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Seville | The Cathedral


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.


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.


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.


View of the Giralda from Giralda Terrace apartment

Seville | Roman Seville

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El Salvador church, site of the Roman basilica

Once upon a time, as we all know, the Roman Empire was the largest the western world had ever seen, and ruled most of the then known world, from Africa in the south to Britannia in the north, and from Syria in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. In 206 BC a modest town in the southwest of Spain called Ispal was conquered from the Carthaginians by the Roman general Scipio. Over the centuries, and through a variety of changes of name (Hispalis of the Romans, Isbilya of the Moors, and finally Sevilla of the Spanish) and fortune, it would become the city of Seville that we know today.

Although the physical remains of the Roman period are sparse, Roman civilisation has left an enduring legacy, so much so that Julius Caesar, who was governor here in the first century BC, is credited with being one of Seville’s founders. It was he who built the first stone walls around the city, granted it imperial status, and gave it the Roman name Julia Romula (after himself, naturally). The city that he “girded with walls” was considerably smaller than it later became, but covered most of what we now call the Barrio Santa Cruz, and an area around the Plaza Encarnación.

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Fish salting factory, Antiquarium

The centre of the Roman city was the Forum, and although there is nothing Roman to see there now, its probable location at the Plaza Alfalfa is still a public open space, a continuity spanning over two thousand years. The path of the principal Roman street, the Decumanus Maximus can still be followed along Calle Aguilas (Eagle Street), through the Alfalfa square, and down the Alcaicería de Lozo to the El Salvador church, thought to be the location of the Roman basilica.

Not far from the Alfalfa, in Calle Marmoles, are the oldest man made structures in Seville that are still standing in their original locations. The three granite columns were once part of a second century Temple of Diana, and were brought all the way from Egypt – quite an undertaking in those days, even for Roman engineers! Two more columns from here can be found in the Alameda de Hercules, topped with statues of – you guessed it – Hercules and Julius Caesar. A sixth column was broken during the process of moving it.

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Temple columns, Calle Marmoles

You should also go to see the Roman ruins below the Metropol Parasols, the largest exposed Roman site in Seville, though I suspect that if you dug down five metres or so almost anywhere in the old city you’d stand a good chance of finding more. The remains include residential buildings, mosaics and a fish salting factory, which can’t have made a pleasant neighbour.

Immediately outside the historic centre there are a couple of short stretches of the Roman aqueduct that supplied water to the city. Astonishingly, the bulk of the aqueduct was demolished as recently as the early twentieth century, in a fortunately rare act of civic vandalism.


Roman aqueducts

There are, of course, a plethora of smaller Roman columns dotted about the city, mostly removed from the neighbouring Roman city of Italica (well worth a visit), in the days when such places were regarded as handy sources of building material rather than archaeological heritage. Other remains and objects from here can be found in the Archaeology museum in Maria Luisa park.

As always, we have a range of holiday apartments for rent in the historic centre of the city that make a great base for exploring. See you all soon.

Seville | The Archive of the Indies

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Front facade

The Archivo General de Indias, or General Archive of the Indies, is the third of Seville’s World Heritage Sites, and together with the first two, the Cathedral and the Alcazar Palace, makes up the main monumental area of Seville. Although it’s something of a poor relation to its more famous neighbours, the Archives building is worth a visit, and has the added bonus of being free, and there are often special exhibitions, usually on the themes of sailing and exploration. The Archives themselves, comprising some 43,000 volumes and 80 million pages of documents (even back then the Spanish bureaucracy excelled at generating paperwork) are housed partly on the ground floor, but now mainly in a second, specially designed, building across the street, and are still an important primary resource for historians and researchers.

The Archives were not originally constructed for that purpose, though, but to provide a headquarters and a trading house for the members of the Merchants’ guild. Following the discovery of the Americas by Columbus in 1492 Seville was awarded the monopoly of the trade, and the number of merchants operating in Seville expanded enormously, outgrowing their existing facilities. Because of their proximity to the port, the Palace, and, a little later, to the Ayuntamiento, the steps of the Cathedral became a favoured place for them to conduct business (next to the Puerta del Perdón one of the Cervantes plaques mentions them in this context, “lugar de contratación”), causing considerable friction between civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Finally, in 1572, Philip II commissioned the architect Juan de Herrera to design and build the Casa Lonja (Commodities Exchange). Construction began in 1584, and by 1598 the building was ready for use (though not fully completed until 1646).

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Rear facade from Plaza del Triunfo

Within a hundred years, however, the port of Seville began to silt up, and by the early 1700s the Lonja was seriously underused, and with the transfer of the Consulado de Mercaderes to Cadiz in 1717, it was virtually deserted, and began to be used as a common rooming house. It was saved from further deterioration when in 1785 Charles III decreed that a number of separate archives should be transferred to Seville. The residents were duly evicted, and before the end of the year the first documents began to arrive. Among the alterations and repairs carried out to make the building suitable for its new use was the construction of the Grand Staircase. The gardens at the front were added during the creation of the Avenida de la Constitución in the 1920s.

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Inside the Archives

The Archives building is an impressive two-storeys high square around a large central courtyard, the exterior being relatively simply ornamented in an Italian influence Renaissance style. Inside, the halls that go right around the building are lined with box files, giving an impression of what the place looked like in use, but they’re empty, just for show. There are some charts and other memorabilia, and also a film show in a curtained-off cinema detailing the history of the building. Actually worth watching, and not too long.

Veoapartment has two groups of holiday apartments (Constitución and Alcázar) to let that are just across the avenue, and give a superb view of the Heritage complex.


View from Constitución apartments

Seville | Metropol Parasol

Most people who come to Seville for the sightseeing, and to absorb the unique atmosphere of the city have in mind its late mediaeval heritage sites, the Cathedral, the Reales Alcazares (Royal Palaces), and perhaps the Archivos de Indias. Throw in the Old Jewish quarter (Barrio Santa Cruz), Plaza España, and a quick visit to Triana across the river, and Bob’s your uncle – job done.

IMG_7554Plaza Encarnación and the Metropol Parasol

Or at least, almost. The Metropol Parasol, to give them their proper name (they’re also known as las Setas or the Mushrooms), are Seville’s contribution to modern, avant-garde architecture and can come as something of a surprise if you stumble upon them unexpectedly. The swooping umbrella shaped lattice structure comprises six parasols, and rises about 26 metres above the ground, and is, in fact, the world’s largest wooden structure. It was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann, who won the competition for a building to complete the redevelopment of the Plaza de la Encarnación, and after six years of work was completed in April 2011.

view metropol parasolView from the top of the Parasol

The shape was said to have been inspired by the vaults of the cathedral roof, and by the giant fig trees in the nearby Plaza Cristo de Burgos. Predictably, the design, location, delays and cost overruns made it a controversial project, but now it’s completed its eyecatching shape and open spaces have helped to restore the economic and social life of the neighbourhood.

1-038-mar182014 041The Parasols at Night

Like the city itself, the site of the Metropol Parasols is something of a historical layer cake. The name of the square, Plaza de la Encarnación, derives from the Convent of the Incarnation, an order of Augustinian nuns, which was located here from 1591 until its demolition in the early 19th century (the order then moving to its present home in the Plaza del Triunfo). In about 1840 the city’s central provisions market was established here, continuing in operation until 1973, when the building, by then in a ruinous state, was demolished as part of an urban renewal project. The stallholders were moved to “temporary” accommodation in the northeast corner of the square, where they were to languish for the next 37 years.

060-mar182014 019Roman fish salting works – Antiquarium

The site of the original market was left abandoned until 1990, when work on the construction of underground parking for a new market began, only to be halted shortly afterwards by the discovery of Roman ruins beneath. These can now be seen in the Antiquarium, the museum in the basement of the complex, and include a fish salting factory, esidential buildings and some well preserved mosaics. It’s well worth a visit, and is a nice contrast to the modern structure above. At ground level is the market, reinstalled in a modern market hall in its original location, and the main commercial hub of the neighbourhood. The roof of the market hall forms a plaza which holds various public events, such as small concerts and the christmas fair. From the basement take a lift up to the bar and walkways on the top of the structure for great views across the city.

IMG_7553Seasonal mushrooms in the market of the Mushrooms

Almost next door, our holiday apartments in Calle Laraña have views of the Mushrooms and are within easy walking distance of other sights and facilities.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.