The Plague in Seville

The Plague in Seville

The bubonic plague in Seville, called the Black Death because of the dark spots that announced its presence, appeared in 1649. Although there had already been, as in the rest of Europe, outbreaks in previous years and centuries, now it was going to manifest itself for the last time and in an overwhelming way.

Shortly before that year, a bubonic wave had already warned the Levantine and Andalusian territories.

1649 the year of the Plague

At the beginning of 1649 the epidemic reappeared, causing the first ravages in the province of Cadiz and, although in our city timid preventive measures began to be adopted, soon isolated cases of infected people were detected in its suburbs. The first cases of plague in Seville were detected in Triana and San Bernardo, but also in houses in Arenal. In spring, after the first rains, it will be in the neighborhoods and settlements near the river where, especially from April onwards, the plague will be most virulent.

The crowd in these areas, terrified, seeks refuge in the walled interior of the city, accentuating the contagion.

Despite the evidence (witnesses and burning of clothes), the authorities and economic powers deny its existence in the city.

Finally, with the arrival of spring, the ideal season for the rise in temperature and high humidity to activate the bacillus that causes the disease, the outbreak of plague in Seville became uncontrollable.

In addition, as if this were not enough, the plague coincided in early spring with torrential rains that overflowed the Guadalquivir and flooded the interior of the city causing a Dantesque situation. A tremendous agricultural crisis that caused an almost absolute famine.  The combination of these misfortunes will explain the enormous number of deaths that we will see later.

The Measures taken

Faced with this rapid succession of events, the authorities had no choice but to assume that the plague was already in the city, officially declare its existence and finally initiate large-scale measures. These measures ranged from religious ones (masses, penitence, fasting, rogations and processions) to sensible ones, such as the massive burning of clothes and belongings of the infected, the disinfection of houses and streets (with smoke from various plants or vinegar) or the whitewashing of buildings with lime; passing through odd measures such as the order to kill all the dogs and cats in the city.

Strict isolation of the city by means of a sanitary cordon in the first moments would have been relatively effective, but it would not have prevented the situation from getting out of hand.

Paradoxically, it was when the disease began to subside that the city gates were closed to suspects and the sick who came to Seville from abroad in the hope of being cured.

The Municipal Board and the Royal Board of Public Health were constituted and the center for the infected was put into operation in the Hospital de la Sangre, which soon became insufficient and another one had to be set up in front of the Cartuja Monastery.

In May, the epidemic had taken over the city center, and a multitude of carts would go through the streets collecting dead bodies that were taken for burial in the Campo de Tablada (Prado de San Sebastián), although they were also buried in the Hospital de la Sangre in mass graves that were opened here and there, and in parishes and convents, becoming a major problem to find a place to bury so many corpses.

A ghost town

Soon a visible human void began to become evident in many streets and even neighborhoods of the city. Some of the chroniclers speak of a depopulated city.

 Apart from the tremendous mortality, at the initial moments of the outbreak of the pestilence within the city walls, there were many who left the city, although only a minority of these would have a place to go, basically the owners of farms. The majority would find themselves with the aggravating circumstance of not being accepted in any town.

Those who were able to lock themselves up with provisions in their palaces or houses had some chance, even so many of them  were affected, such as the great image-maker Martínez Montañés.

By July, due to the high temperatures and the decrease in humidity, the epidemic began to recede and, finally, by August the disease had almost completely subsided.

The Plague, in combination with the circumstances described above, ended up taking more than half of the population of Seville, around 60,000 people, and some authors believe that this number could be even higher.

Finally, on December 21st, the official declaration of the end of the epidemic in the city was proclaimed.

If you want to know more about Seville and its history contact Showmesevilla and we will organize an unforgettable visit.

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