The Colourful History of Seville Cathedral

Seville Cathedral, the landmark centrepiece of Spain’s Andalusian capital, is a building with a long and very interesting past. The Spanish masterpiece has undergone numerous transformations and reconstructions since it was first built, leaving a fascinating multicultural monument. Today, it’s a wonderful building to admire for tourists and locals alike.

Seville Cathedral is officially known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See (Catedral de Santa María de la Sede). It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, stretching out over 11,520 square metres (124,000 square feet), and the fourth largest church in the world. Inside, it has several notable elements. It is the final resting place of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand III of Castile.

History of Seville Cathedral

The world’s largest Gothic cathedral started life as a mosque, the Almohad mosque, which started construction in 1172. Construction was completed in 1198 with the minaret which still stands today. The mosque was enormous – 16 aisles and 13 bays, and a grand domed ceiling over the transept. A large mihrab (a semi-circular niche indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) faced south, with an adjacent minbar (a pulpit for the imam to deliver the sermon).

La Giralda, the impressive minaret attached to the mosque, was a particular source of pride. Instead of the usual staircases inside, a series of 35 wide ramps allowed the muezzin to ride to the top on horseback to deliver the call the prayer.

The Almohad mosque wasn’t used for very long, however, as Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Seville less than a century later in 1248 as part of the Reconquista. During the siege, the Muslims wanted to raze the minaret to keep it out of the hands of the Christians, but Ferdinand’s son Alfonso X threatened to massacre the Moorish population if they destroyed it. Now under Christian control, the mosque was repurposed as a cathedral, changing the orientation and modifying the interior partitions. The mihrab had a fresco of the virgin Mary added to it, and became known as the Antigua Chapel. The prized minaret, meanwhile, was modified to include bells for a bell tower at its top.

After almost a century, the mosque was slated for destruction, to build a grand Gothic cathedral in its place. In the years following the Reconquista, Spain had acquired great wealth through its overseas exploits in South America. And to show off this wealth, construction of Seville Cathedral began. It’s said that the cathedral chapter envisaged a ludicrously lavish result, quoting: “Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad.” Construction of the new cathedral ran from 1401 to 1506.

The Tomb of Christopher Columbus

Inside Seville Cathedral is Christopher Colombus’ tomb. Designed by sculptor Arturo Melida, the casket is held up high by four figures. They represent the four kingdoms of Spain during Colombus’ lifetime; Aragon, Leon, Castille, and Navara. The tomb was a recent addition to the cathedral, added in 1899 after the Spanish lost control of Cuba, where it was originally housed.

The Tomb of Ferdinand III

The conqueror of Seville and King of Castile, Ferdinand III, died in 1252. His remains were kept in Seville Cathedral ever since, in a state of incorruptability. Due to being enclosed in a gold and crystal casket, his body stays in a preserved state even today. In 1671, he was canonized as a saint, and he can still be seen through the crystal coffin, his crown still on his head.

El Giraldillo Statue of Seville Cathedral

Standing at the main entrance to Seville Cathedral is a status of a woman known as El Giraldillo, holding a large shield and cross staff which acts as a weather vane, and a palm fronds in the other. . The original Giraldillo is standing on top of La Giralda. The top part of the tower has designed by medieval architect Hernán Ruiz and installed in 1568 to represent the triumph of the Christians over the Moors. At 3.47 metres tall, La Giraldillo has designed by Luis de Vargas and sculpted by sculptor Bartolomé Morel.

The Seville Cathedral Golden wall

One of Seville Cathedral’s most impressive features is the gilded altarpiece, which was built with gilded gold and silver to demonstrate the power and wealth of the Spanish Empire. The incredible carving features 45 biblical scenes and over 1000 individual figures. Craftsman Pieter Dancart spent his life building the altarpiece, which was completed in 1497.

The Orange Trees of Seville Cathedral

Imported from East Asia, Orange trees sprang up all over Seville around the 12th century, the bitter fruits rumoured to bring happiness to anyone who ate them. Over subsequent centuries the numbers of orange trees across the city grew to around 5000, in public squares, private residences, and along streets. Then, in the late 1970s the numbers of trees exploded up to 31,000! Seville Cathedral also partook in the craze, with a grove of orange trees planted in the courtyard of the cathedral itself, known as the Patio de los Naranjos. It’s a serene, relaxing place to stroll around when exploring the cathedral.

Urban sketching seville cathedral Patio de los Naranjos bitter oranges
Patio de los Naranjos Orange trees

2 thoughts on “The Colourful History of Seville Cathedral

  1. What wonderful memories your blog post has brought back to mind. We visited Seville twice and saw all the sites you mention and more. I am sure you are looking forward to being able to travel once again as we are! Cheers from Ottawa, 🇨🇦

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