In almost all ages and cultures, if there was one place that was afforded even more importance in matters of architecture and opulence than the palaces of the rulers, it was the place of worship. The Moors of Seville were no different in this regard and they too built a grand mosque just across the square from their magnificent palace Alcázar. We have also seen throughout history that such places of worship either get destroyed or get converted when rulers belonging to a different faith depose the original rulers. This mosque of Moors also suffered a similar fate and was converted to a cathedral after the Christian forces conquered Seville in 1248.
In 1401, partly to demonstrate the wealth and power of Seville which was a major trade centre at that time and partly due to the deteriorating condition of the original mosque, a decision was taken to build a new cathedral at the same site. At that time the clerics made a proclamation which has since then become a stuff of legends – ‘Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it finished will think we were mad.’ A century later, the outcome of this proclamation was a cathedral which still ranks as the 3rd largest church in the entire world and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture.
After exiting the Alcázar we crossed the square and joined a long queue for the entry to the cathedral. Waiting under the scorching sun was quite energy sapping but we got immediate respite once we entered the building as the interior was quite cool. We took a few minutes to rest and hydrate ourselves and then began exploring the cathedral. One thing that immediately struck us was the scale of the cathedral which was absolutely gigantic. There were a significant number of people inside the cathedral (we knew that because we had waited in line for a long time) but still the cathedral seemed almost empty due to its immense size.
One thing that drew our attention was a unique sculpture of four figures carrying a coffin. We discovered that this was the famous tomb of Christopher Columbus and those four figures represented the four medieval Spanish kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarra. For a long time there was debate on whether the remains inside this tomb were really of Columbus but recent DNA tests have settled this debate once and for all.
The cathedral on the whole was quite bare and austere except for the central portion which consisted of the choir, the Capilla Mayor (Main Chapel) and an intricately sculpted vaulted ceiling which could be observed closely by a strategically placed mirror. The choir contained some exquisitely crafted pieces of work both in the interior and exterior but it was the main chapel which contained the masterpiece of the entire cathedral. This masterpiece was a gilded altarpiece which was the lifetime work of its creator Pierre Dancart and is claimed to be the largest altarpiece in the world. The altarpiece consisted of panels which depict scenes from the life of Christ. The carving on the altarpiece was so minute that it just defied belief. The entrance to both the main chapel and the choir were blocked by large, elaborately designed, gilded grilled gates which showed the immense wealth of Seville at that time. To the left of the main chapel was another beautiful altar – Altaredell’Argento (Silver Altar).
There were numerous chapels lined up on all sides of the cathedral which were decorated with some fantastic paintings, stained glass windows and sculptures and contributed to enhancing the beauty of the cathedral. We also visited the side rooms like the main sacristy, treasury, chapter house and ante-chapter house. The chapter house was a beautiful room with a splendid domed ceiling whereas some of the items in the treasury were truly breathtaking.
We exited the main building of the cathedral and emerged in Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the oranges), a large courtyard lined with orange trees. This courtyard was special as it was a part of the original Moorish mosque which existed at the site. The courtyard also gave us a good view of the iconic tower of Seville – La Giralda. This tower was originally the minaret of the mosque but after the Christian conquest it was converted to a bell tower. Throughout our trip we had never let go of a chance to climb any tower or roof of a monument as they provided some amazing views but this time we simply did not have any energy to climb the tower so we just took some photos and moved on to our next destination.
PLAZA DE ESPAÑA
In 1929, Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exposition for which many structures were constructed in different Spanish architectural styles with Plaza de España complex being the centrepiece. The journey from the Cathedral to Plaza de España involved a tram ride and a walk through a park. As soon as we saw Plaza de España we were awestruck by its sheer enormity. There was a huge semicircular building with towers at both ends. It was bigger than some of the palaces we had seen during our trip. In front of the building was a wide walkway followed by a canal. Few small bridges built over the canal connected the walkway to a large square which had a fountain in the centre. Take a look at the pictures because I know these words don’t do the place enough justice.
In spite of its huge scale, Plaza de España was not all about the size. A closer inspection revealed its actual beauty which lay in the colourful painted ceramic tiles which were used to decorate bridges, pillars and the main facade of the building. After taking a few photos of the exterior we quickly went inside the main building to escape from the sun. There we strolled through the vast empty galleries of the building. An interesting event that we saw in the building was a photo-shoot of two small girls wearing traditional Spanish dresses but considering that this structure has been the site for even movie shootings the photo-shoot wasn’t such a surprise.
PLAZA DE TOROS
We were extremely tired after seeing three huge monuments on an extremely hot day and a part of us just wanted to return but there was still time for our train and we knew we probably wouldn’t get a chance to visit Seville again so we decided to explore the city a little more.
We took a bus to Plaza de Toros which was Seville’s famous bullring. We had already seen one bullring in Ronda which had a legendary history but Seville’s bullfighting history could certainly match up to Ronda’s if not exceed it. When we reached the bullring we saw a lot of people around the building. On asking for tickets to bullring we were told that the tours are closed for the day since there is a bullfight scheduled shortly. Fleeting thoughts about watching the bullfight crossed our minds but we abandoned those immediately as we could not afford to miss our train which was the last one from Seville to Malaga.
As we were waiting for our bus back to the train station we saw a tower situated on the sidewalk a short distance away from the bullring. This tower, known as Torre del Oro (Golden Tower), was a watchtower from the Moorish era. We took one final photo of the tower and left for the Seville station from where we took a train back to Malaga. The next day we said adios to Andalusia and left for our final destination – Madrid.