Seville, in the south of Spain, has an unexpected attraction dotted all around the city. The bitter orange trees, which number in their thousands, grow alongside boulevards, in quiet backstreets, in private properties, and even in the courtyard of the Seville Cathedral. In the spring, they infuse the city with the delicious scent of fresh oranges as the fruits ripen.
Why are there so many orange trees in Seville?
Seville oranges have become an unofficial symbol of the city. The naranja amarga bitter oranges originally come from India, Vietnam and South China, and came to the Roman Empire from India in the 1st century CE. The name for the oranges comes from the Indian word for oranges, naranyan, which means ‘inner fragrance.’ They were introduced to Spain by the Moors sometime in the 10th century. By the 12th century, the trees were esablished all around the city. The oranges were believed to bring happiness, so the trees were planted wherever space could be found.
The Moors used the bitter oranges for medicinal purposes, to soothe skin and digestive conditions, to relax nerves, and to help people sleep. The oranges were even used as a perfume, and to make sweets. Bitter oranges could also be used for liqueurs and marmalade. But, it’s worth noting, Seville oranges are not suited for eating due to their very bitter taste.
How many orange trees are in Seville?
The numbers of bitter orange trees grew to about 5000 in the 1970s. Today, as demand grew, there are over 31,000 orange trees, producing over 4 million kilos of oranges annually. The best time to see the oranges is late February to early March, to enjoy the scent of the fruits all around the city!
Seville Cathedral Patio de los Naranjos
The courtyard of Seville Cathdral has a grove of bitter orange trees called the Patio de los Naranjos. The trees are set up in a grid, linked by stone channels for irrigation. The patio originally had palm trees planted in it, but as the love for oranges took hold, they were replaced by orange trees in the 15th century.
Visiting Seville in February and March is worth it just to have a smell of the amazing orange scent, that wafts all around the city. It’s a small piece of Seville’s identity that creates a lovely atmosphere in one of Spain’s most beautiful cities.