There are so many Seville attractions to see that the city deserves at least three days to do it justice. If you have more time available then you won’t be disappointed. Below we’ve listed the most important attractions in Seville.
Seville Cathedral & La Giralda
Seville Cathedral, Catedral de Santa Marìa de la Sede, has some mightily impressive statistics. The largest Gothic cathedral; the world’s fourth largest Christian church; the largest altar in the world; at 11,520 square metres only St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London are larger churches in Europe, although Seville’s volume is greater than either; an altarpiece the life’s work of a single craftsman; all contained in a cathedral designed to be ‘such a building that future generations will consider us to be lunatics.’
Fortunately, it’s not simply the statistics which impress visitors. It’s once they are inside that the true wonder of the building becomes apparent.
After the Christians recaptured Seville in 1248, the city’s foremost mosque, the Almohad Mosque, was used as a Christian church for many years. By the beginning of the 15th century, however, it was in such poor condition – and the city of Seville was beginning to become more important and wealthy – that the canons of the church decided to build their own place of worship on the same site. So single-minded were they in their pursuit of grandeur, that they renounced all but a subsistence level of funds for themselves in order to help fund the cost of the building.
They built their new church between the years of 1402 and 1506 – in itself a remarkable achievement given the building’s enormity. The cathedral was constructed on the rectangular base of the former mosque and kept two major parts incorporated within the new design. The first of these, the Patio de los Naranjos, situated just inside the main entrance, is a courtyard full, as its name implies, of orange trees, and is where the original Muslim worshippers would wash before entering their mosque.
The other remaining element of the Almohad Mosque is the beautifully decorated minaret converted into a bell tower, La Giralda, which is now more than 90 metres high. Those parts of the tower higher than the bell itself were added during the construction of the cathedral, along with El Giraldillo, the weather vane on the top. John Gill, in his ‘Andalucía, a Cultural History’ refers to La Giralda as ‘a cross-section of Andaluz history’ and, as well as being beautiful in its own right, it offers wonderful views across the city of Seville.
It is once you are inside the mighty, 5-naved Christian cathedral itself that its sheer vastness really strikes you. The central nave is a stunning 42 metres high. But there are so many other elements to admire as well as size. The box-like Coro, or Choir, in the centre has 117 stalls carved in the Mudéjar style. The enormous Gothic retablo, perhaps the largest altarpiece in the world, fills the centre of the nave and has fantastic carvings of biblical scenes all over it. There are works by Goya, Zubarán and Murillo to be searched out. Visitors can even find a collection of skulls as well as the original keys presented to King Ferdinand by the Jewish and Moorish inhabitants of Seville when the city surrendered to him in 1248.
One of the most impressive – and, at the same time, controversial – parts of the cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus, just inside the Puerta de San Cristóbal. It is a highly imposing monument, but whether or not any part of the great explorer’s remains are actually contained within it is still very much a matter of debate and scientific investigation.
And always, wherever your eye wanders, you will be stunned by the quality of the sculptures, the stained glass, the paintings and, of course, the sheer quantity of gold and silver decoration to be seen.
Royal Alcázar of Seville
The Seville Alcázar is one of Andalucia’s gems, a beautiful architectural masterpiece whose history tells the story of Seville. Originally a Moorish fort (the name comes from the Arabic for palace) the Alcázar is one of the finest remaining examples of predominantly Mudéjar architecture in the country; but that only begins to tell the tale. This seemingly exquisitely designed palace (still officially designated as an official royal residence) has, in fact, been added to continuously over the years.
It was at the beginning of the 10th Century that the original building was started but during the following century the ruling Almohades began to fully develop their royal fortress – on the western side of the current site. Following the reconquest, successive kings augmented the buildings but the predominant figure in this part of the Alcázar’s history was the controversial Pedro I, who added, amongst other things, the mighty Palacio de Don Pedro.
Pedro employed mainly Moorish and Jewish workers brought from Granada and incorporated huge fragments of buildings from Córdoba, Valencia and the nearby ruined city of Itálica into the constructions. The buildings, and especially the wonderful gardens incorporated into the Palace, were developed all the way to the 19th Century. Indeed, the gardens near the Amohad Wall on the eastern side of the complex are a 20th Century addition. The fascinating thing, however, is that – with this profusion of Mundéjar, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles – the Alcázar has such a wonderful feeling of unity about it.
There are so many aspects about this palace to fascinate and intrigue visitors – both inside the rooms, in the patios and the wonderful gardens. Perhaps the most spectacular and luxurious of the rooms are the Cuarto Real Alto and the Salón de Embajadores. The former is the suite of rooms used by the Spanish Royal family, although usually open to the public, and is as extravagently decorated as you might expect. The Salón de Embajadores was originally the throne room of Pedro I and has sumptuously tiled walls and a ceiling with a magnificent cedarwood cupola, with elaborate star patterns. It has a particularly spectacular archway, Arco de Pavones, covered with motifs of peacocks.
This room is part of Pedro I’s incredible fusion of Muslim and Iberian styles – the Palacio de Don Pedro. You’ll especially notice the Patio de las Doncellas, the Courtyard of the Maidens, commemorating the annual demand by the Moors of 100 virgins from their Christian kingdoms. This is as astonishingly beautiful as anything in the Alhambra – containing a large reflective pool, with sunken gardens on either side, exquisitely shaped arches, and spectacular wooden doors. The irony of this beauty being the creation of a ruler who murdered many of his own family in order to keep his position will add more poignancy to the occasion. The upper storey was added later by Carlos V and mixes Italian Renaissance and Mudéjar styles. Go from there into the adjoining Cámara Regia, with its mix of plaster and tilework, and you’ll fully understand why people become so enchanted by the atmosphere of the Alcázar.
There are many other compelling attractions. The Sala de Audiencias, for example, has the first known painting of Columbus’ American discoveries. The Casa de Contratación includes the chapel in which Columbus reported back to Ferdinand and Isabella after his second journey.
You’ll also see many references to Doña Maria de Padilla – her bedrooms, her patio, her bathing waters. Now a symbol of purity to the people of Seville, this former mistress of Pedro I, who apparently loved her to distraction, had a fascinating life story.
No reference to the Alcázar would be complete, though, without reference to the delightful gardens. Andalucía has many beautiful gardens – notably at Granada and Cordoba, of course – but those of Seville lose little in comparison with any of them. Even on the hottest summer’s day – and they do get hot in Seville – the gentle elegance and grace of the gardens, with their delicate water features, meticulous planting and cunning use of light and shade, will be soothing and restorative.
There is so much more that could be said about the Alcázar of Seville. Just the other side of Plaza del Triunfo from the mighty Cathedral, the main entrance for visitors is through the Puerta del León. No matter how brief your stay in the city, don’t miss it.
Plaza de España
This is probably Spain’s most spectacular Plaza de España which was the centrepiece of the 1929 Spanish-Americas Fair. It contains fountains and mini-canals and is surrounded by a display of tile work representing all the provinces of Spain. The adjacent Parque de María Luisa is an ideal spot in the shade where you can take a well earned break from sightseeing.
Antigua Fábrica de Tabacos
On the way to the Plaza de España you will pass Seville’s enormous old tobacco factory which was the setting for Bizet’s Carmen. Today it is a part of Seville University and is open to the public during daylight hours.
Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza
It’s well worth a visit to Seville’s bullring which is one of the oldest (1758) and most famous in Spain. A short but uninspired guided tour is compulsory for visitors.
Seville City Tours
There are some great city tours available by bus or on foot led by knowledgeable local guides. In addition, there’s a very handy hop-on, hop-off bus service and river cruises along the Guadalquivir.
Archivo de Indias
Located just next to the Cathedral this recently renovated building holds millions of documents dating back to the discovery of the Americas through to the end of the Spanish Empire.
Torre de Oro
On the banks of the River Guadalquivir stands the Torre de Oro which today represents one of Seville’s major landmarks. It was originally built as a watchtower by the Moors who could close access to the harbour by attaching a chain to it and to the opposite bank of the river. It is now used as a naval museum.
La Casa de Pilatos
This is an impressive 16th century mansion where the founding Medinaceli family still reside. The areas open to the public are impressive for the architectural styles including Mudejar works.
Hotel Alfonso XIII
This is Seville’s grandest hotel which was constructed by King Alfonso XIII for the 1929 Spanish-Americas Fair. Visitors can step inside admire the beautifully decorated entrance areas and dining room. The restaurant is open to the public if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
Hospital de los Venerables
The Hospital de los Venerables is housed in a 17th century Baroque palace which initially served as a home for retired clergy. Today it is open to visitors keen to see its lovely courtyard and impressive art collection.
Hospital de la Caridad
Filled with art from Seville’s golden age, this beautiful Baroque church was the brainchild of an aristocratic playboy, Miguel de Mañara. He dedicated much of his later life to building this charity hospital after he apparently had a vision of his own funeral.
The Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena is Seville’s most loved saint. Her statue stands in this church next to the Puerta de la Macarena all year round until she is carried through the streets during the Semana Santa processions.
Jesus del Gran Poder
Standing on the Plaza San Lorenzo this church is where the statue of ‘Jesus of the Great Power’ lives until the Holy Week celebrations when it is paraded around the streets of Seville.
Iglesia San Salvador
This is one of Spain’s finest Baroque churches with an equally impressive interior which was recently renovated.