Seville is a city in the south of Spain, a major economic and tourist center of the country. The population of Seville enjoys flamenco, bullfights, processions and celebrations. Squares with ornate Baroque churches seem one better than the other. Niches with local shrines and shady patios hold many mysteries, but all in all, a terrific openness and vitality prevail.
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On the downside of Seville’s charm is the inevitable commercialization of the city center. In the Barrio de Santa Cruz area, try to avoid restaurants clearly designed for vacationers and keep an eye on your wallets, bags and cameras. Otherwise, relax and enjoy life. Wander the old streets and make your own discoveries. Visit the stores, markets and bars where life is thriving.
Seville’s history goes back to Roman times. Ten km northwest of the city lie the massive ruins of Italica, the birthplace of Emperors Hadrian and Trajan. The remains of Hispalis, a Roman settlement in Seville itself, include an aqueduct (best seen from Callejón del Agua in the Barrio de Santa Cruz) and the columns and statues of Hercules and Julius Caesar on the Alameda. Hercules is considered the legendary founder of Seville, while Julius Caesar is a real historical figure. The Moors settled here in 711, and over the next four centuries Seville reached its highest point of prosperity. This was the time of the Almohad dynasty, which left a legacy not only of the Giralda minaret but also of the long influential Mudejar architectural style.
The golden age came to an end in 1248 when King Fernando III of Castile reconquered Seville from the Moors, but shortly after the discovery of the Americas in the 15th century Seville began to flourish again. The Atlantic Ocean is only 90 km from the Guadalquivir River, so the great navigators Fernand Magellan, Juan Sebastian Elcano and Christopher Columbus arrived in the port of Seville. They were followed by others, and the countless riches they brought with them financed the construction of many of the city’s monuments.
Sights of Seville
The Cathedral and Giralda
While the outside of the cathedral is not much of a draw, it holds many treasures as well as the Giralda Tower, now the cathedral’s imposing bell tower. This splendid monument of the Almohad era was once the minaret of the Alhama mosque, on whose site the cathedral was erected.
The Giralda was completed in 1198 by the architect Ali de Gomara. The tower was damaged during the earthquake of 1365, and then in the 16th century was added a Renaissance bell tower with 25 bells of different ages and finally a weathervane, from which it got its name. Inside the 98-meter-high tower is a ramp where the muezzin, the mosque attendant calling Muslims to prayer, rode his horse to the top of the minaret to address the faithful from there.
The Giralda and the cathedral are entered through a large patio planted with orange trees and framed on both sides by horseshoe arches: this is all that remains of the former mosque. A double arch, Arabic and Gothic, leads from the patio to the inside of the cathedral, the third largest in the world (after St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St. Paul’s in London), where late Gothic and Renaissance styles are combined. Construction lasted more than a century, from 1403 to 1506. Start your tour at the main altar, a spectacular Flemish structure that took 2.4 tons of gold from Mexico and Peru. Its creation took 35 years. The intricate carvings are hard to see from a distance, so arm yourself with binoculars. Behind you is another masterpiece, a choir with wonderful carved seats (15th and 16th centuries) made of Cuban mahogany. Look closely at the transept vault to see the masonry that was damaged in Lisbon’s famous 1778 earthquake and then rebuilt. The bright window stained glass windows are made at different times: the upper row contains Gothic features and the lower row contains Renaissance features.
To the right of the transept is the so-called tomb of Christopher Columbus. His ashes are either here or in the mausoleum of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, in the latter case his son Diego rests here. The sacristy houses the stunning treasures of the cathedral, including paintings by Murillo, Zurbarán and Goya (the only ones in Seville), silver and gold chalices, crayons and crosses for processions, strewn with precious stones, a beautiful 12th century hinge and a massive monstrance. The last part of the cathedral houses the oval hall of the capitulum. It is the first building of its kind in Europe. There is a separate entrance from the plaza to the Royal Chapel that houses a highly revered statue of the Virgen de los Reyes (12th century), the patron saint of Seville.
Santa Cruz district
To the east of the cathedral is a charming neighborhood of intertwining streets and small squares. The Santa Cruz neighborhood was a Jewish quarter from 1248, when Seville was wrested from the Moors, until 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain. About 400 families lived here, in the ghetto. They had their own court and synagogue, but paid taxes to the king. Today, Santa Cruz has a completely different look. Since the 17th century it has been a prestigious residential area and a popular tourist destination.
Admire Seville’s patios with flowers, especially on Callejón del Agua leading to the Plaza de Santa Cruz. The square used to be the main synagogue; it was later turned into a church and then destroyed by Napoleonic troops. Between the square and the cathedral stands the spectacular Baroque building of the Hospital de Venerables (Plaza de los Venerables 8, tel. 95 456 26 96), built as a shelter for priests. Its church is decorated with excellent frescoes by Valdés Leal and his son Lucas.
This is one of the oldest royal residences in Europe.
The oldest part of the Alcázar was built under the Almohads, but before that there was a Roman fortress, then an early Christian basilica and a Moorish castle. What you see today was mostly created under Pedro I in 1362, about the same time that the Nasrid Palace in Granada’s Alhambra was being built. A century later, Isabella I added one wing, and another 100 years later Emperor Charles V added a palace to the complex for his Portuguese bride.
From the entrance (where you can rent a tour player) you enter the Patio de las Donzellas, a beautiful vaulted courtyard with magnificent cedar wood marquetry, original zelich tiles and intricate moldings. The upper floor is devoted to the official royal residence while the adjoining Room of Charles V with its remarkable mudejar vaulted artesonado (coffered vault) was added in the 16th century. The red and gold paintings reveal a 19th-century restoration, as the Moorish and Mudejar palette was mostly blue and green.
The most interesting rooms are in the enfilade of bedrooms and reception rooms. Among them is the splendid Salón de Embajadores (Hall of Ambassadors), crowned by a magnificent cedar dome with images of Catholic kings standing on balconies. The horseshoe-shaped arches are the entrance to the bright dining room, open to the garden. Note the exquisite decor made by Persian craftsmen after the fire that destroyed the original room. Next comes the lovely Patio de las Muñecas (Puppet Courtyard, so named because of its small size) . It is also called the Patio dela Reina (Queen’s Patio) because it has screens with openings through which the ladies of the court could look, like in a harem. The open upper gallery was intended for musicians.
From the chapel at the Palace of Pedro I, walk through the garden to the Palace of Charles V, dominated by tapestries (1740) on the capture of Tunis. Next you enter the magnificent Alcázar Gardens next to the Mercury Pool at the ornamental volcanic rock.
In 1893, the Duchess Marie-Louise de Montpensier donated part of the vast grounds of the Palace of San Telmo to the city. In 1929 there was the Ibero-American Exposition, so the 38-hectare park is dotted with all sorts of architectural curiosities.
Start with the Palacio de San Telmo, built in 1734 for the world’s first navigational school and later became the palace of the Dukes of Montpensier. It now houses the government of Andalusia. A little further away stands the imposing building of the Tobacco Factory (now part of the University of Seville), famous for Prosper Merimee’s Carmen (1845), on the basis of which Wiese wrote his famous opera.
The park is riddled with paths and trails connecting its different corners and buildings built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. Each building now carries a functional purpose, whether it is a consulate, a museum, an art school, a flamenco school or a police station (the former Brazilian pavilion) . The Spanish National Pavilion occupied a magnificent space on the semi-circular Plaza de España. This enormous masterpiece of New Andalusian Baroque, designed by Aníbal González, used brick and hand-painted tiles (from Valencia, Toledo and Seville) . Each Spanish province is represented here in mosaic paintings on the themes of the most significant historical events, and there are three lovely bridges spanning the surrounding canal. Note the fabulous artesonados, the marquee ceilings above the side staircases of the pavilions and avoid the gypsy fortune-tellers a mile away.
Walk another 275 meters south toward Plaza de America, where there are two museums. The Museum of Art and Folk Costumes in the grand mudejar pavilion (Plaza de America 3, tel. 9547123 91, closed on Mondays) is worth a visit for the exhibition of ceramics on the lower floor. The Archaeological Museum’s collection in the Plateresco style pavilion (Plaza de America, tel 95 478 64 74, closed on Mondays) contains a superb collection of various rarities, including Phoenician statues, gold treasures from Carambolo, Roman monuments and ceramics.
Popular Sights in Seville.
The Giralda is probably Seville’s most famous landmark, and even without further notice no tourist in the city has passed it by: the imposing patterned building rises over the roofs of the old town and can be seen from absolutely anywhere in the city.
Alcázar Palace in Seville
The Alcázar Palace in Seville is one of those buildings that define the face of the country: it is literally one of the most famous landmarks of Spain. Among the palaces, only the Alhambra in Granada can compete with it in terms of popularity.
The Royal Tobacco Factory in Seville
The Royal Tobacco Factory in Seville looks nothing like the factory from the outside and is much more in keeping with the organization that houses it today, namely the University of Seville. But it is originally an industrial building, the only trick is that it is one of the oldest in Europe.
The Golden Tower in Seville
The Torre del Oro or Golden Tower is as famous a symbol of Seville as the cathedral, despite its much more modest size. It has a lot to do with a lot of different things. The Golden Tower was built in 1220 under Moorish rule in Spain.
The cathedral in Seville is one of those places, which you should not miss if you come to this city. There are many reasons for this: it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and a Catholic cathedral based on a Muslim mosque.
Metropolis Parasol in Seville
A sight called Metropol Parasol (which very conventionally and roughly can be translated as “urban umbrella”) in Seville is designed for lovers of modern architecture and everything unusual in general, and there are quite a lot of them among tourists.
Plaza de España in Seville
Plaza de España in Seville is somehow little known in Russia, but in Western Europe it is among the brightest modern squares. There is nothing surprising in this – it is absolutely unlike anything else.
Sevillians maliciously nicknamed the Alamillo Bridge a monument to Viagra, because of its specific contour. In fact, they’re proud of the beautiful architectural masterpiece erected in the run-up to Expo ’92, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.
Archive of the Indies in Seville
The Archive of the Indies in Seville, at first glance, looks a bit strange on the UNESCO World Heritage List, but it only seems so. In fact, it’s a very interesting building that is almost 450 years old, it contains even more interesting documents, and it is for these two factors that the Archive of the Indies was inscribed on the list.
City Hall in Seville
The Seville City Hall, the seat of the city government, is a small but interesting landmark. It is interesting for several reasons. First, the building was built for the city administration in the 16th century and since then this administration has never left it.
Hospital of the Five Sacred Wounds in Seville
The Hospital of the Five Sacred Wounds in Seville became a landmark not so long ago, before it was a functioning hospital that retained its historic name since its founding. But the hospital was closed, the building was restored and turned into the seat of the Andalusian Parliament.
Palacio San Telmo in Seville
The construction of the building on this site began in 1682, commissioned by the administration of the Inquisition as an institution for orphans, or rather, a maritime school where children from families of fallen sailors would be taught free of charge how to sail. The main details of the building were planned by the architect Leonardo de Figueroa.
The architecture of the palace is a whimsical mixture of the Mudejar Spanish-Moorish style, Italian Renaissance, and antiquity. The patio, an inner courtyard, is surrounded by arcades on slender columns, and in niches hide sculptures of Greek gods, Roman emperors, and a bust of the orator Cicero.
The Carthusian monastery in Seville
The buildings of the Carthusian monastery in Seville are located on the island to which they have given their name (it is Isla de la Cartuja, that is, the Island of Cartesia – “cartesian” was the name of the Carthusian monasteries at the time). It has a rich and interesting history, and it began, as often happens, with a chance discovery.
Casa de Salinas in Seville
The Casa de Salinas, that is, the Salinas House, is a small but interesting landmark. A 16th century dwelling house that has been carefully restored to its original historical appearance – it can’t be uninteresting. And here the building is also very beautiful in its own right.
Tavromachia, the game with a bull, has been known in the Mediterranean since ancient times. Its most famous variety is Spanish bullfighting with the mandatory killing of an innocent animal in the arena. You can treat it in different ways.
Maria Luisa Park in Seville
María Luisa Park is the main park of Seville and reflects the sunny climate of the Mediterranean. The park complex stretches along the Guadalquivir River, which runs through the city, and it’s home to the famous Plaza de España, and the rarities are too numerous to list.
Santa María la Blanca Church in Seville
Seville’s Santa Maria la Blanca church has an amazing history – even in Western Europe, religious buildings still rarely change denominations more than once. This church is an exception.
Church of St. Luigi of France in Seville
La iglesia de San Luis de los Franceses in Seville was built by the famous architect Leonardo de Figueroa, and that alone is enough to make it worth seeing: this master does not have uninteresting buildings.
Seville is one of the brightest cities in Spain, even the Spaniards themselves admit it. For the tourist, this means a lot of new experiences, new discoveries, and memories as vivid as the city. Seville’s vibrancy is due to many different reasons, but most of all to its history.
Seville was founded by the Phoenicians in the 3rd millennium BC, then it became a Roman colony. At the beginning of the 8th century, the Moors took over the region, and they ruled here until the middle of the 13th century. Then they were defeated by the Spaniards, and the independent Kingdom of Castile was formed here. With the union of Castile and another small state – Aragon – and began the unification of Spain into one country. Accordingly, Seville for a long time was the capital: first the Moorish Califate, then Castile, and then became a very, very rich city, because it was by commission of the local Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus went to search for India and discovered America. It was Seville that got the first colonies in the Americas, Native American gold, and also sold tobacco, chocolate, and more to Europe.
Each stage of history is reflected in the city’s architecture. The least surviving Roman traces are actually only one substantial fragment of buildings, located in the Metropolis Parasol. But a great many Moorish ones have survived, and this is what has defined the city.
Seville is unique in that, unlike many other cities in Spain, it did not seek to completely erase the traces of the Moors; they were woven into the local culture.
These traces have become perhaps the most striking local feature. The fusion of Moorish and European cultures is what has made Seville truly unique.
The fusion of traditions is present in almost all the attractions of the city. The most famous of these is the Mudejar, which combines European and Moorish decorative techniques. The most striking example is the uncommonly impressive Plaza de España.
One of the two most famous attractions in Seville is the cathedral. It was built on the foundations of the largest mosque in the city, the external design combines Gothic and Moorish, but inside decorated by the best masters of Spain – there is a unique interior decoration and the world-famous altar. Next to it is the Haralda, a former minaret converted into a bell tower in the 13th century. The lower parts are historic, the top is 16th century, on top is one of the symbols of the city, the Haraldillo weathervane statue. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The second famous attraction is the Alcázar Palace. The former palace of the Caliph, which has been under construction for many centuries, so it’s a stunning mixture of all styles over the last 800 years at once. Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque – and almost all with a local flavor. The interior decoration is also amazing – the paintings, carvings and mosaics will not leave anyone indifferent.
Another thing on the UNESCO list is the Archive of the Indies, which, in a building by a famous architect, contains all Spanish documents about the discovery, conquest and exploration of the Americas (Columbus’s reports, among others). The collections are closed, but there are always interesting exhibitions going on, where you can see the most famous exhibits.
If you are familiar with the work “Carmen” – be sure to go see the building of the Royal Tobacco Factory. Carmen, according to its creator, worked here. In addition, it is one of the oldest industrial buildings in the world, built in 1728, and its lush Baroque facade is quite unlike modern enterprises.
For lovers of architectural intricacies, the palace of San Telmo, decorated in a peculiar style called ultra Baroque. The style is colonial, imported from Mexico, and in Seville it is often found. Some elements are not like anything else. Some of the city’s churches are also built in this style, for example, its elements are present in the forms of the church of St. Luigi of France.
Fine carvings cover the old parts of the town hall, built in the Plateresque style. You have to walk around the building to find them, but it’s worth it – its rare decoration is a must-see. You can also see the Hospital of the Five Sacred Wounds, which is almost 500 years old.
Churches occupy a separate place. The most notable are the Church of St Mark, which brightly combines several styles at once, the Church of Magdalene, the remnant of a monastery that was the local center of the Inquisition, and the two monasteries of St Paula and Cartesian with their eventful history.
In addition to the large buildings, Seville has many smaller buildings, including apartment buildings. Adjusted to the southern climate, they were often built in the same mixed style, with Arabic columns, European galleries and patios. Some houses are open to tourists, such as the Casa de Salinas, which can be toured.
You can relax in the Maria Luisa Park. It is a large Mediterranean garden on the banks of the river, very sunny and fragrant and as atmospheric as the rest of Seville.