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Gardens of Merced – Colón Square

Colón Square has, in the Gardens of Merced, an oasis inside the busy and accelerated centre of Córdoba. It is an island surrounded by a great number of modern buildings with six or seven floors, clearly contrasting with the medieval Malmuerta Tower or the old Mercedarian Convent of the city, nowadays the headquarters of the Provincial Government of Córdoba.

It is difficult to fully enjoy a general view of Colón Square, mainly due to the big trees. Certain historian from Córdoba said that they were fertilised by the ashes of Roman patricians who rested in the old Roman cemetery, and he was right. In fact, we can see a proof of this in the name of one of the streets near the squareOsario Street (Ossuary).

In the centre of Colón Square, and therefore of the Gardens of Merced, there is a fountain made by sculptor Rafael del Rosal, following the design of famous architect Carlos Sáenz de Santamaría in 1905. Over the great circular basin, we can see the central pillar, decorated with scallop shells, volutes and sea animals, which provide this central fountain with a very characteristic Neoromantic taste. It is surrounded by a dozen of foundry benches forming a circle, which reminds us of the bull ring which had been located here until the year 1831.

But the main element in Colón Square is, undoubtedly, the façade of the old Mercedarian Convent, which takes us back to the time when San Fernando reconquered the city in 1236. Back then, the holy monarch founded four convents: San Pablo (Saint Paul), San Pedro el Real (Saint Peter the Royal), today Parish of San Francisco and San Eulogio (Saint Francis and Saint Eulogios), La Trinidad (The Trinity) and the one we are talking about, La Merced. The primitive convent, which is not preserved, is thought to have been founded over the old Chapel of Santa Eulalia, and, according to tradition, San Pedro Nolasco (Saint Peter Nolascus) himself, founder of the Mercedarian Order, attended the opening event.

The bad condition of the convent made the commanders Brother Lorenzo Ramírez and Brother Pedro de Anguita, decide to sponsor its remodelling, and the works started in 1716 and they were finished in 1745, thus acquiring its current state. After the severe expropiation ordered by Mendizábal, the convent started to belong to the Junta de Beneficencia (Charity Board), it was later a hospice run by the sisters of Saint Vincent of Paul and, finally, as we say, current headquarters of the Provincial Government of Córdoba.

Historians have suggested many candidates as possible authors of the works. Hurtado Izquierdo was a very likely one, but, as Miguel Ortí Belmonte said, he died in 1713, shortly before the works started. Belmonte suggests Juan de Aguilar, who, at that time, was working in the remodelling of the Royal Collegiate Church of San Hipólito.

The façade of the convent, decorated with fresco paintings, has lintelled openings on both floors, separated by painted pilasters, alternating one or two. The door of the convent has the crest of the order on its lintel, and an alcove decorated with an image of San Pedro Nolasco (Saint Peter Nolascus). The entrance to the church breaks the horizontality of the ensemble, as it has a central entrance made in white marble in Churrigueresque style, where four Solomon columns over skirting boards flank the lintelled entrance opening, also decorated with the crest of the Mercedarian order. In the second section, the columns are smaller, and, among the volutes of a parted pediment, there is a beautiful sculpture of the Virgin of Merced. The last section is topped by a great triangular pediment and a sculpture of Arcángel San Rafael (Archangel Saint Raphael). On both sides there are two identical bell gables with two openings for bells each.

The Church is located in the middle of the ensemble and it distributes the four cloisters that are part of the building. With the shape of a Latin cross in a rectangle, it has a flat apse, three naves and transept. The central nave is covered by a barrel vault with lunettes, and the arms of the transept, by semi-dome divided in three sections. The tectonic elements are decorated with polychrome medallions, with half-reliefed busts of saints and lay brothers of the Mercedarian order framed by rich plasterwork. It has a very wide choir whose sill curves to accommodate the platforms for the organs, unfortunately missing.

The last part to be finished was the main cloister in 1752. With a square floor, it consists of two floors; the first one is a portico with round arches over pairs of Tuscan columns, and the second one, closed, with pilasters decorated with plaques and balconies in the intermediate spaces. In the centre there is a great black marble fountain. The whole ensemble is richly decorated.

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