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Posts from the ‘Monuments’ Category

Seville | The Cathedral

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Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees)

Because it’s that time of year (you know what I mean) and because it’s probably Seville’s best known monument (although in the absence of definitive statistics the Alcázar could make the same claim), it’s time to talk about the Cathedral (the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, to give it its proper title).

Facts and statistics can be tedious, but at least a few are necessary for the full appreciation of a visit here. First, of course, is that this is, quite simply, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and indeed the largest cathedral, though not the largest church – although there is some argument Saint Peters Basilica in Rome and the Basilica of the National Shrine of our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil are generally accepted as larger. This is quite surprising in itself, as although Seville was an important city in the 15th century, its pre-eminence came a little later, after the discovery of the Americas made it the richest city in Europe.

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Corpus Christi outside the Door of Baptism

The Cathedral was built on the site of the Aljama Mosque (the New Grand Mosque that replaced the Old Grand Mosque on the site of what is now the El Salvador church), constructed on a greenfield site just outside the old city between 1184 and 1198. Despite its fame it only served as a mosque for fifty years. In 1248 the Christians under Ferdinand III conquered the city, and the Mosque was reconsecrated as a Cathedral. In 1356, however, the structure was badly damaged in an earthquake, and in 1401 the Cathedral Chapter took the decision to demolish it and build a brand new Cathedral.

One member is reputed to have said “Let us build a Cathedral so grand that when men see it they will think we were mad”. All things considered they didn’t do a bad job. The main structure was completed in 1506, but in 1511 the dome collapsed, and took another 8 years to rebuild. The main altar (retablo) was finished in 1526, and the building was considered complete in 1528, although the Royal Chapel (completed 1575), and the belfry and statue at the top of the Giralda Tower (completed 1568) came later. Also later is the Church of El Sagrario, built in the 17th century.

Of the original mosque, the minaret, now the Giralda tower, and the Patio de los Naranjos (orange trees) and its outer wall, including the Gate of Forgiveness (Puerta del Perdón), were retained, and the Giralda has become the city’s most emblematic symbol.

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The Crocodile in the Cathedral

For the individual visitor entrance is through the Pavilion from the courtyard in front of the Gate of the Prince in the south facade. The statue here is a life size replica of the one on top of the tower (which is a working weather vane) and represents Faith. There’s often quite a queue for tickets, but you can get a combined ticket at the less busy El Salvador church. Inside, the nave rises to a breathtaking 42 metres in height, and includes the choir loft, and the world’s largest gold altarpiece at the end in front of the Royal Chapel. Some 80 other chapels line the outer walls, and among the famous people buried here are Christopher Columbus and his brother Hernando, Ferdinand III and his wife Beatrice, Alfonso X (see if you can find the crocodile that was given him by the king of Egypt), and Pedro I (who built the Neomudejar palace in the Alcazar).

For most people (which is to say, in my opinion), though, the highlight of the visit is going to the top of the Giralda tower (at 105 metres easily the tallest building in the historic centre) and enjoying the views across the city. No lift, of course, but it’s a ramp, not stairs, so it’s not too arduous. They say that when it was a minaret the muezzin would ride his donkey up to the top to call the faithful to prayer, but this story may well be apocryphal.

For an unusual view of the tower and cathedral, check out what is probably the best holiday apartment in Seville.

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View of the Giralda from Giralda Terrace apartment

Seville | A stroll down the Avenida

Much of the charm of the historic centre of Seville (and, it has to be admitted, many of its inconveniences) lies in its networks of narrow streets and little squares, and after the main monuments have been seen striking out into the back streets in exploration mode, not knowing exactly what you might find, or how to get back to your apartment, is one of the city’s great pleasures.

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The Avenida from the Ayuntamiento with the Adriatico on the right

There is, however, one outstanding exception to this rule. The Avenida de la Constitución, which runs from the Ayuntamiento (town hall), past the front of the Cathedral and Archivos, to the Plaza Puerta Jerez, is almost every inch a modern European style boulevard; wide, traffic free and tree-lined, with the terraces of pavement cafés strung intermittently along it and transportation provided by sleek modern trams that glide quietly back and forth, with the occasional clang of the bell to warn an inattentive pedestrian of their presence.

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Arquillo Mañara – entrance to the Moorish Alcázar

But only almost every inch. One of the fascinations of this stretch of road is the surprisingly harmonious combination of styles of different cultures and times, from the Torre Abd El Aziz (early 12th century), through the Cathedral (15th century) to a number of important early 20th century buildings.

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Old and New

The modern name is in honour of the Spanish Constitution of 1980, but prior to that its different sections were known by a number of other names, including Genovese (as attested by a small plaque near Starbucks), after the Genoese merchants settled there by Ferdinand III after the Christian conquest, las Gradas (the steps in front of the Cathedral), Libertad (during the Second Republic) and Queipo de Llano (during the Franco era).

Despite its centrality and importance in the modern city, this area remained outside the city walls throughout the Roman, Vizigothic and Moorish Caliphate periods, and a secondary arm of the river ran from where the Ayuntamiento stands today, along the course of the Avenida, before returning to the main river in El Arenal. It was by this means that the Viking longboat, discovered under the Plaza Nueva, reached its final resting place during the raid of 844 AD. From the early 12th century the site of the Cathedral and the area in front of it were enclosed by a new wall, with exit gates near the later Plaza San Francisco at one end, and near the Cabildo at the other. At the same time the Alcazar enclosure was extended to the Torre Abd El Aziz, the Miguel Mañara arch being the gate to the palace compound.

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Main entrance of the Cathedral

The second half of the century saw the building of the Grand Mosque, and further extension of the city wall towards the river. From 1401 work began on the demolition of the Mosque and the building of the new Cathedral, completed in 1526, and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. A large section of the frontage is actually a separate church, the El Sagrario, built in the 17th century in the baroque style.

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Casa Alvaro Davila in the early evening light 

The Avenida in its modern form was created in the first third of the 20th century, as part of the preparations for the 1929 Spanish American exhibition. The northern end was substantially widened, and the fine buildings along this section all date to this time, including the emblematic Adriatico (the circular building facing the town hall), and the Casa Álvaro Dávila (now a bank) on the corner of Garcia Vinuesa. The southern end, between the Archivos and the Puerta Jerez, did not exist at all until the 1920s, the area being occupied by the Convent of Saint Thomas and the University of Saint Mary of Jesus, of which only the chapel remains. Most notable of the buildings on this newly created section is the Coliseo, now government offices, but originally a cinema and theatre. The ticket windows can still be seen in the facade. Pedestrianisation and the installation of the tramway came in 2007, together with new orange trees, ornamental streetlamps and a cycle path, and the absence of traffic has helped to convert the Avenida into a pleasant and interesting place to stroll.

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Café Life

This has also resulted in something of an explosion in the number of bars and cafés, mostly aimed at the tourist trade. Best places to stop for a coffee and a snack are the Horno San Buenaventura and Genova cafe-bar, and just off the main drag is one of my favourite traditional tapas bars, Casa Morales.

From the Plaza San Francisco to the main entrance of the Cathedral is the official “carrera” or processional way, for the city’s big religious festivals, especially Semana Santa (Holy Week), and at these times the avenue is lined with seating and thronged with people. It’s a great spectacle, but normal life does come to something of a halt. At Christmas it’s strung with lights along its entire length, and the annual Bélen (Bethlehem) Fair is held in the street between the Cathedral and the Archives.

Booking an apartment in this area of the city is surprisingly easy, and veoapartment has a wide variety from studios to larger family apartments.

Seville | Casa Pilatos

IMG_7174Main entrance on Plaza de Pilatos

With the obvious exception of the Royal Palaces of the Alcázar, the Casa de Pilatos (Pilate’s House) is the largest and historically most important of the grand palaces of Seville, and is still the family home of the Dukes of Medinaceli. It can be found in the eastern part of the old city, between the Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina, in the Plaza de Pilatos.

Construction of the palace (originally the Palacio de San Andrés) was begun in 1483, at the transition of the mediaeval to the early modern period, by Pedro Enriquez de Quiñones and his second wife Catalina de Rivera, and was continued by their son Fadrique Enriquez de Rivera, 1st Marquis of Tarifa. In 1519 Fadrique went on a pilgrimage to the holy places of Jerusalem, returning in 1520 by way of Italy, both of which experiences greatly influenced him. The following year he instituted the Holy Way of the Cross as a reproduction of the original in Jerusalem, starting from the palace (which became known as the Casa de Pilatos) and leading to the Cruz del Campo (the Cross in the Field), which can still be seen in the modern suburb of Nervion, and which lends its name to the local beer, Cruzcampo, which used to be brewed nearby.

IMG_7180Main courtyard with fountain and statuary

Entrance to the Palace is through an Italian Renaissance style gate of the early 16th century, which leads into the apeadero (a reception courtyard for carriages), and beyond that to the Patio Principal, a typical Andalusian courtyard paved with marble, an Italian marble fountain, and colonnades decorated in the Mudejar (Moorish) style. The courtyard is adorned with the busts of twenty four Spanish kings and Roman emperors, with four of the most important pieces of the Palace’s collection of sculptures in the corners.

On the far side of the courtyard is the Palace chapel, known as the Chapel of Flagellation for its central statue of Christ being whipped. Built and decorated in the Mudejar-Gothic style, it’s possibly the oldest room in the palace. To the right is the Praetor’s room, which although a slightly later product of alterations to the courtyard, is notable for the mudejar decoration of its walls, and the beautiful caisson coffered ceiling with the coats of arms of the family line.

IMG_7222Ceiling of the Praetor’s study

Beneath the tower is the Praetor’s study, which connects the courtyard with the large garden. The walls are covered with ceramic tiles in a number of different patterns and there is a superb ceiling with a ten sided star in the centre.

The grand staircase is probably the most magnificent part of the building, connecting the more public space of the patio with the private family quarters on the upper floor. Sumptuously decorated with colourful tiles, its crowning glory is the mudejar honeycomb ceiling, modelled on the one in the Ambassador’s room in the Alcázar. The upper floor itself recreates the interior of the house palace with mudejar plasterwork and ornate wood ceilings and contains artworks by Francisco Pacheco, Goya and Luca Giordano, among others.

IMG_7229Grotto in the large garden

My favourite parts of the palace, though, are the two gardens. The large garden, originally the orchard, was created in the second half of the 16th century by an extension of the palace to enclose it. The layout and decoration are in the Italian renaissance style, complete with a grotto in one corner, and niches for the archaeological exhibits shown there. The small garden (el Jardin Chico) was created from two small gardens in the early 20th century, and has a pool that was once fed by water from the Roman aqueducts, a rare privilege enjoyed by few, and which made owning a garden a sign of social distinction.

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The charming Jardin Chico

Casa de Pilatos
Plaza de Pilatos, 1
Tel: +34 954 225 298
Website
Opening Times: 9.00 am to 6.00 pm (7.00 pm Apr-Oct)
Price 8 euros including audioguide and guided tour of upper floor

Seville | The Squares of Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz is the best known of Seville’s old neighbourhoods, and corresponds roughly to the late mediaeval Jewish quarter. It’s a major part of the oldest section of the city, but although it’s still based on the old Roman street layout and has many authentically old buildings, it actually owes much of its picturesque charm to the renovations and general prettifying that began in the Napoleonic era and peaked during the preparations for the 1929 Spanish American exhibition.

river walk 35Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

La Plaza Virgen de los Reyes (Virgin of the kings) is the classic square behind the Cathedral and in front of the Barrio Santa Cruz. It’s enclosed by three of Seville’s most important historic buildings, the cathedral (including the Giralda tower), the Archbishop’s Palace and the former Hospital of Santa Marta that now houses the Convent of the Incarnation. Although these buildings date back 500 years or more, the square itself was only created in the 18th century by the demolition of the Church’s administrative buildings within it, and its modern form was achieved with the remodelling of the entrance to Mateos Gago in the 1920s. The fountain and ornamental streetlight in the centre was added for the 1929 Spanish-American. Spend a few moments in the shade of the orange trees enjoying the view of the tower and doing some people watching.

photo 2 (12)Classic view of the Giralda from Patio de Banderas

From Los Reyes take a short detour into Plaza Santa Marta, the little square at the end of alley behind the statue of the Pope, and discover an oasis of peace and quiet. The cross in the centre dates to 1564, but was only brought here in the early 20th century from the old hospital of San Lorenzo in the Macarena. The door to the right is the back entrance to the Monastery of the Incarnation.

Next to Los Reyes is the “second square”, La Plaza del Triunfo, which is effectively the World Heritage centre, with the Cathedral, the Alcázar Palace and the Archivos de Indias on three sides, and the Casa de la Provincia on the fourth. The walls are over a thousand years old, and were once the outer walls of the city. The square takes its name from the small monument in front of the Archivos, erected in 1757 to commemorate the Cathedral surviving the Great Lisbon Earthquake. Like many others the square was remodelled in the early 20th century, and the monument to the Immaculate Conception was erected at this time.

santa cruz 010Plaza Santa Marta

Through the archway beside the square is the Patio de Banderas (Courtyard of the Flags), where the Kings of Spain once greeted foreign ambassadors. The rectangular promenade around the outside is formed by two rows of orange trees, but the fountain that used to grace its centre has disappeared since the recent archaeological investigations into the earliest stages of the Palace’s history.

Passing up the street alongside the wall brings you to the Plaza de la Alianza (formerly the Plaza del Pozo Seco or dry well), a charming little square with a simple central fountain, and a couple of bar terraces from which to enjoy it.

santa cruz 074Plaza Doña Elvira

Follow the wall to reach Plaza Doña Elvira, possibly the most picturesque little square in Seville, and certainly one of the most frequented by tourists. During the day it seems to be almost full of restaurant tables and chairs, but don’t let that put you off enjoying its ceramic benches, fountain and orange trees. It’s supposedly the birthplace of Doña Elvira, the impossible love of Don Juan.

santa cruz 045Plaza Alfaro 

Carry on along the wall through Life Street and Water Street, and past the Washington Irving house, and you’ll come to the Plaza Alfaro, the little square at the entrance to the Murillo Gardens. Look for the Moreton Bay fig trees just inside the gardens, the water pipes in the exposed end of the old wall, and the circular balcony on the corner of the Casa Palacio.

santa cruz 049La Cerrajería, Plaza Santa Cruz

Just beyond is the Plaza Santa Cruz, which was once the site of one the Jewish quarter’s three synagogues, destroyed in the pogrom of 1391. It was replaced by the original parish church of Santa Cruz, demolished in turn in 1811 during the Napoleonic era to create the square as it is today. The rather strange metal sculpture in the centre is the Cruz de la Cerrajería with its serpents and four book-reading little figures on the corners, moved here from Calle Sierpes in 1921.

santa cruz 051Plaza de los Refinadores

Down Calle Mezquita you come to Plaza de los Refinadores (the refiners). I love the circular benches around the palm trees (sadly, two have recently had to be cut down), which make a quiet and shady spot for a few minutes tranquil contemplation. The statue is of Don Juan Tenorio, the legendary womaniser, and was erected in 1975. Also of interest is the house on the corner with the big window balcony, designed for Luis Prieto by Aníbal González, who also designed the Plaza de España.

santa cruz 056Las Cruces

Through tiny Calle Mariscal you come to Plaza de las Cruces, surprisingly not named for the crosses on the columns, which arrived later than the name, but for the wooden crosses at the far end of the street. Turn left there and walk up the hill, and near the top you’ll find a little alley on your right. Through a door at the end is the tiny Plaza de la Escuela de Cristo, one of my favourites for its sheer unexpectedness.

IMG_7146-001Plaza Escuela del Cristo

For a great base to explore the Santa Cruz, we have a wide range of quality holiday apartments around this enchanting neighbourhood.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.