Thursday, 22 May 2014

El Archivo General de Indias

The ´General Archive of the Indies´ lies just opposite Seville Cathedral. On its steps you can often find tired, sun burnt tourists who probably don’t even take a second look at the building itself. It is a shame as it holds many secrets from the golden age of Seville.

Originally a merchant exchange, the Casa Lonja was constructed to control all the trade that was in progression between Spain and the Americas. Later, when Seville’s prime role in trading was taken over by Cadiz, the building also lost its function and was, for a while, turned into flats. 

At the end of the 18th century however the building, which was built in the Spanish renaissance-style, was transformed into the Archivo General de Indias and housed all the documents and contracts that were collected from the American colonies. We’re talking about 300 years of history here!

If you take a closer look, you can find amazing treasures, for example a request from ‘Miguel de Cervantes' for an official post, the Bull of Demarcation Inter caetera of Pope Alexander VI that divided the world between Spain and Portugal, the journal of Christopher Columbus, maps and plans of the colonial American cities, in addition to the ordinary archives that reveal the month-to-month workings of the whole vast colonial machinery, which have been mined by every Spanish historian in the last two centuries’ (Wikipedia). Copies of these documents are available to see for all who visit the Archive.

In 2005 they started the digitization of all its nine kilometers of shelves meaning that anybody from any point in the world can access its contents. It’s still in progress, which is quite understandable as they have to go through 15 million pages. What an amazing project! Have a look here if you’re interested.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

La Giralda

The Giralda is the name of the Moorish style bell tower that stands in the corner of the Seville Cathedral (read more about the Cathedral here). It towers majestically above the city with its 105m height. Indeed, none other building is higher than the Giralda itself. It is one of the most important symbols of Seville.

Originally it was built as part of the mosque that stood in place of the Cathedral and functioned as a minaret to call the Muslims to pray. According to the legend it was to be destroyed together with the building however King Ferdinand said that for every brick taken out of it he would chop off a head. Understandably, the demolishing stopped at its walls.

It couldn't remain as it was, however, as the Catholic kings wanted to show their power for all to see. Because of this Biblical quotes were painted on its walls around the bells and a statue of the Christian Faith was stuck on top of it. The Giraldillo physically serves as a weather wane (apparently not very well due to its size) and symbolically serves to represent the power of Christianity over the Muslim religion.

The tower is an exact copy of the Koutoubai Mosque in Marrakech, apart from the Christian additions, of course. It’s famous for having ramps in it instead of stairs, so that the Muzzein could go to the top on a horse. Because of this the tower boasts of being ‘wheelchair accessible’. Well, technically it is. You have to walk up 35 flights to get to the top.

Take a look out of the windows to see a different view of the surrounding streets.

You get out on the level of the bells. Each side offers a stunning view of Seville.

The mechanics of the bells are quite interesting.

Try to make sure that you are not up there when the bells hit the hour as it can be quite deafening.

You can visit the Giralda as part of your Cathedral tour, its price is included in the ticket.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Seville Cathedral

The Seville Cathedral has a long history. During Muslim rule a mosque stood in its place which boasted a minaret, the Giralda (read about the tower here). After the Catholic kings, Ferdinand and Isabella took back the city from the Moors they did to the mosque the same thing they had been ordering all over Spain, destroyed it and built a Christian church over it. In Seville however they were even more ambitious, they wanted a cathedral that is the biggest in the world. At that time they achieved their goal and even now the church is amongst the ‘big ones’, only St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London are bigger.

The first impressions are usually that of awe when people look at it from the outside. I would urge you to take a closer look here. Look at the tower which is centuries older than the rest of the cathedral. You see how precise and solid it looks, a monument that can stand the attack of time and the elements. Now look at the huge grey blocks that make up the walls of the church. Even though this part was built much later it looks much more worn. One side was built by the Muslims who were educated and knowledgeable, the scientists, and the other was built by people who chopped heads and exiled everybody based on their religious views.

When the Kings commissioned the Cathedral in 1401 their intention was to demonstrate their power, pride and wealth with it. The construction however didn’t go so well, the dome collapsed a few times. Due to this it was only finished completely in 1903.

When you step inside the Cathedral its sheer size takes your breath away. Everything is huge here. It’s worth getting the audio guide (4 euros) to listen to all the interesting details.

There are many famous art works here but the most popular attraction here is the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

The main altar is famous for being the biggest altar in Europe. On it you can follow the life of Jesus on the small parts.

There are other, smaller rooms which also worth exploring.

At the end of your tour you will be lead to an amazing orange interior garden, the ‘Patio de los Naranjos’. Watch your step as the Muslim way of leading the water can be treacherous.

At the time of writing the entrance to the Cathedral cost 8 euros. The opening hours are not continuous so better check the timetable before you go. You can find more information about the Cathedral here: