Old Hospital of San Sebastián
The building, previously known as Hospital of San Sebastián, was built between 1512 and 1516 by architect Hernán Ruiz the Old, commissioned by the Brotherhood of San Sebastián. The location they chose was a site known as "Corral de Cárdenas" (Farmyard of Cárdenas), located on the western side of the Mosque-Cathedral, where Torrijos Street is loday. In Islamic times, this site was part of the ablutions room located on the western side of the Mosque.
The Brotherhood of San Sebastián was guarded by the Cathedral Chapter, and it had been working since the middle of the 14th century. After several changes in their headquarters, they decided to create a new hospital, dedicated to the care of the mentally ill and the infected. However, this was not the only function the hospital had, as since the beginning of the 19th century it had been used as a fostering centre, hence its name "Casa de los Expósitos" (House of the Foundlings) or "Casa Cuna" (Cot House).
The society of Córdoba was specially sensitive with a problem they had had since the middle of the 16th century: the abandonment of children in the streets of the city and, in many cases, next to the river banks. The brotherhood appeared for this reason, and as a temporary measure, one of the areas in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees of the Mosque was prepared for this purpose. That is why one of the entrances is called Side door of the Milk.
It was at this time when the wealthy Juan Fernández of Córdoba, who was a libertine according to some sources, was convinced by Juan de Ávila to support the project of the hospital. Fernández of Córdoba had regretted his past life some years earlier, and he had brought the Jesuits to Córdoba, giving them their own house, which soon became a Church, nowadays popularly known as de la Compañía.
The Hospital of San Sebastián started to be part of the Provincial Government of Córdoba in 1850, but it continued with its functions as house for foundlings and maternity hospital until 1961, when the building was closed for more than two decades. Nowadays it is the Palace of Congress and Exhibitions in the city; besides, the old church is a Tourist Information Office, so admission is free for tourists.
If we focus on formal aspects, the building has preserved a great part of its original structure, corresponding to the façade, church and, especially, the courtyard. However, if we pay attention to the artistic style, we will see that it belongs to a moment of aesthetic and intellectual transition, where Gothic, Mudejar and even Italian Renaissance elements are mixed.
The floor of the church resembles a rectangular room, divided in two parts: chapel and presbytery. We will highlight two aspects inside: first of all, the ceiling of the presbytery, with Gothic ribs over the spaces between them; secondly, the platforms located on the sides of the church, from which the sick in the hospital could attend the religious celebrations.
The square courtyard has two levels of arcades. The first one consists of rows of elevated round arches, whereas in the second one they are diminished round arches.
The most outstanding part of the complex is undoubtedly the entrance designed by master Hernán Ruiz I the Old around 1516. It is very deteriorated by time, the poor quality of the stone and, we must admit, the neglect of the institutions. However, we can still enjoy this exceptional composition, decorated with vegetable and zoomorphic motifs.
We are facing an entrance consisting of three arches which are so diminished that we have the feeling to be a lintel. From the jambs framing the entrance, we can see a blind arch, whose mouldings imitate an ogee, supported by the mentioned entrance opening. The tympanum has three sculptures under richly decorated canopies, which are thought to represent San Pedro, San Sebastián and San Pablo. We can see more sculptures between the decorating small columns flanking the door and the jambs, all of them arranged over corbels and covered by fine canopies, in the last case. Over the blind arch there is a decoration based on interwoven shapes, typical of the Gothic period and finished with cresting.
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