photo by Milie (Creative Commons License): children at play at the Huerta del Rey Moro
There may be a lack of green space in Seville, but this 15th-century urban orchard embedded in the blocks of Enladrillada and Sol streets is the largest undeveloped land in the old town. The love and support of the community ensures that this garden is in no danger of extinction.
On a Sunday morning in the Huerto del Rey Moro, or the Orchard of the Moorish King, one will find tranquility. The humming of bees, the faint hoot of a Mourning Dove, and the sweet aroma of flowers fill the air. As time passes, five neighbors begin to gather in preparation to build a considerably large snake out of fresh cement, car tires, bamboo sticks, rocks and straw. According to Luciano Furcas, a regular at the garden from Sicily, Italy, the snake has religious meaning behind it. Little by little, families strolling through the garden show interest and begin to join in on the construction. After an hour, there are 20 neighbors working on the large snake, packing it with straw and dirt, or searching for rocks to support its body. This is a true depiction of Huerto del Rey Moro. It is a place for the community, built by the community.
Huerto del Rey Moro opened as a communal space on Feb. 15, 2004, for the use and enjoyment of Sevillians. There are half a dozen urban gardens in Seville, explains David Herrera, who works with schools to get children more involved with environmental activities. Since its opening, the garden has become a popular location. In the summer it is transformed into an outdoor movie theater, and it is a common place to celebrate children’s birthday parties on the weekends.
This space in the northern quarter of Seville has remained almost entirely untouched for more than five centuries. Connected to the orchard is the Casa del Rey Moro, a Gothic-Moorish late 15th-century home and also the oldest domestic building in the city after the Alcázar, a medieval royal palace. The house is now the home of the foundation dedicated to Blas Infante, the leader of Andalusian autonomy, who was murdered at the beginning of Spanish Civil War in 1936. On May 22, 2001, both the Huerto del Rey Moro and the Casa del Rey Moro were declared by the regional government as Bien de Interés Cultural (B.I.C.), or places of cultural interest, which means they can not be altered.
Even with the city suffering from a lack of green space, especially in the ancient intramuros or walled town, this eclectic orchard was once in danger of being diminished. In 1987, the General Urban Plan of Seville announced the construction of 40 subsidised rental apartments for persons of low income at a corner of the garden on Enladrillada street. The garden would have reduced in size from 5,000 square meters to a mere 1,300. The neighborhood refused and their claim seems to have been tacitly acknowledged by the last governments of the city. “We’re not totally certain, but it seems that we won the fight for the need of a free, communal space,” says Mayte Toledano, of El Ecolocal, an organization that produces and encourages green activities.
The 5,000 square meters that make up the orchard are filled with beds of the periwinkle-blue blooms of borage plants, purple coneflowers and white marguerites. There are vegetable plants of peppers, eggplant, peas, aloe,and cabbage. If one were to see rustling within the plants, chances are it comes from small lizards scurrying from bed to bed. Here, kids are constantly swinging on the play sets, dogs are running freely, artists are sketching and locals are gardening. This space effortlessly personifies a unique spirit of tranquility and diversity.
“There are a lot of consequences of the garden. It is a place that provides work as well as a place for kids to play. It is a free, open, different space,” says David. “It adds a little bit of the countryside within the city.”
The gardeners rely heavily on recycled materials, which gives the orchard its alternative character. Yogurt cups and car tires are used to harvest flowers and vegetables, and scarecrows are made from old T-shirts. And, in addition to the creation of the handmade snake, there is a large cement turtle and a snail. In the center of the garden is a peculiar looking tree, which seems as if it has multiple arms hugging its trunk. “They say that this fig tree is over 200 years old,” says Herrera.
Since 2006, one of the most prominent projects at the orchard is the Huertos Escolares, or School Gardens. The workshops, with children from elementary and primary schools in the area, cover topics such as food and economic sustainability, farming and nutrition. One of the main goals is to teach them how to independently grow vegetables. But School Gardens also promotes reflection and critical thinking about what’s happening in the environment. “The mode of eating influences every person, the whole city, the markets, the world,” says Mayte Toledano. She and David visit schools in Seville three to four times a week within this program.
Somehow, this orchard succeeds at being a nook so peaceful despite being embedded in the streets of a hectic city. “The Huerto del Rey Moro is a very special place. I think that it is for the community to share and that benefits both the young and the old, and in general it benefits the environment,” says Gertrudis Creida, a neighbor who visits often with her grandchildren.
Opposite the entrance of Enladrillada street is a painting of children playing in vibrant colors against a white wall. Wooden signs are sticking in the ground and read: “Huerto Comunitario.” A community garden that embodies a strong sense of civic union as the old and the young converse as if they have known each other for years. The plants are shared and cared for by one another, and each neighbor is working together to nurture this treasured space. After finishing the snake, Luciano plans on creating two elephants out of cement, hay and rocks. He, as well as others in the community, will transform the 200-year-old fig tree into the mother elephant, and a playhouse into its child. “The people of the city want more green space,” says David. The fight to keep this rare oasis alive (and conquer new ones) continues.