The Archive of the Indies

Entrance to the Archivo

El Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) is the third, and probably least well known, of Seville’s World Heritage monuments, and is located between the other two, the Cathedral and the Royal Palaces, in one of the most impressive of such groupings anywhere in Europe. The Archive itself was created in 1785 by order of Carlos III, to house all the documents related to the exploration and administration of Spain’s overseas possessions, until then housed in several smaller archives that were no longer large enough to hold the volume of paperwork involved. Today, mauch of the Archive is housed in a second building nearby, but is still an important resource for historians studying the Spanish empire period.

Corridor with vaulted roof

The building itself was originally constructed as a Commodities Exchange, the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes, for the merchants trading with the New World. In the years after Columbus discovered the Americas (1492) Seville was awarded a monopoly of the trade, and the 16th century saw a rapid increase in commercial activity in the city. Because of its central location and proximity to the port, much of this activity went on around the Cathedral, particularly the Puerta del Perdón and the Fuente de Hierro (where the Sagrario church is now), causing considerable friction between the ecclesiastical authorities and the merchants. Eventually, in 1572, a purpose built market was commissioned by Felipe II, and was constructed between 1584 and 1598 according to designs drawn up by Juan de Herrera. Later, in 1717, after the silting up of the river had made it impossible for ships to come upriver to Seville, the market was transferred to Cadiz, and the building became a lodging house, until Carlos selected it as the site for the new archive.

The grand staircase

As we see it today the building is an impressive example of Italian influenced Renaissance arcitecture with a regular and balanced geometry, around a large internal marble floored courtyard. One of its finest features is the grand staircase, added in the late 18th century as part of the conversion programme. The gardens in front of the main entrance are much later, being added in 1928 as part of the creation of what is now the Avenida de la Constitución in preparation for the Spanish – American expo of 1929.

Fountain in the gardens

 

The Reales Alcazares of Seville

The Reales Alcazares, or Royal Palaces, of Seville is the oldest working palace complex in Europe (that is, it’s still an official royal residence, though actually infrequently with the royals in residence), and one of the most important heritage monuments in Spain. Not surprisingly, then, it’s at the top of many people’s “Things to see in Seville” list, especially since it became the locale for the filming of the Water Gardens of Dorne sequences in the hugely popular Game of Thrones TV series.

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Entrance to the Mudejar Palace

In the present day there are two palaces, the more famous Mudejar Palace built by Pedro I, “The Cruel”, in the 14th century, and the Gothic Palace originally built by Alfonso X, “The Wise”, at the end of the 13th century, but substantially rebuilt following damage caused by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. Behind these are the gardens, with both small formal gardens close to the palaces, and larger gardens in both formal and informal styles beyond them.

The first palace on the site was built in 913 by the city governor for the Córdoba caliphate. The palace is long gone, but the walls of the enclosure are still there – they’re the rather forbidding walls you see in the Plaza del Triunfo and Plaza de la Alianza. In the later Moorish periods there was a positive frenzy of building and rebuilding, of which little now remains except the Patio de Yeso. Most of the palaces were levelled to create the space for the Christian period palaces.

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Patio de la Montería

Entrance to the complex is from the Plaza del Triunfo through the Lion gate, an outer courtyard, and a section of old Moorish wall, into the Patio de Montería, the spacious paved courtyard in front of the Mudejar Palace. The name (literally the courtyard of mounting) comes from the fact that this is where the court would assemble to go hunting.

The building to the right, with the windowed gallery on the first floor, was originally part of the Casa de la Contratación, founded in 1503 to control all aspects of the trade with the Indies, and includes the Hall of the Admiral and the Audience Hall, which are hung with paintings and tapestries, and a room with an internationally important collection of fans.

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Courtyard Garden

In the corner of the courtyard between this and the palace are the stairs that lead up to the modern day Royal Apartments, where the Audience Chamber and Pedro I’s bedroom are the highlights. Entrance for the guided tours is extra, and because of the limited capacity you should try to book ahead.

The main attraction, though, is undoubtedly the Mudejar Palace of Pedro I, built in the 1360s, and considered one of the best examples of late Moorish architecture in Spain (although commissioned in the Christian period, many of the craftsmen and artists who created its spectacular tiles and intricate ceilings were Moorish “Mudejars”, either those who remained in Seville after its conquest by Ferdinand III, but some provided by the Muslim Emir of Granada).

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Patio de las Doncellas

If you turn left at the entrance a passageway brings you almost at once to the central courtyard, the Patio de las Doncellas or Courtyard of the Maidens, named for the legend that the former Moorish rulers had exacted a tribute of Christian maidens for their harems. A long rectangular pool is flanked by sunken gardens (part of the original layout only revealed relatively recently after several centuries concealed beneath a later marble floor) and covered colonnades of pillars and arches to provide shade from the summer sun. It would be easy to rest here for a while in the peace and quiet (when it’s not too busy!), but we must pass on to the far end of the courtyard and the spectacular Hall of Ambassadors, once Pedro’s throne room, with its domed ceiling representing the universe and the stars.

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Mezzanine and upper Gallery, Patio of the Dolls

Around these public areas of the palace are arranged the royal quarters, including the Patio of the Dolls (the mezzanine and upper gallery were added in the 19th century for Isabela II, and include decorations brought from the Alhambra), and the Prince’s Room. The rooms facing the gardens have windows partly masked by vegetation, and are often bathed in an almost surreal greenish glow.

From the corner of the Patio de las Doncellas a stairway leads up to the halls of Carlos V, which are actually the remodelled upper rooms of the old Gothic Palace. Here you can find a number of magnificent tapestries of historical scenes, and windows overlooking the gardens which will be instantly recognisable to all Game of Thrones fans. The Patio de las Cruces was once the upper part of the courtyard of one of the Moorish palaces, but the ground floor was later filled in. The original was planted with orange trees whose fruit could be plucked from the galleries of the upper level.

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Baths of Doña Maria de Padilla

Behind the palaces are the gardens. Closest to the palace are the smaller formal gardens with fountains and pools. From one of these a passage under the Gothic palace takes you to the Baths of Doña Maria de Padilla (used to store rainwater for the gardens), which are one of my favourite places in the entire complex. The vaulted ceilings, muted sounds and filtered light create a unique, almost other-worldly atmosphere. Nearby is the famous Pool of Mercury, with its water spout coming from the roof of the palace, and its sleek carp swimming in the depths. Alongside is the Gallery of Grotesques, a renaissance period feature created from the wall of one of the earliest Moorish palace enclosures. The gardens on the other side are 19th and 20th century creations, but none the worse for that, and a great view of them, especially the Poets Garden, can be had from the upper walkway of the Grotesques. Other things to watch out for are the Carlos V Pavilion, the Lion Pavilion, and the Maze.

The way out of the Palace is through the apeadero (where visitors would alight from their carriages) to the Patio de las Banderas (the courtyard of the flags, the reception point for ambassadors). Resist the temptation to go straight back to the cathedral and instead turn right and right again into the Calle de la Juderia. It’s the start of a whole new adventure….

Seville’s Golden Age

In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

This was the pivotal moment in the history of one of Europe’s oldest cities which would propel it from modest national importance to being the richest city in Europe, a position that it would maintain for the next two centuries thanks to the monopoly of the Americas trade granted to the city by royal decree in 1503.

This monopoly was regulated and enforced by the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade), which collected a 20% tax (the quinto) on all goods entering Spain, as well as other taxes and levies, and had to approve all voyages of trade and exploration, trade routes and the like. This information was updated and preserved in the Padrón Real, the official, and secret, map of the networks of Spanish trade and empire around the world, a major undertaking that employed Spain’s best cartographers. The casa also trained and licensed captains and navigators. From 1543 it worked in conjunction with the Consulado de Mercaderes, the Merchant Guild of Seville, through which most of the wealth from the New World was channelled.

As the money flowed in the city began to acquire the trappings of wealth. The Cathedral, by some reckonings the largest church in the world, was completed in 1526, and the 1560s saw the addition of a belfry and a statue, the Giraldilla, representing Faith, to the Moorish minaret. In the Plaza San Francisco the city’s secular authorities were housed in a new town 1-01-photo 1 (4)hall, the Casa Consistorial (1527-1564), usually known as the Ayuntamiento, with its ornate plateresque decoration and the arcade that gave access to the Franciscan friary which occupied the whole of what is now Plaza Nueva. In the later years of the century the Real Audencia, a court of the Castilian crown, was built on the other side of the Plaza San Francisco, with the Royal Prison on the corner of Sierpes street (the site is now occupied by a bank). Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote, was for a short time “a guest of His Majesty” here. 1-02-photo 2 (4)From the same period are the Archivo General de Indias, built originally as the Casa Lonja or commodities exchange, and now the third of Seville’s World Heritage buildings, the Casa Moneda (Royal Mint), where silver from the New World was minted into coin, and the Hospital de Cinco Llagas (the Five Wounds), which is now the home of the Andalucian Parliament. At the same time many churches, monasteries and convents, as well as private palaces of the aristocracy and merchants all over the city were built or elarged.

With that kind of money came not only lavish building projects, but patronage of the arts. Seville’s Golden Age came to its full fruition in the 17th century Baroque School, among whom were such luminaries as Francisco Herrera, Diego Velazquez, Bartolomé Murillo and Francisco de Zurbarán, as well as sculptors like Pedro Roldán and Juan Martinez Montañes (the God of Wood). Many of their works can be seen in the Fine Arts Museum and other museums around the city.

Although work actually started on it before the discovery of America, Seville’s university, which grew out of the Dominican schools of the previous century, also belongs to this period, with Papal authorisation for its courses being granted in 1505. It was installed in buildings near the Puerta Jerez, where the street named for its founder, Maese Rodrigo, can still be found. All that remains today is the little Mudejar chapel at the end of the Avenida de la Constitución. In 1771 the university moved to another of the important buildings of the time, the College of the Annunciation of the Professed House of the Society of Jesus, and the Church of the Annunciation next door, on the corner of Plaza de la Encarnación, were both built in the 1550s.

This explosion of wealth and culture has left a lasting mark on the modern city, as many of its buildings and artworks are still preserved, and can be seen on a walk around the city. For me, it’s possibly the most beautiful, fascinating, and culturally rich cities in the world.

“Who has not seen Seville has not seen a marvel.”

A Visit to Jerez

Although I’d been to Jerez (pronounced Hereth) de la Frontera a couple of times, specifically for the spring fair, which I prefer to the bigger and more impersonal one in Seville, the last time was some five years ago, so when my friend Shawn (aka SevillaTapas) suggested a couple of nights there on a working holiday to explore the city and also visit some sherry bodegas (or vice versa), it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

sherry bodega
sherry bodega

For the most part people associate Jerez with sherry and horses, and these are still the main attractions (the annual motorcycle GP also draws a lot of visitors), and I’d never really thought of it as a tourist destination. In fact, although it’s not on the same scale or as well preserved as cities like Seville or Cordoba, Jerez still has a substantial historic old centre that’s worth spending an afternoon strolling around, and a number of monuments worth seeing (of which more later). The name of the city goes back to Phoenician Sèrès and Roman Ceret (although the main Roman settlement was at Asta Regia to the northeast), which later became the Moorish Sherish, from which the famous wine takes its name. The city was reconquered by the Christians in 1264 and became Xerez (later Jerez) de la Frontera, because it was on the border of the Christian and Moorish terrritories, and the name has been retained even though it has long ceased to be true.

120-jul262014 033This being Sherrytown, though, the first order of business was a visit to a sherry bodega, or in our case, visits to four sherry bodegas over the course of two days to see what’s on offer for the “sherry tourist”. For a more detailed account of our bodega visits you can see my friend Shawn’s blog, so for this post it’s just the basics. First off was Gonzalez Byass (famous for its Tio Pepe fino and the iconic Tio Pepe figure with its guitar and jauntily angled hat), the biggest bodega in Jerez. It’s certainly impressive, but for my money, although good fun, the tour was a bit like an extended advert, suitable for the beginner or people with only a casual interest. For the more mature student, a visit to one of the other bodegas we saw would be more appropriate – Lustau (who make La Ina), or Tradición, a fairly small bodega that specialises in well aged amontillados, olorosos and palo cortados, as well as a fascinating private art collection. We were also privileged to visit Urium, a small family run bodega that doesn’t normally do tours, where we were treated like royalty by host Alonso Ruiz. The bodegas themselves are fascinating, with the ranks of casks in long naves like cathedrals to sherry, although the first thing you notice, sometimes even from the street outside, is the pervasive aroma of the wine.

swordfish Jerez market
swordfish Jerez market

Another must for us was a visit to the market, which is in a lovely building on the edge of the old town. No real surprises, but the whole swordfish I spotted being unloaded was the first I’d ever seen. We also did the traditional chocolate and churros breakfast in the square outside, which certainly seemed to be a popular way for the locals to start the day.

When it comes to strolling around town, it seems that all roads lead to the Plaza Arenal. This is the big square on the side of the old town facing the modern part of the city, and is so named because of its past association with bullfighting. The square is pleasant enough (the decorative sherry casks paying homage to Jerez’s most famous product are quite fun), but the most interesting parts of the historic centre are close by. Most important of these is the Alcazar, the 11th century Moorish fortress, which

Cloisters of Santo Domingo
Cloisters of Santo Domingo

among other things holds the city’s only surviving mosque and minaret, baths, a later octagonal tower, and a formal garden. The walk from the Plaza Arenal past the old town hall and the Church of Santo Domingo to the Cathedral takes you through the oldest parts of the city. For those who, like me, are fascinated by such things, the area of derelict bodegas beyond the cathedral has a certain charm. Not far from here, in the Plaza Mercado, is the Archaeological museum, though unfortunately we didn’t have time to go and see it. Also worth seeing are the Cloisters of Santo Domingo and the remains of the old city wall in Calle Muro.

We found some good places to eat too, though our two favourites were both some way out of the centre. Nevertheless if you have the time traditional fish restaurant Bar Arturo was our absolute favourite, with great food, good service and a lively atmosphere. Ajo Negro was very much a modern bar, but again great food and service. In the area around Plaza Arenal Reino de Leon, Cruz Blanca, and Pulpo y Aparte all served us well.

Jerez is easy to get to, with regular trains to and from Seville, and a journey time of about an hour.

Roman Wine Tasting

Text by Peter Tatford
Photos by Shawn Hennessey

As all you erudite folks probably already know, Seville was in antiquity a Roman city, probably the most important in Western Europe outside of Italy itself. It’s official name from the time of Julius Caesar was “Julia Romana”, but as often happens it was the city’s older name, Hispalis, which remained in popular use, and is preserved in altered form in the modern name. It was an important trading, manufacturing and administrative centre with extensive commercial links with Rome, exporting wine, oil and fish products back to the Imperial capital.

baetica wines

But what was daily life like in Hispalis during the six centuries of Roman domination? Recently my friend Shawn @azaharSevilla and I were lucky enough to be invited to a rather special wine tasting event at Gastrosol, atop the Metropol Parasol. It was put on by the people responsible for Cotidiana Vitae (Daily Life) at Italica, the well-preserved Roman residential city at Santiponce, just outside Seville. Roman wines were provided by Baetica, who have done excellent work in recreating the styles of wines that would have been drunk in those far off times, drawing on the knowledge of winemakers, historians and archaeologists to make them as authentic as possible.

First though, it was down into the basement for a tour of the Roman ruins discovered when work to redevelop the site of the old market in Plaza Encarnación began back in the nineties. The ruins are now a well restored and preserved archaeology museum with some fascinating things to see. These include a fish salting plant that must have been a smelly neighbour for the residents, a house with an unusual (to me at least) raised platform for dining set into a semi-circular alcove, restored mosaics, and some crude gaming tables, as well as glimpses of the stratification (new bits built over old bits) of the site as it developed.

antequarium tour

Then it was time to go upstairs for the wine tasting. Our hosts, Manuel León Béjar and Alejandro Vera had chosen four wines for us to sample, Mulsum (fermented with honey), Sanguis (steeped with rose petals), Antinoo (steeped with violets), and Mesalina (flavoured with cinnamon, and named for the wife of the Emperor Claudius), which became very popular in the later Roman Empire. It’s not really known how close these are to the Roman originals, especially as many of the old grape varieties have sadly disappeared, but extensive research into the wine making techniques of the time and descriptions of the grapes that were used gives us considerable confidence, and the use of the various flavourings is well attested to by writers and commentators of the time.

roman wine tasting

Now, I have to admit that I’m not really a wine expert, so for proper tasting notes and pairings I’m going to send you over to these good people (the notes are in Spanish), but I will say that it was a fascinating experience, and that the wines were quite distinctive compared to modern ones. My favourites were the Mulsum, which did have a definite tang of honey without being overly sweet, and the Mesalina, which was the most intensely flavoured, and was apparently mainly used at the end of, or even after, the meal. Maybe next time we’ll get a complete Roman banquet, though I’m still not convinced about the advantages of eating lying down.

For more information about activities at Italica, including tasting events, you can visit the Cotidiana Vitae website.

The Queen’s Sewing Box

queens sewing boxPretty much everybody who comes to Seville has the Plaza España in Maria Luisa Park on their list of places to see, and rightly so. But here’s a suggestion for something a little different to look at on your way back to the city. Just outside the park proper, across the main road from the Los Remedios Bridge, is an almost fairytale little building decorated with horizontal stripes that always remind me of a wedding cake, and topped with crenellations and a miniature watchtower. It’s popularly known, for historically inaccurate reasons, as the “Queens Sewing Box”, and for this reason has become  attached to a rather poignant story.

Considered to be the first building in the Neomudejar style that was to be so popular during the first three decades of the 20th century, it was built in 1893 by the architect Juan Talavera de Vega as a guardhouse and garden retreat in the grounds of the San Telmo Palace. The palace itself can be found just before the next bridge upriver, an impressive building built in 1682 as the School for Navigators, that’s architecturally one of the most important of the 17th century. This palace and its very extensive grounds were eventually acquired by the Duke of Montpensier, a French aristocrat, and his wife the Spanish Infanta Fernanda Luisa in 1849. Their daughter, Doña Maria de las Mercedes of Orleans, was born in 1860.

san telmoIt was a troubled period in Spanish history. In 1868 Queen Isabella II was deposed, and Mercedes’ family went into exile, not returning until the restoration of Alfonso XII in 1874. Mercedes and the new king, who was also her cousin, had met in 1872, and on January 23, 1878 the couple were married. It soon became obvious that the new queen was sick, in fact with typhoid fever, and on June 26, at the age of 18, and after just five months of marriage, she passed away.

Quite why the popular tradition should have grown up that because of her delicate health this queen spent much of her time here sewing is unclear, but the name has stuck, and this little building will always be “The Queen´s Sewing Box”.

When the Infanta Luisa died in 1897, most of the gardens of San Telmo Palace were gifted to the city and became the site of the 1929 Spanish American exhibition, now Maria Luisa Park. The Queens Sewing Box is a tourist information centre with a small exhibition and cafe upstairs.

Three Palaces

In the glory days of the empire, Spanish society was dominated by a rich, ruthless aristocracy that was totally convinced of its own right to rule, and Seville, the richest city in Europe, boasted dozens of palaces and grand houses.

Although some of these no longer exist, many are still with us, though often much changed in use and appearance. What were once the houses of the wealthy are now often smart hotels (the classic construction of rooms surrounding one or more central courtyards makes them ideal for the purpose), or have been converted into private apartments.

Some, however, not only still exist, but are also still the private homes of some of Spain’s top aristocratic families. So here are three palaces that you can see (though only from the outside) in the centre of Seville still occupied by the titled and (presumably) wealthy.

The first, the Palace of the Marquises of La Motilla, is certainly the most visible, being right in the city centre on the corner of Calle Laraña and Calle Cuna, though it might be considered cheating a little as the building we see today was only constructed in the early 1920s when these streets were widened. It’s most obvious features are the square 25-metre-tall watchtower, its neogothic arched windows, and the courtyard trees behind the corner of the building. Not what you expect in the middle of a shopping street, but Seville is good at surprises.

Our second palace is in the heart of the Barrio Santa Cruz, in the Calle Lope Rueda, just off the Plaza Alfaro, where the front door of the Palace of the Marquises of Pickman is set back from the street behind a short iron fence. And it’s quite some front door. The elaborate facade (in a style known as plateresque) is not only big, it was also moved here from another palace in Ubeda and re-erected. The Pickmans themselves, as you might guess from the name, are not of Spanish descent, but were a merchant family from England who in the 19th century owned the successful ceramics and pottery factory in the Cartuja monastery.

Our third palace is the home of the best-known of our aristocrats, the 87-year-old Duchess of Alba, Spain’s most titled peer and a personal friend of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. The Palacio de Las Dueñas can be found near the city centre in the Macarena neighbourhood behind a large, but not overly ostentatious, gateway in Calle Dueñas, which gives you a good view across the gardens to the house itself. The house wass also the birthplace of Antonio Machado, one of Spain’s most famous poets, whose father was employed in the house.

A Night Tour of El Salvador Church

salvador night visit (1)

If you buy an entrance ticket to Seville’s famous Cathedral, you’ll have the option of a combined ticket that also allows you into the nearby church of El Salvador, the second biggest in Seville after the Cathedral itself. Although not as grand as its big sister, it is nevertheless impressive, both from outside in the Plaza, and from inside, where one is almost surrounded by the huge, ornate shrines and altarpieces, but for me the most interesting things about it are the things that you usually can’t see. For although the present building was only completed in 1712, the site has been in use since antiquity, and beneath its floor is a “layer-cake” of the history of Seville, stretching back through the late Mediaeval period, the Grand Mosque of the Islamic period and the Visigothic church, to the time of the Romans, when the basilica, the most important public civic building in a Roman city, stood on this spot. Over the last ten years extensive restoration work in the crypts has revealed many interesting things related to that past, and I was recently fortunate enough to take part in one of a season of night tours that have given members of the general public the opportunity to learn more about this unique heritage.

The tour gathered in the patio, where you can already see the tops of the original Moorish pillars and arches, and also the old minaret, now a bell-tower, before our guide led us down into the crypts. These proved to be surprisingly un-creepy, as the renovation work had included modern lighting and air-conditioning as well as structural supports for the pillars of the church above us, and we were able to see some of the tiled floors from the mediaeval period (the floor of the present church having been built above these), preserved Roman and Arabic inscriptions, and the alcoves where many hundreds of people, often children, had been buried through the centuries. At the very lowest point we saw the buried stream that had been the source of the problems that had led to the necessity for works beneath the church.

salvador night visit (2)We then had the unusual experience of going into the chamber (the camarín) behind the seated statue of the church’s patroness, the Virgin of the Waters. This can be glimpsed from outside the church through the window where she is placed to watch the Semana Santa processions.

The final stage of the tour took us upwards, by way of one those cramped, tightly curved spiral staircases, first to the balconies inside the church, and then onto the roof. I don’t have much of a head for heights, but the view over the surrounding streets as we did a complete circuit before descending to ground level again was incredible.

All in all it was a really interesting and unusual experience, and I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to do this tour not to miss it. The guided night tours (in Spanish) cost 12 euros with a minimum group of 10 people and are available until September 15th (the day tours are available year round). For more information go to the Cathedral Reservations Page.

Three Icons

Three Icons

Pretty much wherever you go in Seville, or in whatever you read about the city, the images of three of its buildingsare inescapable. They appear on postcards, as souvenirs, or decorating the walls of shops, bars and other public places, and have become enduring symbols of the city.

The Giralda Tower

giralda tower at night

The most famous of these buildings is undoubtedly the Giralda, now the bell tower of Seville cathedral, but originally the minaret of the Grand Mosque that occupied the site in the time of the Moors. The tower was built between 1184 and 1198 by the architect Ahmad Ben Baso, and is similar to other famous minarets in Rabat and Marrakech. There are also a number of copies of the tower in the United States, most notably in Kansas City.

The top of the original tower was immediately below where the bells are today, and was surmounted by four copper spheres, but these were lost in the earthquake of 1365, and replaced by a cross and bell. The bell tower and the weather vane that gives the tower its name (girar is Spanish for turn) were added in 1568, making it 104 metres tall.

Inside, the tower is climbed by way of a ramp, rather than stairs, (the muezzin used to ride his donkey to the top to call the faithful to prayer) and whatever else you do in Seville you have to go up and enjoy the view over the rooftops of the city.

The Torre del Oro

torre del oroThat the second of Seville’s visual icons, the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) also dates from late Moorish times is a testament to the importance of this period to the cultural development of the city. The distinctive twelve-sided tower was originally built as part of the city’s defensive system along the Guadalquivir river, when Christian forces began to seriously threaten the Islamic heartland of al-Andalus in the early 13th century, but failed to prevent the city falling to Ferdinand III in 1248.

It’s thought that it got its name from the golden glow of its reflection on the river, though another theory says it was because the tower was used to store gold offloaded from the ships returning from the Americas.

It has survived being used as a gunpowder store, and proposals by the city council to have it demolished. Nowadays it houses a small naval museum, whose entrance, now at road level, could once only be reached by a walkway over an arch whose far end can still be seen just inside the building on the opposite side of the street.

Plaza España

The Plaza España, in Maria Luisa Park, was built as the centrepiece of the 1929 Spanish-American exhibition, and is the masterwork of the architect Anibal González. The plaza with its central fountain and the huge semi-circular facade of the pavilion are instantly recognizable from thousands of postcard pictures, photographs, and films such as Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Lawrence of Arabia and The Dictator.

plaza espana

Below the long colonnaded walkway are the alcoves with representations in ceramic tiles of historical scenes from each of Spain’s provinces, and at each end are almost disneyesque towers (unfortunately these are not open to the public to climb, as they would give great views across the park). There is also a boating “lake” spanned by four bridges that lead from the central plaza to the pavilion, and everything is decorated with a profusion of colourful ceramics.