In the beautiful, seductive and monument-strewn town of Seville in southern Spain, the capital of Andalusia, you can discover Roman remains, get awe-struck by the Alcazár, thrilled by Columbiana and baffled by historical world-fairs.
Guadalquivir and the “Port of the Indies”
Start your tour of Seville at the old harbor area around the magnificent 13th century watch- and prison tower Torre del Oro. Guadalquivir river is one of the largest in Spain and the reason the city exists. There was a town on an island around here from at least the 8th century BC and this harbor is the most significant historical thing about Seville.
The river banks and bridges in this area are pretty and perfect for strolling around. The tower was made by the Muslim rulers in these parts as a key feature of their harbor defenses. A bit later, when in 1503 it was decided that all Spanish trade with her new-world colonies must go through Seville, incredible riches came right here to this precise spot. This was the “Port of the Indies”, sparking a golden age of the city but came to an end when the river silted up and Cádiz took over in 1717. While Seville has remained a great town, its golden age came and went with this river harbor, now just a scenic spot.
The present city centre grew out of Roman Hispalis which was one of their main cities of present Spain and great Roman remains can be seen in Seville. Most impressive are the ruins of Hispalis neighbor town of Italica, today about ten kilometers to the north-west of central Seville. There is a well-preserved amphitheatre and you can walk cobbled Roman streets and see mosaic floors in a large, excavated area.
In central Seville there is an old-style archaeological museum which holds the finds from Italica and, more interesting, an underground museum, the “Antiquarium” at Plaza de la Encarnación, with well preserved remains of a series of upper-class Roman houses.
Alcazár and al-Andalus
The truly amazing Alcazár is a splendid palace with lush gardens and the most spectacular historical sight of Seville. The palace was built in heavily Moorish-influenced style from the 13th century onwards (after the fall of the Moors) on the ruins of the old palace of the Muslim rulers, of which some parts remain. It features prominently as the water gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones. And, by the way, it is UNESCO world heritage as well.
Seville was not the capital, but a major centre of al-Andalus, the dominion of the emirs and caliphs ruling Islamic Iberia in the medieval period. The most famous landmark of Seville, the cathedral bell tower La Giralda, is actually the minaret of the great Mosque of the city that was demolished on the site to serve as foundation for the present cathedral.
Columbus and the General archive of the Indies
Christopher Columbus, a son of Genoa that struck a deal with the rulers of the kingdom of Castille in Spain, had his calculations of the distance to east Asia all wrong and would have sailed into oblivion had not the Americas come in between. Following his discoveries, Spain created its new world empire and during the 16th and 17th centuries all trade with the Americas passed through a powerful agency in Seville, the Casa de Contratación, overseeing trade, taxation, voyages of discovery and map-making. Its principal mapmakers were called nothing less than “cosmographers”.
The super interesting archives of this institution are now in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville together with other archives including handwritten personal material from, for example, Columbus himself and people such as Ferdinand Magellan, Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. The archive has exhibitions and is open for visits.
Columbus corpse had a remarkable journey including being interred in a Spanish monastery, in the Dominican republic and in Havanna before ending up in a spectacular monument inside Seville cathedral.
Plaza de España and the world fairs
In a park by the river in the southern part of Seville lies the bombastic venues of the grand 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. In particular its central square, the Plaza de España, is well worth a visit and you will recognize it as a set in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones. The exhibition itself was spectacular, with a replica of Columbus’s ship Santa Maria floating on the Guadalquivir and lamas walking the grounds of the Peruvian pavilion. Many of the national pavilions remain in the park as consulates or cultural institutes.
The Exposición Universal Sevilla 92 was another great fair held in Seville (in venues to the north-west of the city centre). Its theme was “the age of discovery”, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of the Americas by Columbus. The exhibition was amazingly grand, with stunning pavilions of which some can still be visited.