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A Short History of Sevilla

Map of Seville 

More history of Seville

Greek legend has it that Sevilla was founded by Hercules on six stone columns, but archeological evidence points to an early bronze age settlement (apparently built on wooden posts) some 10-11 centuries BCE. The early Iberians were later displaced, first by Phoenicians, then the Carthaginians and next the Romans after the battle of Illipa in 256 BCE during the Second Punic War. Nearby Itálica  [the ruins of which can be seen today] became the first major Roman city in Spain - and the birthplace of the emperors, Trajan and Hadrian. 

day1b.jpgBy about 50 BCE, Hispalis, as Sevilla was then known, had become one of the major cities of Bética (Roman Andalusia), and was Christianized during the later stages of the Empire. The city was sacked by the Vandals in 426 CE, and later came under the less violent regime of the Visigoths. The Moors took the city in 711, and transformed it into Isbiliya (from which the name Sevilla is derived). Islamic Isbiliya lasted until the Christian reconquest by Fernando III of Castilla in 1248.

The height of Sevilla's splendour came with Columbus’s discovery of the New World. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Sevilla was the centre of operations during the Spanish expansion in the Americas. Its port was one of the most important in Spain, having the monopoly on trade with the New World colonies. The intense trading activity in Sevilla during this period gave rise to a city filled with royal palaces, noble houses, churches and convents.

Sevilla was the home of famous and notorious historical figures: the legendary Don Juan learned the arts of seduction here before going on to conquer the hearts of women across Europe, while Columbus set off from a port close to Sevilla to discover the New World. Prosper Merimée's Carmen, who couldn't decide between the officer Don José and the bullfighter Escamillo - the consequences of which you can still enjoy today in the city opera house - was a worker in Sevilla's old tobacco factory. This factory serves today as  a university, a fact that might give you a glimpse into the Andalusian talent for improvisation.

day1c.jpgSpain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to Britain and other European powers. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall further behind in terms of economic and political power. Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II, but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936-39). In the second half of the 20th century, Spain played a catch-up role in the western international community, with new wealth founded on tourism, migrant workers and, ironically, a lucrative agreement that Franco negotiated with the United States allowing the latter to open military bases in Spain. In fact in 1966 a US warplane accidentally dropped four nuclear bombs on Spain , three of which landed near the tiny village of Palomares in eastern Andalusia, the fourth just off the coast. By some miracle none of them exploded.

Sevilla was immeasurably enriched when it hosted the World Fair in 1992, coinciding with celebrations marking the fifth centenary of the European discovery of the Americas. The World Fair saw a return to a prominence and prosperity for Sevilla, not seen since its heyday  in the 16th and 17th century.

Sevilla owes much of its charm to history, and you can see and feel elements of it throughout the city - the Roman ruins of Itálica, the Moorish, early Christian and New World expansion era architecture and monuments abound.

Today, Sevilla is often overshadowed by the more cosmopolitan cities of Madrid, Barcelona and even--thanks to an iconic Guggenhelm museum-- Bilbao. It's an injustice because Sevilla is a city rich in history and culture and home to some of the most stunning architectural monuments in the world.  And as the birthplace of flamenco music and dance and the site of one the country's oldest bullrings [which we didn’t visit!] Sevilla is perhaps the most Spanish of Spain's historic cities and a must for any visitor to Iberia.