SPAIN  |  Sevilla, Spain Travel Guide
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Sightseeing in Sevilla


It is the ideal Andalucían neighborhood, the former Jewish quarter abutting the Catedral and Alcázar. It is a web of cobbled streets sided by whitewashed walls that are cool to the touch and far too narrow for vehicular traffic. It is diminutive plazas littered with the leaves of orange trees, balconies crowded with lavender and bougainvillea. Old palaces have been converted into hotels, lesser quarters into hostels, and they alternate with small specialty shops and restaurants rarely identified by more than a discrete ceramic tiling.

La Catedral

Were it not that Sevilla’s cathedral is large enough to swallow the city’s skyline, some enterprising Spaniard might have already devised a system by which to charge people just to gaze upon this architectural wonder from the Plaza de Triunfo. It is a holy sight, Gothic spires so numerous a mathematician would enjoy trying to count them, flying buttresses bracing and bracing and bracing and the proud Giralda Tower with a hundred sets of eyes staring out of it upon the city. A 15th-century canon, in contemplating the Catedral’s construction, is widely reputed to have said, “We shall make a cathedral so immense that everyone on beholding it will take us for madmen.” Only Saint Peter’s church in the Vatican and Saint Paul’s in London are larger.

The Catedral was completed in 1507 on the sight of the city’s Arabic mosque, which had served as a church as late as the 15th century until it was deemed an eyesore. Upon entering the Catedral, the Patio de Los Naranjos opens up with rows of citrus trees fed by a series of canals, a common irrigation system employed by the Moors which you will find aplenty in Granada’s Alhambra. This “cloister” is one of the only remaining elements of the original mosque and is said to have been the site where Moors would perform ablutions, glorified baths meant to purify the spirit. Its walls are inscribed with lines from the Koran and at its center is a Visigoth fountain in which saints were once baptized. Look up and notice the hanging wooden crocodile, which represents a live crocodile given to King Alfonso X from the Sultan of Egypt, whose daughter he had requested in marriage.

One might well miss all this as the tower in the corner immediately demands attention. Rising 97m (318 feet), the Torre de Giralda is the other link to the original mosque. When the Moors relinquished the city and sought permission to deconstruct their prized monument, Prince Don Alonso remarked, “If only one brick were removed from that tower the Moors would all be stabbed to death.” It was one of the world’s tallest towers when it was built in 1184 and other renditions of it can still be found throughout northern Africa, where its architect was often commissioned to repeat the feat. A series of ramps, not stairs, wind up between the inner and outer towers accommodating the ghosts of ancient sultans and muezzins, who once rode their horses to the top.

Be prepared – when the bells ring that once called the faithful to prayer, eardrums verge on explosion. The 25 bells were added in the 16th century, each with its own name. Crowning (as well as extending) the tower is a Renaissance addition from the rich years of conquest, atop which spins Giraldillo, the bronze weather vane shaped like a beautiful woman.

The Catedral’s Capilla Mayor (main chapel) has amazing grillwork by Fray Francisco, but is remarkable for its Gothic Retablo Mayor (high altar); in fitting with the prevailing theme of the cathedral, it is said to be the largest altarpiece in the Christian world and took a succession of Flemish and Spanish artists over a half-century to complete in 1564. The amount of gold incorporated into this work could feed a small African nation. Over 1,000 figures are carved in the relief panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ.

Just around the corner is the Sepulcro de Cristóbal Colón, a simple but imposing marble sarcophagus said to house the remains of the Western world’s most famous explorer. The sculptured pall-bearers represent the original four Christian kingdoms of Aragón, Castilla, León and Navarra. The inscription next to the tomb describes how Columbus’ remains were delivered to Sevilla from Havana, Cuba when that country became independent, some 300 years after the explorer’s death. Hmm. Needless to say, there is considerable doubt that Columbus is actually in there.

On the eastern side of the cathedral is the Capilla Real (royal chapel), its centerpiece a 13th-century statue of the Virgen de los Reyes. King San Fernando, upon seeing a vision of this Virgin that told him he would conquer Sevilla, commissioned the piece to be created. With nothing to go on other than the King’s memory, it took a number of tries (and artists) to get it right. The glass urn before the altar contains this Castilian King’s remains.

The Catedral’s treasury is housed in a number of rooms that are the plateresque sacristies south of the main chapel near the exit. Found within is the priceless, jewel-laden crown known as the Corona de la Virgen de los Reyes, masterworks by Sevillanos such as Murillo and Pedro de Campaña, various relics pertaining to Corpus Christi and the city’s keys, gifted to Fernando III after he’d claimed Sevilla from the Moors in 1248. 

Last updated March 27, 2012
Posted in   Spain  |  Sevilla
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