MONASTERIO DE NUESTRA SEÑORA SANTA MARIA DE LAS CUEVAS (MONASTERIO LA CARTUJA)
This large, walled complex of honey-coloured stone buildings, situated on the Isla la Cartuja (named after the monastery itself; the word means “charterhouse”), has seen many ups and downs during its long, dramatic history. From monks who welcomed Christopher Columbus, to barracks for Napoleon’s troops, ceramic factory run by an Englishman producing world-renowned porcelain, to modern-day contemporary art gallery and open-air live music venue.
The 16th-century monastery consists of a magnificent entrance gate with surrounding grounds and lake; a domed church with various chapels and Mudejar cloisters; numerous patios; a refectory with wood coffered ceiling; a crypt; and a chapterhouse with tombs.
You can walk around the gardens, including a beautiful walled area with fruit trees, and a small Mudejar torrejon (tower). There is a café with an attractive outdoor seating area.
The whole place offers a haven of peace and calm from the hustle and bustle of Seville, and is never too crowded with tourists as few venture over here. It’s a well-kept secret.
Early History and Columbus Connection
Legend has it that in Moorish times, caves were dug in the area to extract clay to make pots. In 1248, an image of the Virgin was found, named Virgen de la Cuevas (Virgin of the Caves), and a shrine was built.
In 1399 Franciscans built a monastery here, and later it was home to cloistered Carthusian monks. Fashionable with the rich and powerful of Spain, La Cartuja was where Christopher Columbus stayed while planning his second voyage, one of the reasons why this site – the island of La Cartuja, including the then-ruined monastery - was chosen for Seville’s Expo 92, on the 500th anniversary of his first voyage. Columbus’ remains were buried in the church for 30 years.
During the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, the monks were expelled and La Cartuja was used as a barracks by the French Emperor’s troops, who damaged the buildings. They finally left in 1812, and the monks came back until the closing and confiscation of many religious properties was ordered in the 1830s.
English Tile Factory
In the next stage of its colourful existence, the monastery became a ceramics factory. For some time, the nearby area of Triana had been famous for its azulejos, ceramic tiles which can be seen throughout the city, decorating everything from banks to bars.
A Liverpool merchant called Charles Pickman bought the abandoned monastery in 1840, and installed a factory making ceramic tiles and porcelain. He built the emblematic tall, cone-shaped brick kilns and chimneys, whose shape are so much part of Seville’s skyline today. La Cartuja won many international prizes in the late 19th century for its chinaware, and produced commissions for various Spanish monarchs, including Alfonso XIII of the famous Seville hotel. Look out for the original tiles around the monastery buildings. The factory ceased production in the 1980s.
The company La Cartuja still exists today, though the factory itself is now located in Salteras, in the Aljarafe area to the east of Seville. The Pickman Collection, which consists of 15,000 19th and 20th-century pieces, is in the Museo de la Fabrica (the Factory Museum), which can be visited by arrangement. In Seville city centre, you can see La Cartuja pieces in the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, in the Parque Maria Luisa.
In its latest incarnation, the monastery serves as home to the CAAC, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo which has exhibitions and events.
It has also hosted three editions of BIACS, the Seville international art biennale (in 2004, 2006 and 2008).
In summer you can watch open-air concerts in the grounds of La Cartuja, such as the Interstella festival in October.
For the Seville Expo 92, the monastery was restored and used as the Royal Pavilion - the headquarters of the exhibition.
How Do I Get There?
The monastery is reached by a bridge (Pasarela de la Cartuja) from the Paseo de Rey Juan Carlos I, which runs along the river next to Avenida Torneo; the bridge is around the level of Calle Baños. There are two entrances: on Camino de Los Descubrimientos by the river, through the pretty tiled factory entrance, which takes you past the chimneys and factory buildings; or alternatively from the other side, on Calle Americo Vespucio, through the grand archway.
It is well worth the short walk from the city centre, to see this beautiful and historic but little-known corner of Seville.
Local Bus: C-1, C-2 pass the door.
Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de Las Cuevas
Entradas por: Avda. Américo Vespucio, 2 | Camino de los Descubrimientos, s/n.
Tuesday to Saturday: 11.00 - 21.00 hrs.
Sunday: 11.00 – 15.00 hrs.
Holidays: Consult the centre.
1.80 euros: visit to the building and temporary exhibitions.3.01 euros: complete visit.
[Ticket sold up to half an hour befor closing time]
Tue to Friday: 19.00 – 21.00 hrs.
Saturday: 11.00 – 21.00 hrs.
Annual Pass: 12.02 euros.
La Cartuja Factory Museum
Visits to the factory and museum must be pre-arranged by phone + 34 955 998 292
Visiting times: Monday to Friday from 08.00 to 15.00 hrs
Free admission. Visits last approximately two hours.