Along the Guadalquivir
To the north of the city, the great river that once carried ancient Phoenician ships well beyond Córdoba had silted up. The dawn of Spain’s golden age found Sevilla, with her port still functioning thanks to the dredging that had connected her to the Guadalquivir, perfectly situated to reap the bounty of the NewWorld that would arrive at her banks. During these glory days it was declared, “If Madrid is the capital of Spain then Sevilla is the capital of the world!” From here Columbus set sail in 1492 and when he returned a year later, ships laden with exotic plants, spices and natives, Sevilla earned the monopoly on trade in the New World; its Council of the Indies was charged with governing the new lands, while the Casa de Contratación established by Felipe II in the Casa Lonja oversaw commerce.
This latter building, situated between the Catedral and the Alcázar, was converted into the Archivo General de Las Indias during the 18th century. It is recognized as the greatest depository of information obtained during the four centuries of Spanish colonialism in the New World. Maps of newly discovered oceans and continents (many of which are inaccurate), letters of correspondence to the crown and first-hand accounts of the New World are a draw for scholars from around the world. And they’re still discovering documents that could rewrite history. Admission is free to view displays of the most easily recognized documents, but academicians are the only ones who can examine the rest of the hundreds of thousands of pages. Even if you understood Spanish, you’d have a hard time deciphering the colloquial prose. But man how those writers could keep a line of text straight without the help of college-ruled paper!
Thousands of Spanish galleons arrived via the Guadalquivir with riches gained by Pizarro in Peru, Córtez in Mexico and others, unloading their hauls in the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold), shown at left. New institutions were created, including a university, monasteries and a royal prison. Sevilla flourished. The 12-sided tower had been built by the Moors in 1220 during the waning years of the Almohad as part of the city’s defensive wall. Its name may have come from the gold that once tiled its roof and shone brightly in the sun, or because it was once a mint of sorts. Or, because King Pedro I had once confined the wife of one of his leading soldiers, she a beauty with golden-blond hair, in the tower until her husband returned home from battling the Moors. The original defensive system included a similar tower on the opposite bank of the river. The Moors once ran a massive chain between the towers in order to control the use of the river.
Now the tower houses the Museo Marítimo, a naval museum with antique nautical devices, mounted fishies, model boats and sketches of Sevilla’s port when it was thriving. Once the wealth of the New World had been carelessly siphoned off to other countries and the years of exploration had reached their zenith, the River Guadalquivir, as if in a gesture of acquiescence, began to silt up more seriously around Sevilla. From the 17th century on, Cádiz, farther south on the Atlantic Coast, would serve as the main port.Were it not for dredging, Sevilla’s stretch of the river would today be wholly unapproachable by boat.
If you’re into carriages, consider visiting the Museo de Carruajes on the west side of the river, which houses every imaginable variation of the land craft, from simple but sturdy country carriages, to fancy urban ones and others used for hunting or sport outings.
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