinated in the pageantry and culture of Holy Week, and often take guests to bars full of musty busts of the Virgin Mother, spiderweb-covered chalices and black and white photos of anguished Christs to explain the parts of the cofradía and their symbolism. Plus, I kinda love having Jesus watch me have a cold glass of beer and snack of olives, I guess?

Bar Santa Ana – Calle Pureza, Triana

Far and away my favorite of the bunch is Bar Santa Ana. It’s the typical old man bar around the corner from your flat where you feel intimidated to walk into, but secretly have always wanted to – dozens of images of the nearby Esperanza de Triana and San Gonzalo brotherhoods. Bullfights are run on TV while you sip your beer, tabbed up right in front of you on the bar, and the countdown to Palm Sunday hangs over your head while you eat from a huge tapas menu.

La Freqsuita –  Calle Mateos Gago

With a name like the fresh one, La Fresquita has a lot to live up to with its beer. Still, it’s served cold and often accompanied with olives or even a pocket calendar. The small space – its biggest downside – is covered floor to ceiling in pictures of processions and a countdown to Palm Sunday. Since the bar is right off of the main tourist sites and centrally located on Mateos Gago, many patrons spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the bar.

Kiosko La Melva – Manuel Siurot, s/n (at the cross of Cardenal Ilundain). Hours depend on the boss, Eli.

My weekday bar is always Kiosko La Melva. Once a shack used to provide workers from the ABC Newspaper offices with their midday snacks and beers, the small structure is unbeatable for cold beer (which only costs 1€!) and small, delectable fish sandwiches. Eli and Moises, the wise cracking buddies who man the bar during the mornings and evenings, collect memorabilia from Semana Santas past to fill the bar’s small interior. Their favorites? The Jesus del Gran Poder and la Macarena, who are associated with the Real Betis football club! You can take the 1 or the 3 bus to the bar, which is located near the Virgen del Rocio Hospital. Closed when raining, Saturday nights and all day Sunday.

Garlochí – Calle Boteros, 26, Alfalfa.

Seville’s tackiest bar deserves a mention here, although it’s become a bit of a tourist attraction. Wafts of incense arrive to the street as a lifelike Virgin Mary, eyes towards the heavens, guards the door. The plush decor and aptly named drinks – like Christ’s Blood – make it a favorite among tourists, but there’s a “Garlochi Lite” next door with cheaper drinks and not so many eyes starting at you as you pound your cervezas.

As a non-capillita, I had to ask my dear friend La Dolan for her top picks for Semana Santa bars around the city. She told me of Carrerra Oficial, just steps from Plaza San Lorenzo and the Basilica del Jesus del Gran Poder that has put a replica of the famous church’s facades as part of its decor. The bar is on Javier Lasso de la Vega, 3.

Have you ever experienced Semana Santa in Seville? Or been to a Holy Week bar here?

Seville Snapshots: The Statues of Ayamonte

Ayamonte, in my mind, has a touch of good and a smear of bad. On one hand, my dear friend Meag lived there for a year, and it’s impossible to think of the small city that shares a border with Portugal and not burst into giggles. But then again, I was once stuck there during a holiday when my bus to Faro was late, and I missed the last one to leave for Seville.

Still, reader Jill contacted me about sharing pictures of this seaside village, and I was happy to oblige. For a sleepy city, Ayamonte’s art patronage stands out.

Ayamonte is situated on the river Guadiana, which marks the border between Spain and Portugal. Historically it was of strategic importance and has always been associated with fishing and seafaring. The last twenty years have seen a growth in tourism, but it is often still dismissed as the end of nowhere! However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Ayamontinos have a great loyalty to their town and its culture and traditions, from the devotion of Semana Santa, to the Music Festival in August and the patronal festival in September. It is a town where artists and sculptors have flourished. Even Joaquin Sorolla painted one of the fourteen panels commissioned for the Hispanic Society of America in Ayamonte, entitled La Pesca de Atun.

What has fascinated me about the artistic life of the town are the sculptures on roundabouts and in the squares. These are mainly modern, commissioned as part of the expansion and restoration of the town, but commemorating the history and traditions of the location. Statues associated with the past life of the town are those which remember the water carriers, the lime manufacturers and the fish conservers. Before the arrival of piped water the water carriers delivered fresh water.

The ‘caleros’ manufactured and transported the lime used to make the whitewash for the typical white buildings. Fish preserving was almost exclusively the domain of women, and still exists today on a much reduced scale on a modern industrial estate.

The association with sea faring is commemorated by a statue of sailors who joined Columbus’s voyage to the New World. Additionally there exists a statue of women awaiting the return of the fishing boats, though currently being restored after being damaged.

There are also religious statues prominent in the main square and park, as one would find in every Spanish town. Religious statuary is seen at its most historic and elaborate during Holy Week, when the statues – often the work of well known sculptors of the past – are carried through the town on the ‘pasos’.

Ayamonte even claims Santa Ángela de la Cruz as one of its own, as she founded a house of the Sisters of the Cross in the town in the late 1870’s and she too has her statue. Much broader concepts are celebrated too, such as the family and music.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the public art of the town, and will visit one day, when the red roses are in bloom to welcome you.

Jill is a retired teacher who lives part of the year in England and part in Ayamonte, Spain, as well as enjoying travel. Catch up with her on twitter, @mumjilly. If you’ve got photos to share of Southern Spain, please send them to sunshineandsiestas @ gmail . com, and check out my Facebook page for more of Andalusia and beyond.

The Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival: The Songhua River’s Annual Swan Song

Crouched in near racing positions, we listened as Vicki laid out the rules.

“You have twenty minutes. Do not spend money. Do not even THINK about running. Do not take off your jackets. See you back here in twenty minutes, or we leave you.”

My sister, Margaret, two-and-a-half years younger by birth but five older in maturity, looked at me. Something devilish in her smile told me we’d be spending money, running and risking being left in the middle of the tundra.

“Let’s go, Doug.”

As with the 19 other red puffy coat-clad girls on her synchronized skating team, Margaret took off running, her Ugg boots sliding under her as she headed towards an enormous pagoda, lit up in electric blue and green hues. I followed, suddenly relieved that the less adventurous of us had finally found some cojones. Two minutes lapsed.

The day earlier, I’d arrived to Harbin, China with my family for the 2009 Winter Universiade, an amateur sports competition. As a member of the Junior Synchronized Skating Team at Miami University of Ohio, Margaret was chosen as a member of Team USA and an ambassador of US Figure Skating, competing against teams from Scandinavia and around Northern Europe.

For me and my parents, it was an excuse for an extra stamp in our passports and a two-week break from work.

Harbin was a mind-bending mix of Chinese characters and Russian Cyrillic, as Harbin is a mere two hours’ drive  from the border with Russia. With a population of the urban area straddling 10 million, the hub of northeast China is European in attitude and character: we’d swapped dumplings for goulash and pulled on all of our extra layers, relying on taxis to take us three blocks for fear of literally freezing our buns off.

The Universiade coincided with one of Harbin’s biggest tourist draws (apparently the other is fashion, but all I saw were stouter women and unflattering coats with just the eyes and tip of the nose peeking out of the hoods). The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is considered one of the top winter festivals throughout the world, with artisans perfecting their craft around the world and creating hundreds of sculptures in winter  weather that hovers just about 0°F.

Fearing my sister would twist an ankle or knee and be unable to skate, I begged her to slow down as we reached the pagoda. Margaret had other plans, as she scrambled up a set of stairs carved of snow and slide down an ice slide. I followed suit, and we ran from the pagoda to a giant Buddha, an ice castle and various other Chinese landmarks immortalized in ice that had been excavated from the Songhua River and lit up with bulbs frozen right into the blocks. 14 minutes lapsed.

That afternoon, my family and I had also toured the Zhaolin Gardens between Margaret’s training breaks. Snow from the city’s Sun Island park had been sculpted to create a replica of the Bird’s Nest from the Beijing Olympics, animals and even a gigantic spider. Like a child, I was captivated as the lights fell at 4p.m. and the statues took on an eery glow from the help of flood lights.

My sister pulled out a fistful of yen notes and waved them in front of my face. “Miami gave me bills, let’s take our picture with some Step Arian wolves.” I glanced at my watch. 18 minutes lapsed. Two fluffy white wolves, no larger than a beagle, huddled close together under heat lamps in front of a stand selling candied apples.

Vicki could shove it, for all I cared. We only had twenty minutes to witness one of Asia’s most beautiful festivals, a product of a harsh coach not wanting her athletes’ ankles rolled or muscles pulled. We handed over a few yen and squinted against the lights that set the park aglow.

Skidding into the parking lot a few minutes later, Vicki shook her head at us, but Margaret turned and high-fived me. “That was awesome, Doug.”

If you go: The Harbin Ice Festival is an annual event that takes place between December and February, with the official kick-off on January 5th. We were fortunate to be there in the first place, but our trip was towards the end of February, and some of the artwork had suffered damage and melting. Harbin is also one of the foremost producers of beer in China, and simple leaving it out near your windowsill ensures it stays cold! I lost all of my pictures from Harbin, so these shots were taken by my father, Don Gaa. For the BBC’s report on the 2009 festival, click here.

 Have you been to a famous winter festival? Leave me a message in the comments!

Seville Snapshot: The Feria de Belén

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in Spain is the nativity scene, called a belén. It also happens to be my favorite Spanish name for a girl, though I wouldn’t name my daughter after the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Again, at the risk of sounding un-American, I don’t like Christmas, either.

But the belenes, a household nativity scene, fascinate me. Tiny villages  are constructed out of figurines taking the form of primitive buildings, the Holy Family and even working mills, crops and animals. My own family has the same nativity scene under our tree that we’ve had every year – plastic Holy Family with two faceless sheep, an ox, a plastic angel that balances on a nail up top. I once told my mother I’d do the Spanish tradition of buying one new piece each year, much like I did with my American Girl Doll years back.

Seville holds an annual Feria del Belén, a month-long set-up of small, artisan stands that sell all of these tiny cattle, baskets and shepherds.

Over the years, I’ve marveled at the small effigies and menagerie of barnyard animals, but my long-distance lens caught something quite by accident just last week: the Virgen Mary nursing.

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