“A Moorish woman with a Christian comb in her hair”. Among the many definitions that have been given of the Giralda, the tower that symbolises the city of Seville, this is one of the most highly original. The monument, situated in the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes (the Square of the Virgin of the Kings) in Seville, used to be the minaret of the largest mosque built by the Almohads and later converted into a cathedral with a belltower.
Seville, the great capital city of the region of Andalucía is a synthesis of tradition and modernity. An in-depth visit to the city takes time due to the enormous number of monuments and interesting corners that have gradually accumulated throughout its history and the transformation that took place for for the Universal Exhibition in 1992.
What to see
The Giralda forms part of the cathedral complex, which is a combination of a wide variety of architectural styles. Work was started on the cathedral in 1401, over the remains of an old mosque, of which only the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Courtyard) still exists. Construction work lasted four centuries but in the end produced a cathedral that, after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London, is the biggest in christendom. Its outstanding features are the Royal Chapel, with the image of the Virgen de los Reyes (Our Lady of the Kings), the patron saint of the city of Seville, and the main reredos.
Opposite the cathedral, in the same square, is the Archbishop’s Palace, with an interesting collection of paintings and frescoes. Very close by, in the Avenida de la Constitución, are the India Archives. This building was originally an ancient market place in Seville , built at the end of the sixteenth century in Renaissance style. In 1785 24 carts arrived in Seville from the town of Simancas in Castile with 253 boxes of documents relating to the Spanish colonization of America. The destination of the boxes was this building, where they are still housed.
At the other end of the same avenue is the City Hall of Seville with el Arquillo, a sort of triumphant arch. It is here in the Plaza de San Francisco that the highly cosmopolitan street called Calle Sierpes starts. The atmosphere in Calle Sierpes, which leads to Calle Campana, is typical of Seville.
The Reales Alcázares, a royal palace, is right opposite the cathedral. Its origins go back to the ninth century when, after vanquishing the Northmen, Abd ar-Rahman II ordered a fortress to be built to prevent further attacks. Later, from the time of King Alfonso X to that of Charles V, a large amount of remodelling took place, especially during the reign of Peter I. The precinct can be reached through the Puerta del León (Lion Gate) and the gardens are the perfect complement to the architecture.
If you draw a straight line from the Reales Alcázares to the River Guadalquivir in Seville – which has played an enormous part in the history of the city and runs through it from north to south – you come to the Torre del Oro. This second emblem of the city now houses the Naval Museum. According to some the origin of the name comes from the fact that it was covered with golden tiles, which reflected in the river. Others are of the opinion that the monument was a mint and that is the reason for the name. In any case it is a beautiful Almohad building, which used to form part of the old wall of the Alcázar, or fortress.
Walking down the Paseo de Colón you will come to the Maestranza bullring, which is where the bulls from the most famous herds and the top bullfighters meet up.
Other interesting features of this area are the Hotel Alfonso XIII in 1928 regional style, the baroque style San Telmo Palace and the University that used to be a tobacco factory in the eighteenth century. Further on you come to the María Luisa Park and to the east lies the famous Plaza de España. This was the centre of the great 1929 exhibition in the city of Seville. It is a wide open space with a large lake surrounded by a brick building with two towers.
There are many stories left to be told – of love, tragedy and adventure – that nowadays are legends, and many more buildings and churches to be seen including the large Fine Arts Museum, the second most important in Spain, but the fact remains that however much you see of Seville there is always more still waiting to be discovered.