Monday, July 8: Seville is rich in history, from its first settlement by the Tartessians in the 8th century B.C. to its later settlement by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Because the Rio Guadalquivir is navigable to the city, Seville became a strategic center for trade in Inland Andalucía. The Romans called the city Hispalis and founded the colony of Italica in the surrounding area.
The Moors called it Ixbilia; the name of Seville is derived from that name. Moorish rule was a period of great splendor, not only architecturally, but culturally, politically, socially and economically.
In 1248, it was conquered by the Christian King Fernando III.
After the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Seville became the main port for trade with the New World, resulting in several centuries of grandeur. Unfortunately, trade with America gradually moved to the port of Cadiz.
An Exposition was held in 1929. Expo 1992 commemorated the 5th centenary of America’s discovery.
Seville is the capital of Andalucia and the 4th largest city in Spain, with over 704,000 inhabitants. As part of the Mediterranean, its climate is warm and in the summer it reaches over 35 degrees.
We walk though Santa Cruz, the primary tourist neighborhood of Seville and the former Jewish quarter of the medieval city. The neighborhood is the location of many of Seville’s oldest churches and is home to the Cathedral of Seville, including the converted minaret of the old Moorish mosque Giralda. (Wikipedia: Santa Cruz, Seville)
According to UNESCO, the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias together form a remarkable monumental complex in the heart of Seville. They epitomize the Spanish “Golden Age,” incorporating vestiges of Islamic culture, centuries of ecclesiastical power, royal sovereignty and the trading power that Spain acquired through its colonies in the New World.
Founded in 1403 on the site of a former mosque, Seville Cathedral, built in Gothic and Renaissance style, covers seven centuries of history. With its five naves, it is the largest Gothic building in Europe.
Its 90 meter high bell tower, the Giralda, was the former minaret of the mosque, a masterpiece of Almohad architecture and now an important example of cultural syncretism thanks to the top section of the tower, designed in the Renaissance period by Hernán Ruiz. Ever since its creation, the Cathedral has continued to be used for religious purposes (UNESCO: Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville).
It’s not too difficult to climb up the amazing Giralda because of the ramps built so guards could ride horses all the way to the top. Many windows along the ramp offer fabulous views of Seville and the spires and backbone of the Cathedral from above. The original minaret was constructed in brick by Almohad caliph Yusuf Yacub al-Mansur between 1184 and 1198. In 1365, an earthquake destroyed the original upper copper spheres. To crown the new bell tower, El Giraldillo, a 16th century bronze weathervane, was added. It represents the virtue of “Faith” and serves as a symbol of Seville. The Giralda is considered by many to be Spain’s most perfect Islamic building because of its proportions, decoration and color. (Lonely Planet Spain).
It’s easy to imagine, as I climb the ramps inside of the Giralda, the guards and their horses clopping up the inside ramps during the tower’s early days. What an amazing experience of rich history!
I’m impressed by the elaborate tomb of Christopher Columbus, dating from 1902. There is apparently great controversy over whether the explorer’s body is really buried there, however, as many argue that he is (mainly) buried in the Dominican Republic (Lonely Planet Spain).
The Capilla Mayor‘s Gothic gilded and polychromed wood altarpiece is believed to be the biggest in the world, holding more than 1,000 carved Biblical figures, according to Lonely Planet Spain.
The Patio de los Naranjos was originally the courtyard where Muslims performed ablutions before entering the mosque. It is planted with 60 orange trees.
Of course like all the cathedrals in Europe in summer, Seville Cathedral is warm, damp and close inside. Out in the orange tree courtyard, or climbing the ramp up the Giralda, or even wandering quietly or sitting in the Cathedral, I feel hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. Escaping into the streets of Seville doesn’t give any relief either, but I head over to the Alcázar in hopes that its famous gardens might offer some cooling relief.