Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville
Since 1987 • Cultural
Together these three buildings form a remarkable monumental complex in the heart of Seville. The cathedral and the Alcázar – dating from the Reconquest of 1248 to the 16th century and imbued with Moorish influences – are an exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Almohads as well as that of Christian Andalusia. The Giralda minaret is the masterpiece of Almohad architecture. It stands next to the cathedral with its five naves; the largest Gothic building in Europe, it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The ancient Lonja, which became the Archivo de Indias, contains valuable documents from the archives of the colonies in the Americas.
The Cathedral and the Alcázar of Seville bear exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Almohads and to that of Christian Andalusia dating from the Reconquest of 1248 to the 16th century. The Giralda, which influenced the construction of many towers in Spain and the Americas, is a masterpiece of Almohad architecture. The immense cathedral with its five naves is the largest Gothic edifice in Europe. The elliptical space of the Cabildo, created by Hernan Ruíz, is one of the most beautiful architectural works of the Renaissance.
The cathedral, one of the most vast and ornate religious edifices in the world, contains in its complex structure the wide range of styles resulting from its troubled history. In the Chapel of the Granada, there are the capitals of several columns dating from the time of the Visigoths, the last vestiges of the original cathedral which in 712 the Arab conquerors condemned to destruction. It is, above all, one of the major witnesses of the Almohad period at its apogee. In 1147, when it became the capital of a Muslim empire that covered the whole of the Maghreb, Seville endowed itself with monuments whose splendour the Arabian travellers took great pleasure in pointing out. The Giralda, which was formerly the minaret of the Great Mosque (built in 1172-98 by the Emir Yaqub al-Mansur), escaped destruction and was turned into a bell tower after the reconquest of Seville in 1248. In the 16th century it was topped with a bronze statue symbolizing the Christian faith, which serves as a weather vane (Giraldillo), at an altitude of 97.52m. The only other part of the cathedral which preserves the memory of the Great Mosque is the Patio de los Naranjos on the north, a marvellous interior garden. The Christians wished to replace the mosque, the destruction of which began in 1401, with a cathedral in the Gothic style, unsurpassed by any other. In 1420 Seville became one of the largest international construction sites of the 15th century, employing the most renowned Spanish, Flemish and German architects and sculptors. Seville's prosperity following the discovery of the New World further bolstered the already considerable financial means made available for the construction and embellishment of the cathedral. In the 16th century, it was enhanced by an incomparable ornamentation of stained glass, altarpieces, grille work and stalls. In the 17th century, the cathedral was still the beneficiary of rich donations, and was filled with Baroque sculptures and paintings by the great Sevillian painters Murillo and Valdés Leal.
The Alcázar and its gardens is a palatial fortress erected beginning in 712 by the conquering Arabs to control the Guadalquivir. It boasts a crenellated enclosure from the Almohad period as well as several interior spaces dating from before the Reconquest. After 1248 it became a royal residence and was renovated under the reign of Peter the Cruel. The palace constructed in the interior of the Alcázar in 1364-66 illustrates the syncretism proper to Mudejar art which borrows its techniques and decorative expression from the Arabian art of Andalusia. The Patio de las Doncellas is evocative of a captivating aesthetic which survived Christianization with its finely worked stuccos, wooden artesonados ceilings, the azulejos of the galleries, and the fountain that rises in the middle of the courtyard. The work of decoration of the apartments, the fountains or the pavilions undertaken between the 15th and 17th centuries, partially respected the original palace, its general layout, and the traditional refinement of an Andalusian palace.
The Casa Lonja was built by Philip's II favourite architect, Juan de Herrera, to control trade with the American colonies. This new 'Casa de Contratación' was to replace a similar establishment that had been located in the Alcázar outbuildings since 1503. The 'Hall of Trade' designed by Herrera was constructed between 1583 and 1598 in the severe style favoured by the architect of the Escurial. However, even after the last of the work had been completed in 1649, the 'Casa de Contratación' never occupied the chosen premises. Used for various temporary purposes, the Lonja became, in 1784, the Archivo General de Indias and, from 1790, housed all the historic and diplomatic collections relative to the American colonies.