Whether you love it or hate it, this unique and futuristic-looking structure, popularly known as Las Setas of Seville, stands in stark contrast to the rest of Seville that prides itself on world-famous historical monuments. Because it resembles mushrooms, it got its name Las Setas, which means ‘The Mushrooms’ in Spanish. However, it is officially known as Metropol Parasol because of its six umbrella-like structures, known as parasols.
The six parasols of Las Setas are connected and arranged into four levels. The underground level (Level 0) houses a museum known as Antiquarium. Designed by Felipe Palomino González – a renowned Sevillian architect who also participated in the Las Setas design – the Antiquarium is home to archaeological artifacts found in this area. The street-level (Level 1) houses a supermarket, Mercado de la Encarnación. The upper levels (Levels 2 and 3) have walkways and miradors (viewing points) for visitors to experience the 360-view of the city. There is a tapas restaurant in the central parasol.The area below the parasols is spacious and used for holding events
Designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer and completed in April 2011, Las Setas is the largest wooden structure in the world built by employing 3,500 pieces of Finnish pine (Kerto) joined by 3000 knots using 16 million screws and nails. This 26 meters high structure covers 3500 (150 x 70) cubic meters and weighs 1,300,000 kgs.
Although the Las Setas looks like an unconventional structure, the inspiration for Jürgen Mayer’s design came from a conventional source, i.e., Seville Cathedral. Beautifully designed vaulted ceilings connecting its towering columns seem to have influenced his design.
A bit of history
The site occupied by Las Setas is known as the Plaza de La Encarnación, which used to be the city center of old Seville, with a long history dating back to Roman times. It is apparent from the archeological artifacts found in this area that the Romans built their houses and industries in this area. The Almohads, a Moorish dynasty from North Africa who took over the city in 1248, also built houses that were part of their palaces.
The Plaza de La Encarnación got its name from the convent of the Incarnation of the Augustinian Religions that existed in this site for more than 200 years. It was built in 1591 and destroyed in 1810 by Napoleon’s army.
The ancient history of the Plaza de La Encarnación lay hidden for a long time until 2003 when the city council of Seville decided to build a plaza with an underground parking garage. The excavation for this garage led to the discovery of ancient ruins, which resulted in the city council abandoning the plan to construct the plaza.
Soon after, the city council announced an international competition to redesign the Plaza de La Encarnación in such as way that the ruins underneath are preserved. The German architect Jürgen Mayer won the competition, and the rest is history. The construction based on his design began in 2005, and as mentioned before, ended in April 2011.
Stunning views at the street level
Las Setas is an imposing structure and awesome sight to watch. At night, it is lit by colorful lights that make it appear like an alien ship. The street level (Level 1) houses a supermarket, Mercado de la Encarnación. There is a tapas restaurant in the central parasol. The area below the parasols is spacious and used for holding events.
Experience the 360-degree view of Seville at the upper levels
The upper levels (Levels 2 and 3) have walkways and miradors (viewing points) for visitors to experience the 360-view of the city. Visitors can climb and walk the paths on the upper levels and get a 360-degree view of Seville. Many prominent landmarks of Seville, including La Giralda, Seville Cathedral, Plaza de Espana, are visible from different vantage points. There are curved walkways that enable visitors to move from the elevator exit (21 meters) to the highest viewing point (28.5 meters).
The top left image shows the Iglesia de la Anunciación (Church of the Annunciation) at the near end. This church is on Calle Laraña, located next to the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Seville.
The tall building on the top right image is the Seville Tower, an office building with 40 floors that includes a shopping complex and a five star hotel. Designed by the Argentine architect César Pelli – who also designed many world’s tallest skyscrapers, including Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur – this elliptical-shaped building is the tallest in Andalusia.
The two towers on the left side of the bottom left image belong to the Plaza de España, a grand semi-circular building with a canal in front. Built at the two ends of this building are the two imposing towers that are seen in this image. The yellowish structure near the center of the image is the Iglesia de Santa Cruz, a Catholic church located on Mateos Gago Street in Barrio Santa Cruz. Built in the 18th century, the Iglesia de Santa Cruz is the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Santa Cruz.
Undoubtedly, the Durga Temple at Aihole is an architectural masterpiece and a testament to the ingenuity and engineering skills of the Badami Chalukyas. With its unusual shape and structure, it stands out from the rest of the temples in this area. It could even be mistaken for a Greek or Roman monument because of its curved shape and massive columns that have beautifully-carved corbels at their capitals. It is generally believed that the inspiration for the architecture of the Parliament House in New Delhi came from this temple.
Although it is called Durga Temple, Goddess Durga is not its principal deity. It got its name for an unusual reason. In Kannada, durga means fort. Because the Durga Temple used to be part of a fort complex, people started calling it a temple at the durga, and the name eventually stuck.
Located in Aihole, about 22 miles from Badami and 6 miles from Pattadakal, the Durga Temple was built by the Badami Chalukyas sometime in the 7th or 8th century, although some experts dispute the dating. It is contemporaneous with the rock-cut caves of Badami, and they have a lot in common, especially the carvings. This page describes some of the similarities.
Harmonious blend of architecture styles
Although architecturally classified as the Gajaprastha style – a subclass under the Dravida style – it is a fusion of many architectural styles, including the northern nagara and southern mantapa. In Kannada, Gajaprastha refers to the back-side of an elephant. The round rear-side of this temple does indeed resemble that. If a temple is curved at the back, then its architecture style is identified as Gajaprastha. However, such temples are rare in Southern India.
As you can see from the image, above the garbhagriha is the shikhara (a.k.a. vimana), a tower-like structure that appears to be of northern nagara-style design. Notice the round ridged object fallen on the ground next to the temple. Known as amalaka, it used to be part of the shikhara placed just below the kalasa (pinnacle).
Just like the majority of Hindu temples, this temple faces east, but with an unusual entrance. Instead of a single flight of steps facing front, it has two staircases facing sideways (one facing south and the other north) that join at the top. Check the mukhamantapa image.
As you can see from the image, the temple is on an elevated platform with massive stone columns built at the periphery to support the roof.
The two side-staircases join at the center and lead to the mukhamantapa (porch), which is a pillared hall with four pillars inside and several pillars at the periphery. The mukhamantapa design conforms to the Dravida-style architecture.
Richly decorated internal pillars are carved with exquisite stone artwork and sculptural reliefs on all four sides. All the pillars have finely-carved sculptures depicting mostly romantic couples, some of which can be described as mildly erotic, and are known as the mithuna shilpa.
The floor space covered by the four internal pillars is elevated and is accessed through a flight of steps on the east end. Check the front view of the temple. The area covered by the internal pillars forms a small mantapa (hall) within the mukhamantapa. At the other end of this internal mantapa is the Dvārabandha, i.e., the entrance to the sabhamantapa and garbhagriha.
As you can see from the image, massive stone beams connect the internal pillars resulting in two deeply recessed square-shaped blocks on the ceiling. Carved into these blocks are the two beautiful bas-reliefs, Matsya Chakra and Coiled Nagaraja. Attached to the beam separating these blocks are the slightly-curved buttresses. The bottom part of these buttresses are the faces of Makara, a dragon-like mythical creature, projecting out of the capitals of the pillars. The roof above the recessed blocks is at a higher level than the rest of the mukhamantapa.
Matsya Chakra – A beautiful relief representing a cosmic pond
Known as the Matsya Chakra (Fish Wheel), this intricately-carved relief covers a recessed block of the ceiling near the dvārabandha. As you can see, it is a wheel consisting of a hub at the center and 16 spokes of fish enclosed by a rim carved with beautiful patterns of flowers and leaves. The hub of the wheel is a medallion with a lotus flower pattern. The Matsya Chakra relief likely represents the cosmic pond.
This relief was likely inspired by the Matsya Chakra relief found on the mukhamantapa ceiling of Cave -3, the third of the four rock-cut caves of Badami.
Coiled Nagaraja – An exquisitely-carved relief depicting king of serpents.
Carved into the other recessed block on the ceiling is another beautiful relief that depicts Nagaraja, the mythical king of serpents. As you can see, Nagaraja has multiple serpent heads, and at the center, there is a human head with the torso that extends into a spiraling serpent body forming a coil.
In this highly-detailed relief, Nagaraja is wearing a beautiful mukuta (headgear) and a variety of jewelry, including earrings, necklaces, bangles, and armbands. He is also wearing the yajnopavita, a looped thread sacred to Hindus worn across the chest from the left shoulder to the waist. He is holding a garland with his right hand and a bowl with his left hand.
This relief was likely inspired by the Coiled Nagaraja carving found on the ceiling of Cave -1, the first of the four rock-cut caves of Badami.
Pillars embellished with erotic art
As you can see, the pillar shown in the left image is ornate with a variety of bas-reliefs. The topmost carving is a mithuna shilpa, i.e., an erotic art form depicting a romantic couple. Below that is a carving depicting a series of male musicians playing different instruments. The frieze below that contains Kirthimuka, a decoration commonly seen in Indian and Southeast Asian temples.
Just above the bottom-most frieze is a Vidyadhara couple carved inside a circular frame. The bottom-most frieze contains a series of male figures, likely wrestlers.
Dvārabandha – An elaborate entrance to the sabhamantapa
The facade of the entrance to the sabhamantapa (congregation hall) is ornate with an ensemble of decorations. At the center is the door that opens int to the main hall and leads to the garbhagriha (inner sanctum). Carved into the lintel is a beautiful relief depicting an imposing figure of Garuda, an eagle-like bird used by Vishnu as his vehicle, clasping nāgas (serpents) who have human heads. Surrounding the door frame are the finely-carved pilasters and vertical stone beams. Carved into the beams on the outer edge is a series of beautiful female figures, likely representing apsaras.
The stone pediment above the lintel consists of gods and demigods in the niches separated by geometrical patterns.
Garuda subduing the nagas
This intricately carved relief is on the lintel of the dvārabandha depicts Vishnu’s vehicle Garuda, a mythical eagle-like bird with a human-like body with wings, holding nāgas, who have human heads and serpent bodies. As you can see, there are three nāgas on each side with their tails tightly held by Garuda’s hands. Notice the middle nāga on the left. He has seven serpent heads, indicating that he is the Nagaraja, the king of serpents.
Sabhamantapa and Garbhagriha
The door at the far end of the left image opens into the garbhagriha (inner sanctum) of the Durga Temple. The right image shows the interior of the garbhagriha. As you can see from this image, there is just a pedestal on which the principal idol of the temple once stood. Because this idol is missing, nobody is sure to whom this temple was dedicated. Historians believe that it was likely a Surya or Vishnu temple.
There are eight pillars, four on each side, in the main hall that is in front of the garbhagriha, virtually dividing the hall into a grid of three longitudinal aisles and five transverse sections.
In a typical Dravida-style architecture, the mantapa in front of the garbhagriha has two halls: antarala (ante-chamber) and sabhamantapa (congregation hall). In this temple, the first transverse section in front of the garbhagriha is narrower than the other four. So, it can be considered as the antarala. The rest of the main hall is the sabhamantapa.
An oblong-shaped wall, one side of which is semi-circular, surrounds the garbhagriha and the main hall. The semi-circular part appears like an apsidal structure, and this design resembles a Christian Church (sans transepts). Experts believe that it was influenced by the architecture of Buddhist Chaitra halls.
The surrounding wall was built with large perfectly-fitting stones, some of which were cut with precise curvature. It is amazing how the builders achieved this high level of precision without the aid of sophisticated machinery.
Corridor used as the Pradakshina Patha
The Durga Temple has a covered Pradakshina Patha (clockwise circumambulation path). As you can see from the images, the corridor used for performing the circumambulation has a slightly slanted roof supported by the stone pillars at the periphery. The other side of this corridor is a wall that surrounds the garbhagriha and the mantapa (covered hall) in front of it. The upper half of this wall alternate between dēvakōshtas (niches) and jālandharas (perforated windows). Occupying the dēvakōshtas are beautifully carved sculptures, each depicting a god or goddess. The jālandharas provide light and ventilation into the interior.
Because the Durga Temple is apsidal, the corridor is bent at the far end, which in other words means its rear side covering the garbhagriha is round.
Dēvakōshtas – Niches with finely-carved sculptures
There are six dēvakōshtas built into the inner wall of the corridor. The jālandharas occupy the space between the dēvakōshtas.
As you can see, each sculpture is installed between kudyastambhas (pilasters).
Jālandharas – Beautifully designed perforated windows
The purpose of the jālandharas is to provide ventilation and light into the interior. They also improve the aesthetics when the perforations are cut into the stone to create beautiful patterns.
In the Durga Temple, they are carved with perforations forming a variety of patterns, some of which depict sacred religious symbols and the others aesthetically pleasing patterns. Here is a list of the jālandharas installed in the clock-wise direction:
Prambanan is a massive Hindu temple complex (also known as Rara Jonggrang complex) located 11 miles northeast of Yogyakarta in Indonesia. Built around 900 CE, this complex contains multiple temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses. Carved into the walls of these temples are the beautiful bas-reliefs that depict scenes narrated in the Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Puranas. Most of the bas-reliefs are very detailed, and because of that, the stories they represent are easily identifiable.
The bas-reliefs depicting stories from Ramayana are carved into the inner walls of the balustrade of the corridor surrounding the inner sanctum of the Shiva and Brahma Temples. Not all bas-reliefs are in the right order, and in some cases, wrong bas-reliefs are in place, a result of improper restoration. Here are some of them that are easily identifiable.
Rama was one of the four sons of Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Being the eldest son, Rama was the legitimate heir to the throne of Ayodhya. Kaikeye, one of his three wives, wanted her son Bharata to be the future king of Ayodhya.
When Dasharatha became ready to hand-over his reign to Rama, Kaikeye invokes two varas (boons) that Dasharatha had given to her when she saved his life during a battle. She asks Dasharatha to make Bharata the crown prince and banish Rama to the forest for 14 years. King Dasharatha reluctantly agrees because he could not go back on his promises. Rama respects his father’s wishes and leaves Ayodhya for the forest along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana.
The bas-relief shown in the image is a narrative depiction of Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana leaving Ayodhya for the exile in the forest. Seated in front of the chariot are Rama and his wife Sita, and in the back is his brother Lakshmana. The people in the back chariot are the courtiers from King Dasharatha’s court bidding farewell to their popular princes.
King Dasharatha’s funeral
Once Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left for exile, King Dasharatha became grief-stricken and died soon after. The bas-relief depicts the funeral ceremony of Dasharatha.
Bharata’s inauguration as the King of Ayodhya
Bharata is a half-brother of Rama, the eldest son of Dasharatha and the legal heir to the throne. As mentioned earlier, Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi convinces Dasharatha to make Bharatha the king of Ayodhya and banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
The image depicts dancing at the inauguration of Bharata as the king of Ayodhya.
Rama’s time in exile
As mentioned earlier, Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana went into exile in the forest for fourteen years. Some of the bas-reliefs depict events that happened during his exile.
Rama spent 13 of the 14 years of exile in Dandakaranya, a forest that was home to many noble rishis (sages) as well as evil rakshasas (demons). Viradha was one of the rakshasas attacking the rishis and animals and destroying vegetation in Dandakaranya. No weapons could kill Viradha as he possessed a supernatural power from a vara (boon) he received from Brahma. Because of this vara, he was fearless. As Rama was wandering in Dandakaranya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, Viradha arrogantly confronts Rama and tries to snatch Sita. Enraged by this act, Rama kills Viradha by burying him since weapons could not kill him. As he lay dying, he morphs into a gandharva, which was his original form, and thanks Rama for releasing him from the curse that made him a rakshasa. Note: Gandarvas are a type of demigods who are celestial musicians.
Kidnapping of Rama’s wife Sita
This famous episode in Ramayana happens in the 13th year of Rama’s exile. In this episode, Mareecha, a rakshasa (demon) and maternal uncle of Ravana, assumes the form of a golden deer to distract Rama in order to enable Ravana to kidnap Rama’s wife Sita (Shinta in Java).
The image shows Rama killing the golden deer with his arrow and the body of Mareecha springing out of the golden deer as it starts dying.
According to the story, before Mareecha dies, he imitates Rama’s voice and screams “Oh! Sita, Oh! Lakshmana.” Troubled by this voice, Sita pleads with Rama’s brother Laksmana to help Rama. Lakshmana reluctantly agrees, but before he leaves, he draws a line, famously known as the Lakshmana Rekha, around the hermitage and asks Sita not to cross it under any circumstances.
Once Lakshmana leaves the hermitage, Ravana disguised as a sadhu (ascetic) comes there and chants “Bhavati Biksham Dehi” (Oh! mother, give me some alms). Seeing the sadhu, Sita goes inside to fetch alms. Ravana tries to follow her into the hermitage but was unable to cross the Lakshmana Rekha. Once Sita returns, he convinces Sita to come out of it to give Ravana the alms. As soon as she crosses the Lakshmana Rekha, Ravana kidnaps her.
Rama killing Kabandha
Kabandha is another rakshasa, Rama and Lakshmana killed during their exile. With the eyes and mouth in his belly, he is a rakshasa with an enormous appetite. The image below shows the bas-relief depicting Rama killing Kabandha.
This episode happens after Ravan abducts Sita. According to the story, Kabandha finds Rama and Lakshmana wandering in the forest looking for Sita. He tries to catch them with the intention of eating them, but Rama and Lakshmana fight him off and were about to kill him by severing his hands. Realizing that they are not ordinary human beings, he asks for their identity. When he comes to know who they are, he pleads with them to release him from his curse by killing him.
Just like Viradha, Kabandha too was born a gandharva but cursed by Indra to become a carnivorous rakshasa. Once Rama and Lakshmana kill him, he regains his original gandharva body and advises Rama how to find Sita. He suggests Rama befriend Sugriva, a vanara (monkey) who is in power struggle with his brother Vali, and help him to become the King of Kishkindha.
Building Rama Setu (Bridge to Lanka)
After killing Kabandha, Rama continues his journey in search of Sita. As per Kadambha’s advice, he goes southwards to the Rishyamuka Mountain to meet Sugriva, who agrees to help him, provided Rama help him topple his elder brother Vali, the King of Kishkindha.
Rama and Sugriva devise a plan to defeat Vali. As per this plan, Sugriva invites Vali for a duel, and during the fight, Rama waiting on the sidelines kills Vali with an arrow. See the beautifully carved Vali-Sugriva Fight bas-relief on the Banteay Srei Temple that illustrates this fight.
After the death of Vali, Sugriva becomes the King of Kishkindha. Sugriva’s friend Hanuman goes to Lanka and finds the exact location of Sita.
Eventually, Sugriva builds a vanara sene (army of monkeys) to invade Lanka to get back Sita. Because Lanka is an island, Sugriva builds a bridge to Lanka to ferry the monkey troops. The image below shows the bas-relief depicting the vanara sene led by Sugriva building the bridge to Lanka (Rama Setu).
Other Ramayana bas-reliefs
The bas-reliefs shown in the images below are not easily identifiable.
Bas-reliefs of Ramayana tales
Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, is the principal character in the Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, and Bhagavata Githa. The Krishnayana reliefs depict stories of Krishna’s childhood and youth, mainly taken from the Bhagavata Purana and are carved in the Vishnu Temple.
Krishna and his stepbrother Balarama lived with his foster parents which is because Krishna’s parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, were jailed by Kamsa, his maternal uncle and the King of Mathura. Having killed Krishna’s six elder siblings, Kamsa was intent on killing Krishna because of a prophecy that foretold the death of Kamsa at the hands of Devaki’s eighth child, Kamsa feared Krishna would kill him.
Krishna’s foster parents, Nanda and Yashoda, lived a simple life in a place named Gokula. Nanda was the head of cowherds, so both Krishna and Balarama spent their childhood herding cows.
The image shows the bas-relief depicting the life of Krishna during his childhood.
Krishna and Balarama played together and often go to a wooded place named Vrindavana to play with their friends.
Krishna and Balarama killing demons
The image below shows a section of the Krishnayana bas-reliefs with two different stories.
The left section depicts Krishna taming Kaliya, a vicious serpent who lived in the Yamuna River and roamed on its banks. According to the legend, Kaliya was poisoning the Yamuna River and creating havoc among the people living in Vrindavana. One day, when Krishna was playing in Vrindavana, the ball falls into Yamuna River. As Krishna dives into the river to retrieve a ball, Kaliya swoops on Krishna and tries to bite him. Krishna overpowers Kaliya and is about to tear apart his jaws to kill him, Kaliya’s wives come begging to Krishna to spare his life. Krishna listens to their pleas and forgives Kaliya, but banishes him and his family to Ramanaka Dweepa, an island far away from Vrindavana.
The story in the right section is about Balarama killing Dhenukasura, an asura (demon) who assumed the form of a donkey. When Dhenukasura attacks Krishna and Balarama for eating fruits in the Talavana Forest, Balarama wheels Dhenukasura’s body around by holding his hind legs and then swings it on the top of trees to kill him.
Krishna killing Vyomasura
The bas-relief depicts Krishna killing Vyomasura, a demon who could fly like a bat. According to a legend, Vyomasura disguises as a cowherd with an intention to kidnap Krishna’s cowherd friends. When Krishna notices an unusual face among his friends, he confronts Vyomasura, who then shows his true self. As can be seen from the image, Krishna lifts Vyomasura up by grabbing his legs, smashes him to the ground and kills him.
.As you can see from the image, there are two story panels (likely restored incorrectly because there is no continued carving between the two). The left panel depicts Balarama, Krishna’s stepbrother, carrying his signature weapon, a plow, and the right panel Krishna killing an unidentified rakshasa.
The Prambanan temples have other bas-reliefs that are not directly related to either Ramayana or Krishnayana. Some of them depict devatas and apsaras. There are also reliefs of Lokapala, which could be Indra or the likeness of King Lokapala.
Lokapala in Sanskrit literally means guardian of the world. Loka means world and pala means guardian. In Hinduism, there is also a notion of guardian of a cardinal direction. A Lokapala may also be the guardian of a direction.
The Shiva Temple has numerous bas-relief frames with Lokapala sculptures. The other temples also have similar bas-reliefs but not as beautiful and expressive.
The Lokapala statues are in the sitting position but with different hand gestures (i.e., mudras) and facial expressions representing moods. The thrones on which Lokapala sits are similar.
The Lokapala statues have similar types of jewelry carved almost in the same position on the body. These include the necklace, thread around the belly, and thread on the left shoulder going over the navel (similar to the yajnopavita, a sacred thread worn by Hindus). Some experts believe that the Lokapala statues portray King Balitung Maha Sambu himself.
Lokapala reliefs in the Shiva Temple
The images below show the Lokapala statues placed in different directions.