Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla): A Visitor's Guide
Nothing prepares visitors for the astounding sight of the Seville Cathedral. This glorious monument is Christendom's largest church of Gothic style and the third-largest when compared to the Neoclassical Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. The Cathedral of Seville awes visitors with its sheer size and Gothic splendor. Its interior could easily fit a football stadium, and the 20-meter-tall main altarpiece is gilded with the finest gold brought back from the New World during the age of Christopher Columbus.
A symbol of the Christian Reconquest over the Moors, the cathedral was constructed between 1402 and 1506 on the site of the town's 12th-century Great Mosque. The cathedral has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflecting its cultural and historic importance. Spend a few hours discovering the grandiose sanctuary, the chapels adorned with masterpieces of Spanish painting, and the treasury containing precious religious objects. Climb the Giralda Tower and be rewarded with sensational panoramic views of the city.
La Giralda (Bell Tower)
This iconic Moorish tower is the most emblematic landmark in Seville. Formerly an Islamic Minaret, the Giralda Tower is one of the few remaining elements of the original Great Mosque that was replaced by the cathedral. The tower was built in the 12th century by Islamic rulers of the Almohad dynasty, who hailed from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. Architect Alí de Gómara designed the brick section of the tower, which exemplifies Moorish design with its decorative arched niches and geometric patterns typical of buildings in Andalusia. The nearly 100-meter-high tower is now the cathedral's Bell Tower. At the top is the 16th-century El Giraldillo weather vane, an enormous bronze statue of a female figure bearing a cross to symbolize Faith. Tourists may climb to the top of the Tower for sensational views over the city. Admission to the tower is separate from the cathedral and opening times are also slightly different.
Patio de los Naranjos
To arrive at the cathedral, visitors walk through the lovely Patio de los Naranjos (Patio of the Orange Trees). This patio was the ablutions courtyard of the mosque and is entered through a fancifully decorated Moorish gate, the Puerta del Perdón, that was the main entrance to the mosque. In the center of the patio is an octagonal fountain, a relic of the Islamic midha used for ritual washing before entering the mosque, a custom in the Muslim faith. As the name suggests, the patio is planted with orange trees. During springtime when the flowers are in bloom, a heavenly fragrance of sweet citrus blossoms permeates the courtyard.
Majestic Gothic Interior
Visitors are awed when entering the cathedral. Its immense proportions are simply breathtaking. The most impressive Gothic sanctuary in Spain, the interior extends 117 meters in length, 76 meters in width, and soars to 40 meters in height. The five-aisled interior is laid out on a rectangular floor plan, and the space is notable for its beautiful lines and overall sense of harmony. Illuminating the interior are 75 stained-glass windows dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The oldest windows are the work of Cristóbal Alemán and Arnao de Flandes. A decorative 16th-century reja (grille) encloses the choir, which boats ornately carved Gothic stalls created from 1475 to 1479. Visitors can't miss the Monument of Columbus in the south transept just inside the Puerta de San Cristóbal. This monument created by Arturo Mélida in 1892 was originally built for the Cathedral of Havana in Cuba, but was brought to Seville after the loss of Cuba in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Main Chapel (Capilla Mayor)
Beyond the choir area of the main transept is the monumental Capilla Mayor, with its inspiring vaulted ceiling rising to a height of 36 meters. The chapel's glittering main altarpiece is the first thing to catch the visitor's eye. A masterpiece of Gothic woodcarving, this massive 20-meter-high retablo features the Virgen de la Sede surrounded by 45 scenes from the Life of Christ and the Life of the Virgin. This dazzling altarpiece is gilded with real gold brought back from the Americas; it's a testimony to the rich heritage of the cathedral, which was built during the Age of Discovery (also the Golden Age of Spain), when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, first to the islands of the Bahamas in the Caribbean and then to Central America.
The side chapels of the Seville Cathedral contain an abundance of art treasures, opulent tombs, and stunning altarpieces. Notable works include the Guardian Angel by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, displayed to the right of the Puerta Mayor, and another Murillo painting in the Capilla de San Antonio (in the second chapel in the North Aisle). The Saint Antonio Chapel also displays the Baptism of Christ and The Infant Christ appearing to Saint Anthony of Padua. Among the finest sarcophagi found in the side chapels are the Gothic monument of Juan de Cervantes in the Capilla de San Hermenegildo and the Plateresque-style tomb of Archbishop Mendoza in the Capilla de la Antigua.
Royal Chapel (Capilla Real)
Behind the Capilla Mayor is the lavishly adorned Royal Chapel. This magnificent domed Renaissance chapel was built between 1551 and 1575 to house the royal tombs. An 18th-century grille surrounds the chapel, which has an exalted ambience worthy of the revered tombs found here. Visitors can admire the monument of King Alfonso the Wise and his mother Beatrice of Sweden. The apse has two altars: one features a silver shrine with the relics of Saint Ferdinand; the other boasts a 13th-century figure of the Virgen de los Reyes, the Patron Saint of Seville. Steps beside the altar lead down to the Panteón (Pantheon), which contains the tombs of Pedro the Cruel, his wife María de Padilla, and several Infantes.
Sacristy and Treasury
Entered through an antechamber from the Capilla Mayor, the splendid Plateresque-style sacristy is a veritable museum of historic sacred art. The room contains a famous crucifix by Montañés as well as celebrated paintings by Spanish masters Francisco de Goya, Luis de Morales, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and Francisco de Zurbarán. Within the sacristy is the treasury, a smaller chamber filled with exquisite religious art objects, including a large candelabrum and a crucifix by Pieter de Kempeneer. The treasury also displays a precious gem-adorned crown of the Virgen de los Reyes and the 13th-century Clave de Sevilla (Key of Seville).
Tips and Tactics: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Seville Cathedral
- Avoid the Crowds: Arrive early when the cathedral opens at 11am to beat the crowds.
- Tickets: Admission to the cathedral includes a free audio guide and access to the cathedral's roof. To visit the Giralda Tower requires a separate ticket; opening hours to the tower are slightly different than the cathedral.
- Timing: Allow a couple of hours for a visit to the cathedral and additional time to climb to the top of the Giralda Tower (the spectacular views are worth it). Please note that the last entry to both attractions is an hour before closing time.
- Nighttime Magic: While the morning is the best time to visit the monuments (the interiors are only open during daytime), the evening has its charms. At nighttime, the facades of the cathedral and the Giralda Tower are illuminated and have a magical ambience. It's a wonderful experience to see the lovely exteriors in the glow of evening.
Calle de las Sierpes
The Seville Cathedral offers an immersion into the history and religious heritage of Spain. After this intense cultural and spiritual experience, tourists will welcome a break from sightseeing. For a change of pace, stroll over to quaint Calle de las Sierpes north of the Plaza Nueva, to soak up the lively atmosphere. This charming pedestrian street is a fun place to go shopping in Seville. The street is lined with inviting little boutiques as well as atmospheric cafés and restaurants.
Confiteria la Campana
This elegant confectionary shop is a wonderful reward for weary tourists in need of a special treat. The Confiteria la Campana offers a selection of tempting Andalusian confections such as candied oranges, figs, and pears along with traditional Spanish pastries like Milhojas de Turrón (a creamy layer cake similar to a millefeuille) and sandwiches.
- Avenida de la Constitución and Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, Seville