The Casa de Pilatos is one of the most outstanding examples of 16th century civil architecture in Andalusia, constituting a beautiful synthesis of Italian Renaissance art and the Sevillian Mudejar style.
Its construction began at the end of the 15th century by the Adelantado Mayor of Andalusia Pedro Enríquez and his wife, Catalina de Ribera, although the bulk of their work was undertaken in the time of their son, Fadrique Enríquez de Ribera, first Marquis of Rate.
He carried out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1518, traveling through much of Italy both on his way out and on his return, a fact that would largely mark the appearance of the palace. He was able to admire great works of the Italian Renaissance in cities like Venice, Milan, Rome or Genoa. In this last city he would commission the sculptor Antonio María Aprile, the tombs of his parents that are in the Monastery of the Cartuja and that would be the first work of Renaissance sculpture that could be seen in the city.
To this same sculptor the magnificent portal that constitutes the main access to his palace. It is made of white marble and reproduces the shape of a Roman triumphal arch, with Corinthian pilasters framing a semicircular arch. In the spandrels there are two classic medallions with the effigies of Julius Caesar and Trajan, both closely linked to the city. In the frieze, between the family's coats of arms, there is a large inscription with metal characters inserted in marble, alluding to the construction of the palace and to this particular portal:
NISI DOMINUS EDIFICAVERITT DOMUN IN VANUM ABORAVERUNT QUI EDIFICANT EAM. SVB UMBRA ALARVM TUVARUM PROTEGE NOS ESTA CASA MANDARON HACER LOS YLUSTRES SEÑORES DON PEDRO ENRIQUEZ ADELANTADO AYOR DEL ANDALUZIA Y DOÑA CATALINA DE RIBERA SV MUGER Y ESTA PORTADA MANDO HAZER SU HIJO DON FADRIQUE ENRIQUEZ DE RIBERA PRIMER MARQUÉS DE TARIFA ASSI MESMO ADELANTADO AÑO DE 1533
The façade is topped by a Gothic-style crest, which apparently comes from a previous palace that the family owned in Bornos. In the central part of this balustrade, there are three pillars, each with a Jerusalem cross and the inscription "4 DAYS OF AUGUST, 1519. HE ENTERED HIERUSALEM", alluding to Don Fadrique's pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
From this pilgrimage, which apparently deeply marked the Marquis of Tarifa, in all probability comes the name of Casa de Pilatos with which the palace is generally known. For a long time there was a legend that the Marquis had reproduced in his home the traces of the palace of the Roman Praetorium Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem and that the name would come from there. In fact, the portico that faces the exterior on the first floor next to this façade is sometimes referred to as the "Ecce Homo" balcony, since it supposedly would reproduce the space where Jesus was shown to the people in the famous biblical passage.
The slightest formal and stylistic analysis of the palace makes it clear that this theory is nothing more than a legend. What does seem more likely is the relation of the popular name of the palace with the famous Via Crucis that starts from it and reaches the temple of the Cruz del Campo, which is still preserved in the current Luis Montoto street.
According to tradition, the Marquis of Tarifa, on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, would have measured the exact distance that went from the palace of the praetorium where Jesus was tried to the mount of Calvary where he was crucified. This distance would coincide with that between the facade of the palace and the aforementioned temple.
The niche to the left of the main portal, made in the 17th century with colorful marbles of different colors, alludes to this circumstance. It houses a cross, also made of marble, on the sides of which there are two ovals in which it can be read:
In Santa Cruz the Season begins and in that of the Field a very plenary jubilee is won, a plenary indulgence of all sins granted to all the people who, confessed and communed, pray devoutly before the Cross of the Field on the Fridays of Lent. To have the Bull of the Holy Crusade this year
The Hon. Mr. Fernando Afan de Ribera and Enríquez Duque de Alcalá, being an Extrahordin Ambassador. To give obedience to the Holiness of Urban VIII, he granted this jubilee and being Viceroy and Captain General of the Kingdom of Naples, he had this Holy Cross dedicated on this site to start the Station in the Year of MDCXXX
The route between this cross and the humilladero de la Cruz del Campo was marked by crosses with bases that marked the fourteen stations of the Via Crucis. The popularity of this route reproducing the Lord's way to Calvary was such that some authors have related it to the origin of Holy Week in Seville, pointing out that it is possible that this was the itinerary of the first "processions" that took place in the city.
At present, the Casa de Pilatos belongs to the Casa de Medinaceli, and continues to constitute one of the visits of greatest artistic and historical interest among those that can be made in the city of Seville, since fortunately the palace has been preserved as a magnificent artistic synthesis, of which this splendid cover, in a pure Italian Renaissance style, is just a beautiful example.