Christopher Columbus, that legendary explorer who discovered the “New World” of the Americas in 1492, is celebrated in Seville. His voyages were supported by Spain’s Catholic Monarchs and Seville became the trading centre through which much of the wealth from the colonies flowed. So Seville is not some provincial backwater but one of the most beautiful cities of Europe.
There is nothing modest about the place. At its centre is the Cathedral of Seville, the largest cathedral in Spain and one of the largest in the world. It was built (so the creed goes) to be “so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will think we are mad”.
The cathedral’s bell tower is quite famous, a minaret from the mosque that had previously occupied the grounds. Inside the cathedral is the tomb of no other than Christopher Columbus. There are images of him and his ship, the Santa Maria, throughout the city.
Nearby is the Alcázar de Seville, constructed in the 10th century as a royal palace for the Moorish Muslim kings who once occupied southern Spain; today it is used as a residence of the Spanish royal family. Naturally, the buildings are palatial, the gardens extensive and the art exquisite–the blending of two cultural practices.
Going through the main door of the Entrance Hall there are two narrow passages with right-angle bends to keep the privacy of the interior spaces, following the Islamic customs. On one side is the Maidens Courtyard, the centre of the public area, and surrounded by poly lobed arches and decorated by the shell (symbol of fertility and life), the Hand of Fatima (synonymous of protection), geometric compositions, schematic plant decoration and epigraphy as is common in Islamic decoration.
Close by is the Chapel of the Gothic Palace, which was painted on the wall of the former mosque.
There is a Gothic Palace that was built by Alfonso “The Wise” to represent the triumph of Christian ideology over the Muslim past.
The Celebration Room commemorates the wedding of Charles V and Isabel of Portugal and the tiled panels are covered with cherubs, chandeliers, animals, flowers and fruits.
There is a theatre in the Lion Courtyard where during the Spanish Golden Age artists such as Miguel de Cervantes performed.
The Poets Garden is situated by the Gallery of the Grotesques and if you go through the nearby Door of Privilege you come upon the Charles V Pavilion, which once again honours the marriage between the emperor and Isabella. Here too there is a mix of Islamic and renaissance styles; the room is square with a fountain in the middle and a coffered ceiling.
There are several gardens, the maze one being of particular interest with its mix of myrtles, cypress and arborvitaes. There are many sour orange trees, which were introduced to the region by the Moors.
Further away, on the other side of the Guadalquivir River and next to the rather splendid Triana food market, is the Museum of the Inquisition, a stark but moving presentation of that dark period in Spanish history (between 1478 and 1834) when the Catholic Monarchs forced Spanish Jews and Muslims to choose between exile and conversion to Christianity. The work of the tribunal started here in Seville and many were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured.
So not all was “golden” in prosperous Seville.
Travel in southern Spain is surprisingly easy and so rewarding
1st stop Madrid
Córdoba and its Mezquita
Alhambra, Granada’s palace-city
The drama that is Ronda
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses™ 2016