Tag Archives: Torre del Oro

Seville | River Guadalquivir

The old city of Seville lies nestled in a bend on the east bank of the River Guadalquivir (the name derives from the Arabic, and means big valley or big water) in a wide valley about 80 km from the sea. It’s Spain’s only river port, with a history that goes back to the Phoenicians. The river is the fifth longest in the Iberian peninsula (567 km) and flows from east to west across most of Andalucia. From Córdoba down to the sea the valley is Spain’s most important agricultural region, but it’s also prone to flooding, usually when heavy spring rains coincide with winter snow melt in the mountains where the river rises.

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The Moorish Dock in Triana

Nowadays the river and riverside are one of Seville’s major tourist and leisure resources, with everything from river cruises (for the tourists) to sailing, rowing and windsurfing for the locals. On the Seville side it’s now possible to walk beside the river all the way from the Puerto de las Delicias (where cruise ships coming to Seville are berthed) to the Columbus statue in San Jeronimo at the northern edge of the city. Most of this walkway owes its existence to the 1992 world exposition on the Cartuja (celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering America), though the final section, the New York Wharf, only opened a couple of years ago.


Torre del Oro

Before that, however, use of the riverside was almost entirely commercial, and long stretches were not accessible to the public. The first port of Seville, that of the Phoenicians and then Romans, was actually located on the now vanished secondary branch of the river that ran through the Alameda, alongside Calle Sierpes and the Avenida de la Constitución, as attested by pilings for wharves found near Sierpes and in Plaza San Francisco. The Moors built the distinctive stone dock on Calle Betis on the Triana side, the Torre del Oro, and the first bridge across the river, the “bridge of boats” which was only finally replaced by the Isabella II (Triana) bridge in the mid 19th century. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when Seville had the monopoly of the trade with the New World, the stretch of river on either side of the Torre del Oro was the most important port in Europe, until the river silted up and the trade moved to Cadiz. The 20th century saw major changes, with a totally new port constructed in an artificial “short cut” waterway below Las Delicias, and a new channel for the river’s main flow on the far side of Triana that finally ended the problem of flooding in the city.


View from the Seville Eye with the Aquarium in the Foreground

Start your exploration of the river by taking a ride on the new Seville Eye, the panoramic ferris wheel that gives a view up and down the river and across the Maria Luisa Park. The bridge between this and the port is a bascule bridge – it opens to allow cruise ships and sailing boats to pass through. Next door pay a visit to the aquarium, another recent addition to Seville’s list of attractions. Plenty of places nearby for refreshments, but look out especially for Seville’s only foodtruck La Cayejera. Then head back towards the city centre. Pay a visit to the naval museum in the Torre del Oro, then go on to the Isabella II bridge. See if you can spot our “Betis Blue” apartments across the river. On the Seville side you can stop for a drink or a snack in the Mercado Lonja del Barranco, a modern food court in the 19th century cast iron fish market building. Alternatively, cross the bridge to the main Triana market and the ruins of San Jorge Castle (former headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition).

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View of Triana Bridge from the Torre del Oro

Beyond the Triana bridge you can find the only grassy bank beside the river in Seville; if the weather’s right it will be full of Sevillanos taking the sun, eating, drinking and socialising. Go further and you’re on the long walkway beyond the touristy areas that’s the territory of runners, cyclists and dog-walkers. Less to see here, although some of the buildings left over from the ’92 expo are weirdly interesting, and in the summer season there’s always the screams from the people enjoying the Isla Magica theme park floating across the water. For those who are interested in such things you’ll also come eventually to the two modernist bridges, La Barqueta and the Amarillo.

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