Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Summer Solstice in El Acebrón

El Palacio de El Acebrón is a neo-Palladian Palace built in the 1960s in the middle of Doñana Natural Park, already mentioned en passant in a previous post, Strangers on the Shore.

Sunset at El Acebrón with its chapel on our right. Note that for all its
pretence of grandeur, it rather lacks depth. It's really nothing more than a
glorified shed - the only thing missiing was the dried bag of cement to sit on
while supping your tea.
Today, the palace is an interpretation centre for the National Park and is quite a surprising sight - definitely not typically Spanish. Seeing a building that would not be amiss on a Pink Panther film set certainly  takes you aback.

The Palace's history is rather strange: it was built by a wealthy landownwer, Luis Espinosa Fondevilla. Luis was a very charitable man. This and his obsession with the palace finally ruined him as he poured all of his fortune into helping others and the rather ill-conceived construction of El Acebrón. While the ground floor boasts brilliant marble floors, a hugely ornate fireplace and a red marble staircase, the first floor was a poor, unfinished space, the roof made of sheets of corrugated asbestos.

In fact, the palace was never really finished and Luis died in November 1975, the same month and year as Franco's demise. Even before then his precarious financial situation had forced him to sell up to a local paper mill, who took over the stands of eucalytpus that had been his main source of income. He was allowed to stay on and live out his final years in his folly. The Palace was abandonded until 1982 when it was bought by the State and refurbished - including the installation of a proper flat roof.

According the the building's caretaker and researcher, the building boasts over 360 mystic and religious symbols, starting with the scroll on the pediment with the letters LEF - the initials of both the owner and of the French Revolution's motto: Liberté Egalité, Fraternité, which are also Masonic watchwords. I must add, however, that I do have certain problems with symbolism. Just like literature and the myriad allusions to be found therein, I think that a lot of such insertions are just coincidence and/or put there because they are pretty or just barefaced flourishes to make a work more "interesting", more "profound".

What the Butler Saw? Men in pinnies holding
Luis was rumoured to be gay, as members of the household staff were not unused to elcoming quite large groups of exclusively male visitors who held strange rituals in the chapel. Indeed, rumour among people who remember that time has it that these mysterious men were even seen wearing aprons and holding hands - something not unknown in any Masonic Lodge. There is, however, no documentary evidence to support this - hardly surprising given the fact that we are talking about events in Francoist Spain.

Sunset in the the formerly grand 


So to the present. On June 21st the Palace was the scene of Regular Masonic Lodge Itálica 107's Summer Solstice celebration.  First, the Summer Solstice ceremony was held in the chapel, now used as a space for audiovisual presentations on Doñana. After the Solemn Ritual, we all enjoyed a talk on astronomy, including a session of stargazing on the flat roof, before going down to a buffet dinner in the dining room.

Looking towards a dingly dell.

All in all, it was not a very enjoyable night. This next part is a rewrite following my decision to leave the Lodge: Well OK, maybe it wasn't.  Everybody split off into little cliques - quite amusing really to see exclusive groups inside a rather exclusive organisation based on values brotherhood and equality. I think that this night was when I started to reconsider my commitment to Freemasonry - at least to this particular self-congratulatory Lodge that seems to be run for the greater glory of a select few. For example, we chose to park in the designated car park and not outside the house itself. At the end of the night,  it would have been, in my eyes at least,  logical if my so called "Brethren" had offered us a lift to the car park 500 metres down a sandy track instead of driving by seemingly blind to the fact that they were choking us with dust and that perhaps we would have said yes to such an offer. 

It is the first time that I can claim to have dined in a palace- one that on reflection seems to be a metaphor for Italica 107 - seemingly quite magnificent and welcoming, yet one that, beneath the stucco and atrezzo is nothing more than an overblown, if somewhat shallow shed.    For more pictures of this architectural folly, go to this blog

And of course, the whole event had nothing in common with Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut! 

No goats or chickens were sacrificed in the making of this entry - although a lot of  crustaceans were indeed boiled alive previous to the proceedings. And jolly tasty prawns they were too! it's a pity that the company didn't live up to the food.


  1. It's a shame the palace was never completed but, on the other hand, there is something beguiling about a structure that is part reality and part possibility.

  2. I thoroughly agree. I love contemplating old buildings that are now falling into decay - they let your imagination run free as you imagine what was and what might have been. This is also true of unfinished old structures.