Catedral de Santa María de la Sede: Seville’s cathedral
Seville’s cathedral was built on the footprint of the city’s grand mosque, originally constructed in the 12th century. When the cathedral was finished in the early 16th century it was the largest in the world. Although that may no longer be the case*, it is still an awe-inspiring space.
*It is today considered by most sources to be the world’s the fourth largest cathedral, and is the largest Gothic religious building.
The mosque was a considerable size, measuring 113 by 135 metres, making it over 15,000 square metres. In the 13th century it was destroyed, apart from the minaret and ablutions courtyard. Construction work on the cathedral began in 1403 and was completed in 1507.
The cathedral building that replaced it is 127 metres long, 83 metres wide and 43 metres high. But it also incorporates the minaret, which serves as its bell tower; and the ablutions courtyard which is now known as the Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Oranges).
We started our visit by climbing the bell tower, La Giralda (formerly the mosque’s minaret). The tower is 105 metres tall and was built in the late 12th century to resemble the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh. The belfry was added in the 16th century; and the famous statue / weather vane that gives it its name (La Giralda means weather vane) was installed in 1568. It is nicknamed Il Giraldillo and intended to represent the triumph of the Christian faith over others.
I was pleased to make it up the 35 ramps and 17 steep marble steps without too much difficulty and loved the views from the top! Going down was actually tougher because of the strain it put on my knees. But it was more than worth it.
Gargoyles seen on the way up
We then had a thorough look around the cathedral itself. I was pleased to find that photography was allowed throughout, naturally without flash. The building is awesome, in the proper sense of that word. Any description must include a lot of statistics! It has the longest nave of any cathedral in Spain, and it rises to a height of 42 metres. It has 80 chapels, including the central Royal Chapel.
The main altarpiece is stunning. It is considered to be the largest in Christendom and was created in phases over the period of almost a century. It was started by a Flemish sculptor, Pieter Dancart, in 1482. He was followed by a succession of Flemish and Spanish artists until the work was finally completed in 1564. Made of polychrome wood, it depicts scenes from the life of Christ; it features 44 reliefs and over 200 individual figures of saints. Its surface covers almost 400 square metres and I struggled to photograph it in its entirety!
I was also struck by the golden ceiling of the main nave, which was very effectively lit.
The tomb of Christopher Columbus
Another famous sight here is the tomb of Christopher Columbus – or is it? Two places in the world lay claim to holding his remains, here in Seville and in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The explorer was originally buried in Valladolid before being moved by his son to a monastery in Seville, and later to Santo Domingo’s grand new cathedral. But in 1795, when France ejected Spain from Hispaniola (the island now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), his remains were taken to Havana, Cuba. Following Cuba’s 1898 independence from Spain, he moved again, back to Seville to be interred in this ornate tomb in the cathedral.
So far, so clear, but there is more! Some time after this a worker at the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Santo Domingo discovered a box of bones. It was marked: ‘The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea’. ‘Colon’ is the Spanish for Columbus), so had a mistake been made, and the wrong bones shipped to Seville? Or were the ones in the box those of Diego, Columbus’ son, who was also known as Don Colon, Admiral of the Sea? Of course Santo Domingo insists it still has the rightful remains; while Seville is equally insistent they lie here in the cathedral.
And science is on the side of Seville; in 2006, DNA testing on the Seville bone fragments confirmed they belonged to Columbus. Not being a scientist I have no idea how they distinguish between him and his son when testing the DNA; but I’m happy to go along with their verdict and accept this as his tomb. Unlike the people of the Dominican Republic, who have built a massive (and rather ugly) lighthouse to hold ‘their’ bones of Columbus!
Meanwhile back here in Seville Columbus’ tomb is held aloft by four allegorical figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during his life: Castille, Aragon, Navara, and Leon.
Some other highlights
Leading off from the body of the cathedral are the Renaissance additions, including the Sacristy with a stunning ceiling. A large mirror has been cleverly positioned to allow you to study this without craning your neck, which I also found useful for photos. The three concentric circles of the dome are carved with a depiction of the Last Judgement, with the damned occupying the lowest of the three.
The ceiling of the Chapter House is perhaps even more striking, with delicate gold and white carvings and paintings of saints associated with Seville. This room is oval in shape so that all who attended the meetings of the cathedral chapter could be seen and heard.
These and various smaller rooms in this part of the cathedral contain displays of treasures. I was taken by the simplicity of the Virgin of the Battles, dating from 1230; and by the much more recent (1910) and ornate Crown of the Virgin of Los Reyes.
Part of the main body of the cathedral is also devoted to the display of treasures; this is clearly a wealthy cathedral. I was especially drawn to the elaborate processional monstrances. The one left and centre below dates from 1580. An internet search tells me that it is over three metres tall and weighs over 113 kilos! It was the work of the goldsmith Juan de Arfe. The one on the right is newer, from 1858, but is no less impressive.
The Patio de los Naranjos
We exited the cathedral through the Patio de los Naranjos, the former ablutions courtyard of the mosque. As the name suggests, today it is planted with orange trees which were, on this sunny November day, laden with fruit glowing in the afternoon light. I spent a while before we left trying to capture their warmth glowing against the stone work, as well as the unusual sundial on the wall above the gate.
I visited Seville in November 2021
Maybe one day you wil return to Seville. One of my favourite cities and also the closest to Navasola in the Sierra Aracena where I like to spend most of my time. Good to meet uou through Denzil.
We liked Seville a lot but we rarely go back to places, although there are a few exceptions – Paris most notably 🙂 Nice to meet you too!
A bit late catching up on this one, don’t know how it slipped through. You’ve certainly covered the cathedral in depth and your images are so good. I didn’t care much for the interior – I think my puritan soul was offended by the riches on display! Loved your views from the Giralda. I don’t remember seeing them like that, I was probably dreaming again or listening to ‘Carmen’ in my head!
Well, I only posted it a few days ago so you aren’t what I call late Margaret 😆 I know what you mean about the interior. I used to feel the same about such flamboyant churches (my Protestant upbringing perhaps, if you can call being packed off to Sunday School every week an upbringing!) But I’ve grown to rather like them. They make such a huge statement of faith, much as do the shrines and places of worship of some other religions, and I confess too that the photographer in me loves all the details and photo opps!
Perhaps the weather was less clear on your visit which would have impacted on those views? We had perfect November weather that day 🙂
Wow! Spanish churches are so stunning, especially the altars.
Indeed – they really knew how to trigger awe back then, for sure!
A beautiful cathedral in a beautiful city. So love Seville.
Thank you – I think anyone must love it, once seen!
Those views from the tower are wonderful! The interior is amazing as well, so vast and ornate! I visited Columbus’ supposed burial place in Santa Domingo, one of the most ugliest and hideous buildings I’ve ever seen. I’ll have to come visit him in Seville one day! X
I’ve seen photos of that Santa Domingo place and I agree it looks hideous! I hope you get to visit Seville and not just for Columbus 😘
I always enjoy architectural images, but I can say that I really liked your aerial views. Oh, and, yes I can see the dinosaur in the sky. 🙂
Thank you John – it was the perfect weather for views from that tower, we could see all over the city 😀
Oh my, there’s just so much to look at! Those ceilings are quite amazing and all the detailed carvings as well. Found the bickering about the whereabouts of Christoper Columbus (and his son) very interesting 😉 … and wow, those views are spectacular (yes, I saw the dinosaur too)!
Haha, I’m happy you too saw the dinosaur 🐱🐉 And yes, all that arguing about Columbus is quite fascinating – that it means so much to each country to ‘have’ him 😆
Although I enjoyed our climb up and down la Giralda, I find the cathedral interior hasn’t lasted well in my memory bank: just so much to take in. As someone whose favourite cathedral is the austere Durham, I guess that’s not surprising.
I can see that if you like austerity in your cathedral buildings this wouldn’t be for you! I like both, for different reasons. The more austere buildings have a calm about them which I find appealing, but I do also like the assault on my senses I get from all this gold and flamboyance!
the eternal traveller
Spain has long been on my list of countries to visit. Until we are able to travel again, I’ll be enjoying all your lovely posts.
I hope you’re able to travel again soon! We’re just starting to get moving a bit more now – watch this space!
the eternal traveller
We’re actually able to travel now, both internationally and interstate. But we’re just choosing not to go overseas. We have plans for several trips here though. 🙂
That sounds good 🙂
Yet another fabulous post about this remarkable city. You must have been glad that there are SD cards around these days instead of film 🙂
Thank you Malcolm 🙂 Is that a subtle way of telling me I take too many photos? 😂
LOL. You can never take too many photos Sarah 🙂
It must have been overwhelming, this visit. Remarkable all. Just curious, which three cathedrals are bigger?
‘Overwhelming’ is a great word for this building Manja! St Peter’s in the Vatican is the biggest and Milan is apparently bigger than this too, according to Wikipedia, although having visited both I’m surprised to hear that 😉 Wikipedia puts Milan third on the list and in second place is Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil, which I’ve never heard of! The list is here if you’re interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_church_buildings