La Plaza de la Virgen de Los Reyes


Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

Behind the cathedral in Seville you can find one of the prettiest and most iconic squares in the world, the Plaza Virgen de Los Reyes. With the fountain and baroque street light in the centre, and surrounded by exceptional buildings – the Cathedral and Giralda Tower, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the old Hospital of Santa Marta, it’s a hub of activity and a principal meeting place for both residents and visitors. During the day this is the main departure point for the horse drawn carriage rides; at dusk, come here to enjoy the deep, dark blue of the evening sky behind the Cathedral, and the wheeling and crying of the hunting swallows. Later, come to look at the Giralda lit up at night, a sight you won’t want to miss, and which never fails to take my breath away.

As you might expect, this place has a long, complex and fascinating history. The Phoenicians, sailing from their home cities of Byblos, Tyre and Sidon to trade with lands as distant as the British Isles, established a small settlement just up the hill close to three thousand years ago, probably mooring their boats in the river channel that then ran along what is now the Avenida de la Constitución. Hercules, credited with being one of the founders of the city, is the Greek name for one of the Phoenician gods. The Romans conquered the city in 206 BC, and by the middle of the 1st century BC it had grown enough for Julius Caesar, then governor of Spain, to build its first stone walls, for which he is credited as the city’s second founder. These walls actually ran along the edge of what is now the square, just in front of the Cathedral. Under the corner of the Archbishop’s Palace there are still some remains of the Roman baths, positioned so that the waste water would drain outside the walls, though it’s not possible to visit them.

Time passed. The Roman empire tottered and fell, and after six centuries as a Roman city, Seville (and the rest of Spain) were left to their own devices. Some of the Germanic tribes who had helped destroy Rome crossed the Pyrenees and headed into Spain. One of these, the Vizigoths, seduced by promises of endless sunshine and undeterred by the lack of towels, set up their own kingdom. Shortly afterwards Christianity arrived, and before long the Vizigoths were involved in civil wars fuelled by a heady mix of personal rivalry and religious differences. The disunity paved the way for the conquest of Spain by the Moors, newly converted to a militantly expansive Islam.


The Giralda Tower

Their first arrival, in 711, was probably intended as a raid, but after the Vizigothic king was killed and his army routed the following year, Spain lay open to invasion. For most of the period to the early 11th century Seville was under the control of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The first administrative buildings on the site of the Alcázar fortress palace were built in the 8th century, as was the little mosque (now the chapel of the Encarnación convent) at the entrance to Plaza Santa Marta, but with the collapse of the Caliphate Seville gained its independence, its first Royal Alcazar, and rebuilding of the city walls. The biggest changes, though, came in the 12th century. In order to accommodate a growing population the new Almohad dynasty needed both a new Grand Mosque, and more living space. A new western wall was built closer to the river, and on the site of the modern cathedral the Moors built a new Grand Mosque and a minaret, now the Giralda Tower, that is the square’s (indeed Seville’s) best known and best loved building.

1-photo 1 (2)

The Archbishop’s Palace

1248, and the Christian conquerors led by Ferdinand III entered the city. At first there was probably little outward change in appearances. The mosque was reconsecrated as a cathedral, and some houses on the north side of the square were given to the new Archbishop as a residence. Over the next 500 years these would gradually be transformed into the grand Palace we see today, with the impressive entranceway, the last part to be built, being added in the 18th century. In fact, until this time, the square as an open space did not exist, being occupied by a number of buildings belonging to the church and used for administration. The enclosure around these buildings was known as the Corral de Los Olmos, the Courtyard of the Elms, after the Virgin of the Elms who can still be seen in a little niche on the side of the Giralda Tower. This is the name by which Cervantes referred to it, as can be seen by the plaque on the wall behind the statue of the Pope.


The Virgin of the Elms

Also founded at the time of the Christian conquest was the Jewish quarter, separated from the rest of the city by a wall that ran along the back of the square. The wall was probably destroyed after the great Pogrom of 1391, as the Hospital of Santa Marta (now the Convent of the Encarnación) was founded here in 1404. In 1401 the decision was taken to demolish the old mosque and build a new cathedral on the site, which was to be so grand that “when people see it they will think we were mad”, in the words of a member of the Cathedral chapter. It was finally completed in 1526, and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Shortly afterwards a campanario (belfry) and weathervane were added to the minaret.

1-photo 1 (1)Mateos Gago Street

At the beginning of the 18th century the demolition of the church buildings in front of the Palace and the hospital created something approximating the square we know today, a process completed by the remodelling and widening of the entrance to Mateos Gago street, and the addition of the fountain and street lamps in the centre of the square as part of the preparations for the 1929 Spanish-American exhibition.

There can be few places as apparently timeless as the Plaza of the Virgin of the Kings, yet with so much change and history.

Spanish Charm – the Plazas of Santa Cruz

Plaza Virgen de los Reyes The Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, or Virgin of the kings, is the beautiful and iconic square between the Cathedral and the Barrio Santa Cruz. In the centre is the fountain designed and built for the 1929 Spanish-American exhibition, surmounted by an ornamental farola (street light), and its periphery is formed by three of Seville’s most important historic buildings, the cathedral (including the Giralda tower), the Archbishop’s Palace and the Convent of the Incarnation. Although these buildings are much older, the square itself was only created at the end of the 18th century by the demolition of administrative buildings belonging to the Church, and has only had its modern form since the remodelling of its eastern side for the widening of Calle Mateos Gago in the 1920s. Enjoy the view and the comings and goings of the horsedrawn carriages from one of the benches in the shade of the orange trees.

Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

Plaza Santa Marta Santa Marta is the little square next to Virgen de los Reyes, reached by way of the little alley behind the statue of the Pope. Even though it’s so close to one of the busiest places in the city it’s a little oasis of peace and quiet. The cross in the centre dates to 1564, but was only placed here in the early 20th century. The door to the right is the entrance to the Monastery of the Incarnation.

Plaza Santa Marta

Plaza del Triunfo Alongside Virgen de los Reyes is the Plaza del Triunfo, surrounded by Seville’s three world heritage sites, the Cathedral, the Alcázar Palace and the Archivos de Indias, as well as the Casa de la Provincia. The small monument in front of the Archivos, which gives the square its name, celebrates the safe completion of the mass that was interrupted by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, whose effects were also felt in Seville. The modern appearance of the square, including the statue of the Immacualate Conception, whose steps are a popular gathering place, dates back to the early twentieth century.

Plaza del Triunfo

Patio de Banderas Going through the archway beside the square brings you to the Patio de Banderas (Flags), where the Kings of Spain once greeted foreign ambassadors. Notable for its rectangular promenade formed by two rows of orange trees, and its fountain, it was recently the site of archaeological investigations which brought to light some of the earliest stages of the Palace’s history.

Patio de Banderas

Plaza de la Alianza This charming little square with a length of the old wall on one side and a simple central fountain, was once called the Plaza del Pozo Seco (the dry well).

Plaza de la Alianza

Plaza Doña Elvira Possibly the most picturesque little square in Seville, and one of the most frequented by tourists, it’s supposedly the birthplace of Doña Elvira, the impossible love of Don Juan. The square was actually created as part of the redevelopment of the barrio for the Spanish-American exhibition, and owes much of its beauty to the symmetry of its orange trees, ceramic benches and central fountain.

Plaza Doña Elvira

Plaza Alfaro Plaza Alfaro is the little square at the entrance to the Murillo Gardens. Look for the Moreton Bay fig trees just inside, the water pipes in the exposed end of the old wall, and the ornate entrance to the Casa Palacio de la Marquesa de Pickman a few steps up Calle Lope de Rueda.

Plaza Alfaro

Plaza Santa Cruz Once the site of one the Jewish quarter’s three synagogues, and after the pogrom of 1391 of the parish church of Santa Cruz, the square was created by its demolition by Napoleon in 1811. The church was the burial place of the artist Bartolomé Murillo, as attested by the plaque in one corner of the square. The rather strange metal structure in the centre is the Cruz de la Cerrajería, once located at the corner of Calle Sierpes and Calle Cerrajería, and moved here in 1921. Notice the serpents and the little figures on the top corners.

Plaza Santa Cruz

Plaza de los Refinadores Los Refinadores (the refiners) is another of the charming squares that are such a feature of the Santa Cruz. The circular benches around the five palm trees make a quiet and shady spot for a few minutes tranquil contemplation. The statue is of the legendary Don Juan Tenorio, and was erected in 1975. Also of interest is the Casa para Luis Prieto, which is the one on the corner with the big glassed-in balcony, designed by Aníbal González, who also designed the Plaza de España.

Plaza de los Refinadores