view 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.
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 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.
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.
As 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.