Throughout Seville, cloistered convents built between the thirteenth and seventeenth century are challenged by the decline in the numbers of monastic communities and in the means available to maintain them. For centuries, the Convents of Seville have been deeply ingrained in the life of the historic city, bearing witness to the long evolution of the urban fabric and the city’s communities. The convents of San Clemente and San Leandro date back to the thirteenth century, when Seville was part of the medieval Kingdom of Castile. They have been continuously occupied for over seven centuries. Many more would be added during the peak years of monasticism, between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. As recently as 1993, Seville contained 41 cloistered convents, the highest concentration of these religious complexes in Spain and most of the world. Today, 15 cloistered convents and monasteries remain. These religious complexes are often referred to as hidden cities, or cities within cities, thanks to the considerable area that they enclose. The buildings display an array of architectural styles and influences, including Gothic and Mudéjar, Renaissance, Baroque, and other variants, that illustrate political and socioeconomic shifts over a span of seven centuries.
Throughout history these cloistered communities have lived both together and apart from their surrounding communities. The two have come together during religious celebrations, such as Easter, and festivals, and through the traditional products and confections that the nuns produce. But the dwindling monastic vocation poses a challenge to their future, and that of many other historic monastic complexes throughout Europe. Some convents have been able to meet this challenge by adapting and opening areas for public use and programming. In recent years, several spaces in the Monastery of Santa Paula have been converted into a museum that houses a permanent art collection, allowing visitors to enter the otherwise secluded convent. Santa Paula, established in 1473, was the first monastery in Seville to be designated as a historic monument.
Increased public access and awareness with support from American Express
The convents of Seville were included on the 2016 World Monuments Watch to bring attention to the challenges they face and the need to manage change to ensure the long-term survival of this rich heritage. Through an award from American Express, WMF is collaborating with the city’s tourism office and the Instituto Andalúz de Patrimonio Histórico to create a printed guidebook highlighting the convents’ historic and artistic importance. At the Convent of Santa Inés, a fourteenth-century convent for Franciscan nuns, some remedial work will be carried out to allow partial public use of the space, following the example of Santa Paula.
There is an opportunity to integrate public use and programs at other convents in Seville. This would help the convents generate economic resources to sustain their conservation and upkeep. Diversifying tourism options would also benefit the historic city by relieving the pressure at the most popular tourist destinations, and by promoting tourism activity at less visited areas of the city.