Category Archives: El Arenal

Seville | The Royal Dockyards

Las Atarazanas Reales de Sevilla (Royal dockyards of Seville) are probably one of the least visited major historic buildings in Seville (indeed, at the present time it’s not possible to go inside, only to view it from outside), but it’s appearance and history make it well worth going to see.

photo 2

Exterior of the Atarazanas – “Looks like there’s a storm brewing, Captain!”

The atarazanas were built in 1252, just four years after the reconquest of the city by the Christians, by king Alfonso X, for the construction of the galleys needed by the Spanish to guard the Straits of Gibraltar against the Moors and protect Spanish shipping in the Mediterranean. There were originally seventeen naves, and up to thirty ships could be constructed at the same time, but now only seven remain in more or less their original condition. They can be found along the outside of the stretch of city wall by the Postigo del Aceite (Oil Gate), and once continued as far as the Postigo del Carbón (Coal Gate) and the Torre del Plata.


Interior of the Atarazanas – naves and arches

They were constructed entirely of brick, in a style now known as Mudejar-Gothic, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches connecting the naves. The best view of the interior is to be had from the windows just beyond the Oil Gate, from where you can see the arrangement of the naves and arches, giving a perspective reminiscent of the Mezquita in Cordoba, as well as a section of the old city wall that forms the back of the dockyard enclosure. In late mediaeval times the area between the dockyards and the river was open sand and mud, allowing completed ships to be hauled to the river.

Because of their size, and the fact that the required rate of shipbuilding rarely utilised the whole building, the Atarazanas were used for many different purposes during their long life, including everything from public festivals to customs sheds, storing loot and holding prisoners of war from the conflicts with the Moors, and later as a fish market.

photo 3

Entrance to La Maestranza de Artillería

Perhaps surprisingly, it was just after the discovery of the Americas in 1492 that the shipyards went into decline, probably because the galleys they were designed for had been superseded by newer designs, and the incorporation of Aragon into a united Spain had made cheaper shipyards in Barcelona and Valencia available for the building of the navy’s ships. In 1641 five of the naves were converted for use as a Charity Hospital, and in 1719 the seven naves we can still see became officially the headquarters of La Maestranza de Artillería, and were used for the manufacture, storage of artillery and for offices of the administration of the army until as late as 1970. The façade that can still be seen today was built in 1782, and the chimney, now used only by nesting storks, also belongs to this period. Finally, in 1945, the five naves at the Torre del Plata end of the complex were totally demolished to make way for new government offices.

Although currently disused, there are plans (albeit vague) to bring the Atarazanas back into public use. They are certainly far too remarkable, both in themselves and as part of Seville’s heritage, to be abandoned.

photo 4

Local resident in the courtyard of the Atarazanas

If you are interested in this part of Seville and its history, we have a variety of holiday apartments in this part of Seville that are a perfect base for exploring the riverside area.

Seville | Torre del Oro

This week we have another guest post from former Londoner, long-time Seville resident
and history buff Peter Tatford (aka Seville Concierge)

Although it’s not as grand as some of Seville’s other icons, such as the Cathedral, Alcázar or Plaza España, the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) is still pretty impressive, and is in a very pretty location down by the river, making it one of Seville’s most popular spots.

torre del oro

The tower has a long and chequered history, and there are lots of stories surrounding it, some true, and some not, despite having wide currency. It was built in around 1220 by the Almohads, the Moslem rulers of the city, to protect the river and docks from the threat of the Christian armies of Ferdinand III, who finally conquered the city in 1248). It was once thought that it served to anchor one end of a heavy chain that could be used to block the river, the other being a tower in Fortaleza (Fortress) street in Triana. The only chain mentioned in the historical records, however, was alongside the Bridge of Boats (Puente de Barcas) where the Isabella II bridge now stands, and the name Fortress street is 19th century – perhaps deriving from the story.

puente barcosBridge of Boats engraving courtesy of El Mundo

It took its name from its golden reflection on the water, a result of the materials from which it was constructed – a mixture of lime, mortar and pressed hay. You may hear that it was originally covered in gold tiles, but this comes from a much later account, and was certainly an invention. It is also sometimes said to have got its name from being used as a storehouse for gold coming from the Americas, but this is also not true, though it was used at various times as a chapel, a prison, and (with scant regard for historical heritage) a gunpowder store.

In 1755 the tower was damaged by the great Lisbon earthquake, and it was proposed to demolish it, but the people of Seville appealed to the king to save it. On the king’s orders the tower was repaired; at this time the stairway from ground level to the main door was removed (the current roadway did not exist at this time, and the ground on this side was at the same level as the river) and the third level round tower at the top was added. Access to the tower was by a walkway that extended from the city wall near the Torre del Plata. The remains of this walkway, and its alignment with the main entrance, can still be seen just inside the modern building opposite.

The tower survived another demolition proposal in 1868 (part of the general removal of the city walls that took place at this time), before becoming the Naval Museum in 1936, with further restoration work as recently as 2005 – 2008.

torre oro from bridgeTorre del Oro seen from the Isabel Bridge
(our Betis Blue apartments are on the far right)

It still houses the Naval Museum, which has some interesting maps and prints from the 16th century, model ships (including Columbus’s ship, the Santa Maria) and other artefacts and memorabilia. You can also climb to the top of the main section, which provides some great views along the river, and of the Cathedral. To the north the skyline is dominated by the new Torre Pelli, which sticks up like a sore thumb from the Cartuja.

The Arenal neighbourhood along the river between the tower and the Isabella II bridge is also home to the Bullring and shipyards, and lots of bars and restaurants, and being outside the heritage area offers good quality holiday rental accommodation at reasonable prices.

Naval Museum
Torre del Oro, Paseo de Cristóbal Colón, s/n
Tel: +34 954 222 419
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9.30-18.45 Sat-Sun 10.30-18.45 Closed public holidays
Price: 3 euros students, pensioners and children 1.50 euros Mondays free

Seville | El Arenal neighbourhood

The Arenal neighbourhood of Seville is the southwestern part of the old centre, between the Avenida de la Constitución that runs in front of the Cathedral, and the River Guadalquivir. Its name is derived from the Spanish word for sand (arena), in this case the sand of the bullring, which is in this neighbourhood.

arenal (1)inside the Maestranza bullring

Crossing the Avenida at the corner of the cathedral takes you from the tourist district of Seville into an area with a quite different character. It was created by the extension of the city walls in the 10th century, some of which can still be seen around the Torre del Oro and the Torre del Plata (the gold and silver towers). During Seville’s golden age after the discovery of America it was the port area of the city, and even today it’s still a largely residential area. It was here that the treasures of the New World were unloaded, and from here that voyages of trade and discovery set sail.

arenal (4)Plaza del Cabildo

For the sightseer the main things of interest cluster around the southern end of the neighbourhood. Start at the Plaza del Cabildo, which is reached by a short passageway directly opposite the main door of the Cathedral. It’s normally a quiet place, away from the busy main avenue, with a section of the old wall, a fountain, and a semi-circle of shops and apartments with splendid frescos along the eaves. On Sunday mornings there’s a little collectors’ market selling stamps, coins and other items. Look out for a little shop called El Torno, where they sell cakes and pastries made in the local convents. The name derives from the turntable that separated the nuns from the buyers of their goods.

arenal (5)the Atarazanas

From there go through the Postigo del Aceite, the oil gate, into the riverside area. This is one of the few remaining city gates, and still has a little chapel just inside where you can give thanks or pray for good fortune as you enter or leave the city. To the right is a little artesan market for your souvenir shopping, and to the left are the Atarazanas, the 13th century dockyards. They’re not open to the public at the moment, but you can look in through one of the windows to see the visually stunning effect of its arched naves. If you’re lucky you may see storks nesting on the chimney above the building, something that always gives me a lift. Follow the building round and you’ll come to La Hospital de la Caridad, the charity hospital founded by Miguel de Mañara (sometimes said to be the model for Don Juan, though this is almost certainly not true). It’s still a working charity hospital but the splendid Baroque chapel is open to the public.

torre del oroTorre del Oro

Down by the river is one of Seville’s most famous and iconic buildings, the Torre del Oro, built in the early 13th century to protect the then Moorish city from the approaching Christians. In the 19th century it survived a couple of proposals for its demolition. It now houses a small naval museum with old maps and prints and model ships. You can also climb to the top for a view along the river, and to imagine what the area was like when it was the most important port in Europe.

arenal (2)Bullring Museum

A little further along the river is the bullring, one of the two oldest in Spain. Bullfights (to the death) are still held here during the April fair and in September. Even if you choose (like me, I have to admit) not to see a fight, it’s still worth taking a guided tour to experience the atmosphere of the arena.

Nowadays one of the Arenal’s great pleasures is its profusion of excellent tapas bars, many of them, such as the Bodeguita Romero, Casa Morales or Casa Moreno, retaining their traditional ambience and cuisine, making it a great alternative to the more touristy Santa Cruz for a proper tapeo. For tapas with a more modern touch try La Brunilda. Also pay a visit to the Arenal market to see how the locals shop and buy a few supplies.

arenal (3)Entrance to the Arenal Market

Last but not least there are several places where you can see flamenco. For a show try the Arenal Tablao in Calle Rodo. For something less formal pay a visit to Casa Matías on Calle Arfe (contrary to your expectations it’s not open late at night – go between 7 – 10 pm for impromptu flamenco).

El Arenal’s location close to, but not in, the main monumental area, makes it a great neighbourhood to rent an apartment for your stay at a reasonable price.

Take our virtual tour of the El Arenal barrio.