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
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
That 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.
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.
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.