Evidence of its Moorish heritage can still be seen everywhere throughout the city, and we explored several of these sights, among them:
The stunning Sevilla Cathedral, once the site of a great Mosque, was begun in 1401 and grew to be the largest gothic cathedral in the world. In total the cathedral houses over 500 works of art, including a late 19th century monument to Cristobal Colon [Christopher Columbus to you]. A tomb in the Cathedral is the disputed final resting place of this explorer/adventurer whose misguided belief that he had discovered a new route to China led to the colonisation of the New World.
The Cathedral’s bell tower, the Giralda or Giraldillo, is in fact a minaret from the original mosque, and is one of the most important examples of Islamic architecture, not only in Spain, but in the world. The Giralda’s magnificent architecture represents the power and culture of the Almohad dynasty, which ruled Andalusia in the 12th century, and served as a model for similar bell towers at their imperial capitals of Rabat and Marrakech. It was used by the Moors both for calling the faithful to prayer (the traditional function of a minaret) and as an observatory, and was so venerated that they wanted to destroy it before the Christian conquest of the city. This they were prevented from doing by the threat of King Alfonso X that 'if they removed a single stone, they would all be put the sword'. The Giralda is one of the most beautiful buildings in Sevilla and dominates the skyline. Visitors can climb its 319 steps and I’m proud to say that most of our students managed to do so without mishap!
The Torre del Oro or Golden Tower) was built between 1221 and 1222 and was one of the last contributions from the Almohad period in Sevilla. It formed part of the last wall of defence that ran from the Alcazar – a stunning fortress - to the river. It is said that the tower gained its name from the sun's reflection on its gold-leaf [reputedly imported from the Americas] tiles that once covered the dome. Today it houses the Naval Museum and all the gold has sadly been stolen.
The fortified Alcazar Palace (los Reales Alcácares) – cross between a castle, a palace and a fortress - was built on the orders of Muslim Caliph Abd Al Ramán III in the year 913. The architecture and decor are a mixture of Moorish/Gothic/Islamic. The work that went into the decoration just can't be comprehended. It’s apparently one of the oldest royal residences in Europe, and is still the residence of King Juán Carlos when he visits Sevilla.
Throughout the years, many of its residents have added to the Alcazar, but most contemporary architects agree that the least attractive additions have to be those left by General Franco. The Generalissimo’s lasting legacy are the kitchens he had built to order! Today, he would have been able to go to the IKEA that has now opened on the outskirts of the city.
The Plaza de España is one of Sevilla's most easily recognised buildings and the epitome of the Moorish Revival in Spanish architecture. In 1929 Sevilla hosted the Spanish-American Exhibition to showcase Spain’s industrial and technological achievements, and the Plaza de Espana was one of several buildings built to host the exhibition.
The grandiose architecture is reminiscent of Muslim rule in the 8th and 9th centuries—when Sevilla was a great power in the Islamic Empire.
It was constructed in a semi-circle around a large square. Set against the lower half of the building are 50 tiled benches symbolising Spain's 50 provinces. Every bench has a central pictorial panel of intricate Muslim tiles depicting a significant historical event from each province. They are placed in alphabetical order. Each province is separated by small alcoves designed to house a basic library on each province. Inside the building you can visit the spectacular patio with its two floors, arches and columns. Today the buildings around the plaza mainly house government departments.
A map of Sevilla in ceramic tiles can be found at the Plaza. This map dates from around 1929 and is part of a set of tileworks, each consisting of a map and historical scene for each of Spain's provinces.
Near to the plaza is one of the city´s most beautiful open spaces, the Parque de Maria Luisa. The park covers some 400,000 square metres of woodland, water features and squares, which many students found to be a great place to enjoy their lunch.
The more energetic and studious of us also found time to visit the Archive of the Indies , one of the most important documentation centres relating to the conquest of the Americas. The Archives contain 36,000 files of documents chronicling the European discovery, colonization and administration of the New World, many of them testifying to Sevilla’s pivotal role in the conquest of the New World in the 16th century.
In the evening, most of us, tired out from the day’s sightseeing, enjoyed a leisurely boat-trip along the Rio Guadalqivir, the third longest river in Spain, and the longest in Andalusia. The name comes from the Arabic al-wādĩ al-kabir (الوادي الكبير), 'the big river'. The Guadalquivir is, remarkably, the only navigable river in Spain. Currently it is navigable up as far as Sevilla, though in Roman times it was possible for trading ships to reach the city of Córdoba.
No stay in Sevilla is complete without taking in some Flamenco singing and dancing. After all, the city lays claim to being the birthplace of this art-form, said to have been created by gypsies in the city’s Triana district. Hazel was especially enthusiastic, and seriously considered flamenco as a new career, though we managed to talk her out of it.