Seville - Part 1 Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Christians - so many civilisations
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
We chose to begin our gypsy life in Seville as we had heard that it has a vibrant culture, a colourful history and that it is ridiculously beautiful; what also attracted us was that although it is a big city it still has the charm of a small town with a slower pace of life than many other European cities.
Whenever we arrive in a new place we like to understand the history of where we are, how and why buildings were built and the different influences that have shaped the local people and culture. Although can always read about this but we enjoy going on walking tours where, if you have a good guide, it seems to bring the history to life - the guide can place buildings and monuments not only in their geographical location but also in history and in connection to people and to other buildings in the vicinity. The guide might also explain local behaviours that might puzzle us. And we can ask questions!
And so on our first Saturday morning in Seville we went on a free walking tour of its historic heart. Free walking tours seem to be offered in most cities now - although you don't have to pay you are encouraged to tip the guide at the end, an amount that you think the tour was worth which keeps the guide on his/her toes!
The tour promised to be approximately 3 hours long and so, to fortify ourselves, we started with a typical Sevilliano breakfast at a local cafe. The famous tostada. which is a toasted roll or a mollete, a flat bread, served with cured ham, tomato, and extra virgin olive oil (sometimes the tomato was fresh and sometimes it was like a puree in texture - the puree usually looks pale and bland, but it is actually tasty and delicious) accompanied by a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) of course! - it was a fabulous way to start the day and good preparation for the three hour walking tour...
The walking tour began in the centre of Seville at the Plaza Del Salvador in front of the Church of El Divino Salvador.
When we arrived, the plaza was mostly empty apart from several tour groups that were congregating. (A few weeks later we were there in the late afternoon and early evening when it was busy with lots of people imbibing at the numerous cafes and bars dotted around the plaza's perimeter.)
The Church of the Divine Saviour (Iglesia Colegial del Divino Salvador) was built on a site where a basilica stood in Roman times and a mosque during the Moorish period and it is the second most important church in Seville after the Seville Cathedral.
1 A closer look at the Church of the Divine Saviour
2 As it sits in the Plaza
A brief historic overview
While in the Plaza, in the shadow of the impressive Church of the Divine Saviour, our guide, Irene, recounted, with lively enthusiasm, some of the history of Seville...
That it is approximately 2,200 years old and has attracted the settlement of many civilisations and cultures that have left the city with a distinct personality, and a diverse layering of historical architecture. Starting with the mythological founder of the city Hercules (Heracles) to the Phoenicians in the 8th and 7th centuries BC; then the Tartessians; the Romans from 700BC until the successive invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries by the Germanic tribes of Vandals, Suebians and Visigoths; the Moors in 712AD; and the Christian Castilian rule from 1247.
Several other periods have had a profound impact on how Seville presents today in its buildings and its culture. This includes:
1. Under Castilian rule, the Islam/Moor buildings were converted into buildings used by the Catholic Church.
2. In 1391 a pogrom began, that forced the Jewish population to convert to Christianity and which instigated the Church’s appropriation of the Jewish quarter's land and shops. From 1478 the Spanish Inquisition began – its initial intent was to ensure that all nominal Christians were really behaving like Christians, and not practicing Judaism in secret.
3. The Golden Age of Seville began in 1492. During this era Seville profited from Christopher Columbus’ exploration of the New World and his claiming territory and trade for the Crown of Castile (soon to be Spain) in the West Indies. It led to a trading monopoly of the products from the New World which meant that European merchants needed to go to Seville if they wished to acquire goods from the New World. The wealth from the trade and the subsequent population growth resulted in a 'golden age of development'. In the late 16th century the monopoly was broken, and by the 18th century Seville's international importance and its economic prosperity began to decline.
After the history lesson we exited the plaza and strolled through the narrow, winding, cobbled streets of the ancient part of Seville - Irene explained that the houses were built so close together deliberately, to avoid the ferocious Andalusian sun. Direct sunlight never penetrates the alleys for long, if at all, and that helps keep the houses as cool as possible.
We continued on to view different ancient buildings that feature architecture from the Romans to the Moors and then the Christians. Stopping at numerous places for Irene to tell us stories about some of Sevilles more famous past citizens who had lived in some of these buildings.
Our first stop was after a short walk down a shopping street adjacent to the church to enter a lovely courtyard of the Church of the Divine Saviour that showed the remains of earlier buildings from the time of the Moors. This was most evident in the Moorish arches. Stepping in from the busy street the courtyard was a tranquil space. The fountain, orange trees and tiled art on the walls were all very appealing.
1-2 Shopping street
3. Tiled picture of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard of the Church of the Divine Saviour
4. Fountain and arches from the time of the Moors - in the courtyard of the Church of the Divine Saviour
The Plaza Alfalfa - A Roman forum, then a silk market and even a live bird market.
The Alfalfa area was quite sedate when we passed through at eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning but this hasn't always been the case. Irene, told us that it has had quite an exotic past such as being the home to a forum in Roman times, hosting a silk market during the Moorish period; then a series of food markets until the 1850s; After this, a (live) bird market was held here on Sunday mornings, and from the 1960s many other types of domestic animals were sold. In 2005, the pet market was closed down due to bird flu. Now it is an open space with a playground for young children and cafes around its perimeter.
A Catholic Church built on the site of a Mosque
Down some more narrow streets and we came to San Isidoro, a Gothic - Mudejar Church on Calle Luchana.
Originally Arabic this church was built in the beginning of the 14th century by the Christians. They kept elements of the original building such as the front door and the tower. Another church that we will definitely return to!
(Mudéjar art refers to a style of ornamentation and decoration used in theIberian Christian kingdoms primarily from the 13th to the 15th centuries as a mixture of Christian artistic trends (Romanesque, Gothicand Renaissance) incorporated as decorative motifs, constructive and stylistic techniques brought to or developed by Muslims in Al-Andalus - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudéjar_art)
1-3 Plaza Alfalfa
4,5. Narrow, winding streets
6-8. Doorway of San Isadore Catholic Church on Calle Luchana showing the Moor influence.
Seville Cathedral and the Giralda tower
looked at it from the outside and peered inside through the huge doors
were told about its history re the Moors and then the Catholics
were shown the combination of architectural styles.
plan to return to see the interior...
The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. It is built on the site of the great 12th-century Almohad mosque, and was built to demonstrate the city's power and wealth. It's construction lasted over a century, from 1401 to 1506.
Irene started at the magnificent Door of Forgiveness (Puerta del Perdon) that we looked through into the courtyard. The wooden doors were part of the original mosque but the horseshoe arch and other decorations are Mudejar from the Christian era.
We peered through the doorway to catch glimpses of the lovely orange tree courtyard (patio de los naranjos) that served as the ablution area of the mosque, and some more of the exterior of the cathedral.
Giralda Bell Tower
The Giralda Tower was originally the minaret of the mosque but became the church tower during Christian Castilian rule. The Renaissance bell tower was added to the top of the minaret between 1558 and 1568.
The tower contains elements from the Islamic as well as Christian periods. Some parts are even older — some of the larger stones near the foot of the tower were recycled from Roman buildings — latin inscriptions may still be read on the exterior wall.
The tomb of Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus set sail from Seville to discover the New World and all its riches. His tomb in the Seville Cathedral, houses the remains of the great explorer who died in poverty in Valladolid, in central Spain and is one of the main attractions for visitors. The tomb itself was added in 1892 and has four bearers presenting the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarra. Columbus was originally buried in the Cathedral of Havana, on the island he had discovered on his first voyage in 1492. But during the upheavals surrounding the Cuban revolution in 1902, Spain transferred is remains to Seville.
Irene was a bit sceptical that his remains are actually there and when I did a little research it appears that a cathedral in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic also lays claim to having the explorer’s remains!!
1-4 Looking through the doorway to the patio de los naranjos and seeing the fabulous gothic stonework and windows on the exterior of the cathedral
5-6 The rear of the cathedral
7 The fountain/streetlamp in the plaza in front of the Giralda
8-9 Views of the Giralda from the Calle (street) Mateos Gago
The Real Alcazar and the Patio de Banderas
It has been described as...
..... the most beautiful building in a city of beautiful buildings, and has many enchanting gardens...
I have seen many stunning images of the Real Alcazar and I have been excited to visit for quite a while now - I was saving it to go with our daughter, Olivia, when she was due to visit with us at the end of March. And so all I can tell you is what Irene told us about the Real Alcazar as we stood adjacent to the long line of tourists queuing to enter. But, it is at the top of my list to go there when we return to Seville.
Real - Royal
Alcazar - a Spanish palace or fortress of Moorish origin.
The Real Alcazar is a royal palace and has exquisite gardens. It is located behind the Seville Cathedral. The upper storeys of the Alcazar are still occupied by the royal family when they are in Seville.
The palace has evolved through different stages from the late 11th century to the present day. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbasid Muslim alcazar, a residential fortress that was destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville. The palace is an example of Mudejar architecture on the Iberian Peninsula and also features Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque design elements as it has developed over time.
On another day we did manage to spend some time wandering under the orange trees in the Patio de Banderas which is a plaza that is located alongside the Real Alcazar.
The Patio de Banderas is surrounded by low buildings that partially conceal it from the main plaza behind the Seville Cathedral. I've always been curious and like to peer in through doorways and gates and we discovered the Patio de Banderas by doing simply that. It was very quiet and as we walked around it, we had wonderful views of the Cathedral and the Giralda.
1 The queue for the Real Alcazar
2 Looking from the gate into the Patio de Banderas
3-4 Views of the Cathedral and the Giralda from the Patio de Banderas
Time for a cafe con leche!!
Part two coming which will include the magnificent Plaza de Espana - sneak peak below