Maria Luisa Park in Sevilla: Fountain of the Frogs and Island of the Birds

Maria Luisa, Infanta of Spain (1832-1897) was the younger sister of Isabella II, queen of Spain. She married Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, youngest son of the French King Louis Philippe, and became Duchess of Montpensier.

Most of the grounds that form Maria Luisa Park today where originally part of the Palace of San Telmo and donated by Maria Luisa to the city in 1893 to be used as public gardens. The palace , a magnificent example of Spanish baroque architecture was rehabilitated and converted in the 1990s into the seat of the autonomous government of Andalusia. It stands today just outside Maria Luisa Park.

French urban planner and landscape designer Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also created the Bagatelle Rose Garden and the Laribal Gardens in Barcelona, started work on the park in 1911. Also in preparation of the 1929 World’s Fair, architect Anibal Gonzales began work on the Plaza de Espana building and some of the pavilions.

Under Forestier, who had been heavily influenced by the gardens of Andalusia and Morocco, the Park became a Moorish inspired extravaganza of tiled fountains, ponds, arbors, pavillions and other structures, planted in a lush Mediterranean style with vines, bougainvilleas, roses, palms orange trees and flower beds.

I discovered Forestier’s work when in Barcelona, visiting the stunning terraced Laribal Gardens on the hill of Montjuic.  These gardens lead from fountains to gazebos to arbors to rose gardens to the top of the hill where you discover the sweeping views down the hill with water stairs inspired by the Alhambra leading back down. This element of surprise and wonder is one I have found in all of Forestier’s gardens, whether in Paris at Bagatelle, Morocco at the Jardins d’Essais or here.

This park being such an expansive and complex creation, I am featuring it through several posts.This one showcases the Fountain of the Frogs (34 on map) and the Island of the Birds (6, Island of the Ducks on the map).   The whimsical Fountain of the Frog has colorful Andalusian ceramic frogs surroundinga fountain, followed by a pond that leads the Garden of the Lions to the Isleta de los Patos, or Birds Island.  The island provides a sanctuary for the many birds inhabiting the park; its focal point is the Pavilion of King Alfonso XII, which dates back to the time it was part of the San Telmo Palace.

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Patios and Courtyards of Cordoba, Spain

Beautiful patios can be found throughout Andalusia, influenced bytthe Moors that ruled in Southern Spain until a final defeat in 1492. Cordoba embraced this heritage in its patio tradition perhaps more than any other Spanish city and has been celebrating with its famous Patio Festival in May since 1933. Here are a few of the many patios to be found throughout Cordoba’s old town, showcasing the use of fountains and water features, pebble patio designs typical of the region, and of course great container gardening ideas..

The Archbishop’s Building:

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Hotel courtyards:

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Private residences:

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Cordoba’s film museum:

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Renowned Caballo Rojo restaurant:

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The University of Cordoba:

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Sevilla’s Jardines de Guadalquivir: A Modern Take on Moorish Gardens

Sevilla is a truly beautiful city, and one of my favorites in Spain. It is full of historic neigborhoods, stunning architecture and monuments, but its many plazas, squares, parks, green spaces, narrow streets, and pedestrian areas make it also  very charming and people friendly.  I was visiting Sevilla off season, but the warmer Mediterranean climate still had roses and bougainvilleas blooming in December. I first visited the Maria Luisa Park, designed by one of my favorite landscape architects Jean Claude Nicholas Forrestier, then the famous Alcazar Palace and its famous gardens.

Maybe I should have visited the Jardines de Guadalquivir and the Jardin Americano (the Botanical Garden next to it) first, because I must say they were a huge let down after seeing such world class gardens.

On the river that goes through Sevilla is an island, named Isla de La Catuja after the cloistered monastery (Cartuja) that is now the Contemporary Arts Center. The island was isolated and undeveloped until the 1992 World Expo, at which time  the monastwery was converted, bridges were added, A huge research and development complex was built, as well as university schools, a stadium, an auditorium, an amusement park, theaters and concert venues, and of course, the gardens.

Jardines de Guadalquivir seemed disappointing at first also because they seemed poorly maintained and most water features weren’t running. In all fairness, it was almost winter, and while the city maintains extremely well its most visited sights, this out of the way garden must be a prime candidate for budget cuts. It may get a big spring cleaning and look lovely in the summer, but felt completely abandoned when I was there. It was almost eerie actually visiting this garden full of the forgotten monuments of the big Expo (towers and stages are still there).

Yet, after walking around the park for a bit (and I had it just about to myself as I saw two other people the entire time),  I must say I don’t regret going to see it as it must have been quite beautiful in its hay day, and you can still see the “bones” of this garden. It is actually quite an interesting design in that it takes all the traditional features of the moorish influenced gardens of Andalusia, to create a very modern and updated version of it. As I walked through, I noticed the alleys dotted with fountains, the terraced canals, the maze, the sunken garden structures, but built using definitely modern materials and lines. If you ever visit his garden, don’t miss the lovely water garden near one of the gates.

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