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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 | Giraldas Around the World

cathedral terraceview of the Giralda Tower from our Cathedral Terrace apartment

The Giralda Tower beside Seville Cathedral is beyond doubt the city’s best known icon, and the visitor’s first sight of it, usually from the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes, leaves a lasting impression. It was originally built as the minaret of the Grand Mosque in the last two decades of the 12th century by the Almohads, the Moorish dynasty who ruled over southern Spain and Morocco, and who also built the very similar minarets in Rabat and Marrakesh. The belfry and weathervane were added later by the Christians, in a renaissance style that harmonises remarkably well with the Moorish arched windows and abstract patterns of the exterior of the main section of the tower. The overall classic simplicity of effect has inspired numerous architects and builders around the world to copy it, and the fruits of their labours can be seen in some unexpected places.

Kansas City GiraldaKansas City
Perhaps the most famous of these Giraldas is the one in Kansas City. It was built in the 1920s by Kansas City developer JC Nichols, who was so impressed by the original that he added a half scale replica to his new shopping centre, the Country Club Plaza. In 1967 Seville and Kansas City became twinned, and in the Avenida Kansas City in Seville you can find a statue of a Cherokee Indian that is a copy of an original in Kansas City.

miami giraldaMiami and Chicago
Miami has not just one, but two, buildings inspired by the Giralda, both dating to the 1920s. The Biltmore Hotel, after being used as a hospital during the war years, then a medical school followed by a period when it was abandoned, is now once more a luxury hotel. In the 1930s Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan) worked there as a swimming instructor.

The Freedom Tower was built for the Miami News newspaper, and is now a contemporary arts museum. It has a twin in Chicago, the Wrigley Tower, built by the same architects as the headquarters of the chewing gum company.

madison square giraldaNew York
The New York Giralda stood alongside the Second Madison Square Garden from 1890 until 1925, when it was demolished to make way for an office building. It was designed by Stanford White and topped by a statue of the goddess Diana, rather than the representation of Faith on the original.

Other towers in the USA inspired by the Giralda are the Minneapolis Railroad Depot (destroyed in a storm in 1941), the San Francisco Ferry building and the Terminal Tower in Cleveland.

Spain
carmona san pedro church towerAs you might expect there are a number of similar looking, but less grand, church towers in southern Spain that actually date from the same period and like the Giralda, are converted minarets. But there are several more Giraldas in Spain that are deliberate later copies. In Carmona, not far from Seville, is the 18th century tower of the church of San Pedro. Also 18th century is the church tower of Santa Maria in Ecija. More recent versions can be found in Tarragona and in the central square in Badajoz, both from the early 20th century.

For a holiday home with an unrivalled view of the original, try our Giralda Terrace apartments, or our top of the range Cathedral Terrace. You won’t be disappointed.

Seville | World Heritage Centre

At the south end of the old centre of Seville is an outstanding group of three buildings that were registered as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1987, comprising the Cathedral and Giralda Tower, the Alcázar Royal Palace complex and the General Archive of the Indies.

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Cathedral and Giralda Tower

The Cathedral stands on the site of the former Grand Mosque built by the Almohad kings between 1184 and 1198. The Mosque was converted to a cathedral when the city was reconquered by the Christian king of Castile in 1248, but after it was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1356, the decision was taken to demolish it, and build a completely new Cathedral in its place. At the meeting of the church council in 1401 where the decision was made one of the members is said to have proposed “Let us build a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad”. The work lasted for over 150 years, including substantial rebuilding after the collapse of the lantern in 1511, the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) only being finished in 1575. The result is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, and the third largest church in the world after Saint Paul’s and Saint Peter’s. Inside there are more than 80 chapels, and a massive gold altarpiece, as well as the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Curiosities include a stuffed crocodile outside the Puerto de Lagarto.

The Giralda Tower, now the bell tower of the Cathedral, was originally the minaret of the Mosque, the bells and upper portions, including the statue that gives the tower its name, being added in 1568. You can climb the tower up the internal ramp, and the view from the top over the roofs of the city is one of the highlights of any visit to Seville, and endlessly fascinating.

Admission is €8.75, €2 for students and pensioners. Free to disabled, under-16s, and those born or resident in Seville.

The Real Alcázar

The first fortress and palace was built as long ago as the 10th century, but little remains from this period. The outer walls that we see today are from the 11th century, but the main palace dates from the time of Peter the Cruel in the 14th century, with later additions. The palace is still an official residence of the King of Spain, making it the oldest palace in continuous use in Europe.

Much of the palace was built in the style known as Mudejar, the mix of Islamic and Christian styles that defined the period.

Highlights include the Courtyard of the Maidens (legend has it that the Moorish kings extracted an annual tribute of 100 young girls from their Christian subjects), with its reflecting pool and sunken gardens, the Baths of Lady María of Padilla, which are actually rainwater tanks beneath the palace, and the Pool of Mercury in the Palace gardens.

Admission is €8, or €3 for students and pensioners.

General Archive of the Indies

The building that now houses the General Archive of the Indies was built between 1584 and 1598 as the commodities exchange for the merchants engaged in the trade with the New World. Before that time the merchants had been in the habit of transacting their business on the steps of the Cathedral, or even inside when it was either too hot or raining, causing considerable friction with the church authorities (the contemporary depiction of the expulsion of the moneylenders from the temple above one of the doors of the cathedral may have been inspired by this).

Later, after the monopoly of the Americas trade passed to Cádiz, the building fell into disuse, until Charles III decreed in 1785 that it should be used to house all the documentation relating to the Spanish American Empire. The archive is still one of the most important in the world for historical research, although many of the documents are now in a building across the street.

Admission is free and there are often interesting special exhibitions.

We have four luxury apartments with stunning views of this very special place, the Catedral Terrace and the three Giralda Terrace apartments.