24 October 2018

A walking tour of Seville and
a search for a ‘femme fatale’
in the family history

Walking through the side streets and alleyways close to the Hotel Las Casas de la Judería in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I am booked on a three-hour walking tour of Seville, the capital of Andalucía in southern Spain, this morning [Wednesday]. This tour promises to be an opportunity to learn about the city’s Islamic past, Christian roots and Jewish legacy.

The tour begins at the main door of the Archivo de Indias on the Avenida de la Constitucion, and includes the Royal Alcazar, once the seat of many dynasties and home to three palaces, with its royal chambers, centenary gardens and chapels.

We are also visiting the bell tower La Giralda and ending the walking tour at the Door of Forgiveness of the majestic Catedral de Sevilla, the world’s largest Gothic church and the third largest cathedral in the world. The cathedral is built on the remains of a mosque, and has a history stretching back 900 years.

On the same square as the Cathedral and the Giralda stands the Convento de la Encarnación (the Convent of the Incarnation), another major religious site in Seville. It was built in the 14th century in the Mudejar style and its façade has been preserved, along with its chapel and tower.

It was here that Doña Josefa Eugenia Maria Francisca Comerford MacCrohon de Sales (‘Josefina’ de Comerford) (1794-1865), the femme fatale in my family history, as forced to live an enclosed life for six years after her death sentence was commuted in 1827 to spending her life in an enclosed convent.

An ultra-royalist rebel in the 1820s, the Regency had bestowed on Josefina the title of Condesa de Sales or Countess de Sales, a distinction later confirmed by King Fernando VII.

I also hope to visit the Corral del Conde, once a large mansion on Calle Santiago and now an apartment block. It was here Josefina was allowed to live a secluded, almost hidden life after she left the convent in 1833.

Seville was founded as the Roman city of Hispalis. It was later known in Arabic as Ishbiliyya after the Muslim conquest in 712. During the Muslim rule in Spain, Seville came under the jurisdiction of the Caliphate of Córdoba before becoming the independent Taifa of Seville.

Later, Seville was ruled by the Muslim Almoravids and the Almohads until finally being incorporated into the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III in 1248.

After the discovery of the Americas, Seville became one of the economic centres of the Spanish Empire as its port monopolised the trans-oceanic trade and the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) wielded its power, opening a Golden Age of arts and literature.

In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan left from Seville for the first circumnavigation of the Earth. The 17th century saw a flowering of culture in Seville, but it was followed by gradual decline as silting in the Guadalquivir forced trade and commerce to move to the nearby port of Cádiz.

Tomorrow morning (Thursday), I plan to catch an early bus through Los Alcornocales Natural Park to the port of Tarifa, where Josefina lived for a few years during her early childhood. There I hope to take a ferry across the narrow Straits of Gibraltar, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, to Tangier in north Morocco.

Stay with me for these few days as I explore these areas that link Spain’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian heritage, where Europe meets Africa, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic.

I am staying in the Hotel Las Casas de la Judería de Sevilla, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of Old Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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