A Brief History of Sevilla
“Sevilla is a Moorish lady with a Christian comb in her hair.” So it goes. The Moors no doubt planted the seed of the city’s splendor. Córdoba may be more oriental and Granada more monumental in this heritage, but Sevilla is a little of both in a setting of greater scale and diversity. Long before the Moors had come to control the Peninsula in the eighth century, the Romans founded Hispalis in 206 BC on this sight near the Guadalquivir River that had formerly been occupied by the Tartessions. The Vandals pushed the Romans out and in short course the Visigoths had pushed the Vandals out and established Hispalis as the capital of Visigothic Spain in 441 AD.
Under Moorish control, Sevilla came to be known as Ishbiliya. The city was overshadowed by the ruling Córdoba Caliphate until its fall in 1031, at which time Sevilla became the most powerful city under the Abbadid dynasty. The Abbadid’s alliance with the Almoravids of Morroco helped temporarily quell the thrust of the northern Christian kingdom southward, but it also saw the dynasty lose much of its control of Al-Andalus to the Almoravids. By the 12th century, a new Moorish sect known as the Almohads had taken control of the region. During this time, Sevilla’s mosque was built and would later serve as the foundation for the Christians’ Catedral after they had won the city back in 1248.
Sevilla embarked on its golden age with the return of Columbus from the Indies in 1492, for which the city was awarded a monopoly on trade with the New World. The incoming foreign wealth corresponded with a burst of internal creativity. Painters like Velazquez, Murillo and Valdés Leal emerged, along with poets like Antonio Machado and the great sculptors Pedro Roldán and Martínez Montañés. The written word followed suit. Don Juan, the precocious romantic, arose from the spirit of Sevilla and later the operatic heroine Carmen met Don Jose outside the city’s tobacco factory. Cervantes’ Don Quixote had also begun his great quest in Sevilla.
In the ensuing years, the city’s preeminence as Spain’s “gateway to the New World” waned. The River Guadaluquivir was silting in and Cádiz, more appropriately situated on the coast, took over port duty. A 17th-century plague wiped out over half of the city’s population and for the next 200 years Sevilla was content to stem the tide of her own disarray.
Great things were expected of the Ibero-American Exposition that Sevilla would host in 1929. The city was beautified, hotels and exposition palaces were built alongside expansive and beautiful parks and then the Civil War began its first slow, guttural rumblings. The city’s governors, acting perhaps more prudently than many others, surrendered the city almost immediately to Franco’s forces. Many of the Sevillanos were thankful they had endured only a small massacre of about 8,000 people.
With the newly established constitutional monarchy in the early ’80s, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) came to power with Sevilla’s own Felipe González Márquez at the head. Gonzalez served as the premiere of Spain until the Partido Popular won out under Jose María Aznar in 1996; in the meanwhile, Sevilla had enjoyed vast urban improvements due to its hosting of the 1992 World Expo and, what with the tourism boom and the history and inherent romance, the city only looks back to savor the future.
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