In the 16th century, an institution called Universidad de Mareantes, better known as Universidad del Mar, was established in Seville to bring together shipowners, seafarers and masters. It was linked to the Cofradía de Nuestra Señora del Buen Aire (Brotherhood of Our Lady of Good Air). Eventually, they started educating orphaned children and training them as sailors, in a group of houses in the neighbourhood of Triana. On 17 June 1681, the last Habsburg ruler of the Spanish Empire, Charles II, signed a royal decree to open the Colegio de San Telmo, a seminary school administered by the Universidad de Mareantes, with the aim of training seafarers to man the Spanish treasure fleet. In 1682 they began to build the San Telmo palace to host the seminary school, and from 1704 it was the home of the Universidad de Mareantes itself.
The palace was built on a rectangular plan, with a central courtyard and several interior ones, towers at its four corners, a chapel and gardens. Especially noteworthy is San Telmo's main façade, built in churrigueresque style in 1754. Known also as ultra baroque, churrigueresque refers to a Spanish baroque style marked by extreme, expressive and florid decorative detailing. Additionally, the chapel of San Telmo palace is a jewel of Andalusian art. It appears that, almost at the end of the construction of the palace, the works were stopped due to lack of money but were finally finished in 1796.
In 1849, after falling out of the hands of the seafarers' institution, the palace became the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Montpensier. The duke invested a large amount of money in renovating the building and he ordered statues of twelve illustrious Sevillians. Incidentally, in those times, the palace had many facilities inside - from bathrooms with running water to a telegraph.
In the late 19th century, the widowed Duchess of Montpensier decided to cede part of the palace's gardens to the city of Seville. Today they are known as the María Luisa gardens - one of the most pleasant places to take a stroll in the Andalusian capital city.
In 1901, the palace was donated to the diocese and converted into a seminary after a number of important changes were made.
In 1989 the building was acquired by the regional government of Andalucía. After refurbishment, its status as a palace was returned. Since 1992 San Telmo has been the official seat of the president of Andalucía. The building will be in the limelight this Sunday when candidates in the regional election vie to become its new tenants.
It is said that from time to time a mysterious woman in white passes through the rooms of the palace, which is open for visits with free entry (though booking in advance is needed).