It is inserted in the middle of the city and in the hearts of the people who live in Seville. Bringing together the oldest and the best of the new. It is the permanent sign of the path that men and women take to meet God. Both have passed through here, and its foundations remain. The Church has played a fundamental role in Seville’s historical development, being the melting pot of different peoples and cultures.
The Cathedral of Seville is of enormous proportions, the product of the megalomania of its Cabildo, but also of a colossal pantheon and a first-rate museum, which also has the largest altarpiece in all of Christendom. It also has very important archives and libraries and can be considered as a great sacred and profane theatre and an excellent auditorium.
Due to its monumentality, it is not only the largest building in all Gothic architecture but also one of the first in the Christian world. The monumentality of its forms would only later be surpassed by St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.
It occupies an area of two hectares. One of the great paradoxes of this temple is that its construction, which began in 1401 on the site of the largest Almohad mosque, was carried out at a critical time in the city, when the population was decimated by epidemics of the plague. A time, in short, of misery, hunger and famine. Because of its monumentality and singular character, the building created a milestone in the History of Architecture, since features such as the floor plan, pillars, types of vaults and compositional and decorative elements influenced not only the churches of the region and the last Castilian cathedrals, but also the great Cathedrals of Latin America.
History of the Cathedral of Seville
The Almohads, settled in Seville, have left us written and architectural testimonies about what was then the Great Mosque. The Muslims needed to build a mosque that spoke of the reigning dynasty from abroad in the peninsula and that proposed a religious reform. The mosque was equipped with 17 naves perpendicular to the qibla wall, abandoning the old hypostyle system and now using brick on its pillars. The whole of the courtyard and a minaret were added. This work is what the Christians must have known when they entered the city on 23rd November 1248. The mosque was purified and consecrated as a Christian cathedral, called “Cathedral of Santa Maria”. What they do is adapt their measurements to what they had, change the axis of prayer to the west, hide the Islamic categories and divide the space with gates and tombs. The mosque was dismantled at the beginning of the 15th century, when it was necessary to promote Christianity in the city, offering at the same time a modern orb.
They built a stone cathedral where important resources were needed, starting in the year 1433. An attempt was made to build a Renaissance cloister, which failed, and a large bell tower that changed the image of the old minaret. The courtyard has been greatly modified from what it was during the Islamic period, and has lost the criss-cross used in the construction of the 17th century tabernacle. The Gothic architects in charge of building the cathedral were prudent in their intervention, and having respected the foundations of the courtyard and the minaret, we can get an idea of what Islamic art was in the city.
Throughout the 16th century, the floor plan of the Gothic building was supplemented not only by the chancel (Capilla Real) but also by a series of chapels and outbuildings on the southern front. These are the Chapter House, the Antecabildo, the Patio del Mariscal, the Sacristía Mayor, the Sacristía de los Cálices, the Patio de los Oleos and the Capilla de la Virgen de la Antigua. From the 18th century onwards, other rooms were built for archives and offices in the Southwest corner.
In the middle of the 17th century, when the city was in a deep crisis, the basic profile of the temple had been fixed. However, its appearance could not fail to change, always subject to the needs of a changing society. The passage of the Baroque can be seen brilliantly in its rich sculptural and pictorial heritage. The need for intense restoration became particularly urgent after the collapse of the dome in 1888. The neo-Gothic work on the façade of the Assumption made it necessary to open some workshops whose link with the Gothic work had been lost. The work on the southwest sector, an office building now occupied by the cathedral museum and other services, closed the process of extending the monument. Today it is a space visited by thousands of tourists with a firm commitment to preserve the living memory of a unique city.
Parts of the Cathedral of Seville
The building has a hall floor, with five naves and chapels between the buttresses. It lacks a Gothic polygonal headboard, which is justified by the fact that King Henry III did not authorise the demolition of the original Royal Chapel, which was located on this site. It was started by the feet and by the peripheral chapels being the head, built in the second half of the 16th century, the latest. It responds to a sesquiáltera proportion, that is to say, that the greater side is one and a half times the smaller. The sections of the side naves are square. The supports are pillars with a rhomboidal envelope. They are adorned with sticks, which act as thin, high columns, suitable for supporting the ribs of the vaults. The vaults correspond to multiple models that make us think of the change in criteria that has taken place over the years. The vaults of the perimeter chapels are sexpartite, that of the Main Chapel is made of terceletes and those of the transept and choir are made of stars, with whimsical designs, all of them different.
In. The elevation structure of the building is predominantly horizontal. It is only slightly higher in the central nave, with the side naves being equal to each other. In the transept the dome is raised. The primitive one sank in 1511, after its reconstruction it collapsed again in 1888, so the current one we see is neo-gothic. On the outside, the central nave has vaulted ceilings, with an accentuated cant to drain the rainwater through a system of channels on the buttresses, which exit through the gargoyles. The roofs of the side naves are terraced, with brick flooring, so a visit is highly recommended.
What continues to surprise us most about the Cathedral is the tower known as the Giralda for its neat decoration. The tower we know today was the minaret of the old mosque and had the function of calling the neighbors to prayer. The tower has a square floor plan with concentric structures, organized on a stone base of 3 meters deep. Since the soil of the city, and more specifically that of this plot, is clayey, they chose to place the stones and wait for them to settle. This caused the works to be extended over time but ensured the stability of the tower. The material used for the factory was clay, a lighter material. The decoration of battlements, arches and the sebka cloth makes it ascend to the upper body known as yamur, where the body of bells is installed. The old minaret of the Almohad mosque remained in appearance until 1356, when it was replaced by a belfry and a cross. Until, at the end of the 16th century, Hernán Ruiz, placed the Giraldillo which is a large weather vane. Four superimposed bodies were generated with a Renaissance language typical of the time. It was decided to use materials that played with the brick of the tower and the marble of the columns, which made the work as respectful as possible.
Patio de los Naranjos
The patio has been reformed by its successive restorations, although it can be noticed an original structure configured with pillars that support pointed horseshoe arches in 2 of its sides, since the third one that had been configured in a first moment disappeared with the construction of the Tabernacle. In its centre there is a fountain, occupying the old sabil. However, the upper cup is Visigothic and is the same as the original Almohad fountain. It has an arrangement of orange trees that are still used with the flow of water through the channels. The courtyard has two doors that lead to the outside and another two that give access to the adjacent area of the cathedral.
Presiding over the presbytery of the Main Chapel, located in the central nave and in front of the choir, we can see what is considered the largest in Christendom. It is a polychrome wooden structure built over a century. The altarpiece is almost 30 meters high and 20 meters wide, with four bodies of height plus a bench, horizontally and seven streets. The altarpiece has a set of 44 reliefs and more than two hundred figures of saints that are arranged on the pilasters that articulate the altarpiece. The whole set is crowned by a monumental Gothic Calvary from the 14th century, which has been preserved since before and which it was decided to use as a finish for the altarpiece. The crucifix that presides over the Calvary receives the traditional name of the Christ of the Million, for the million graces granted to the people of Seville in times of epidemics.
On the north side of the cathedral we find the door that gave access to the Almohad mosque, hence after access we find the courtyard or sahn. This door that maintains the Almohad features, some bronze doors and the original callers are preserved in the museum of the Cathedral. It is striking the large canvas run with a kufic inscription inside and atauriques where they show the praises of Allah. Until the 12th century the kufic lettering had triumphed in the monuments, but the italics were for the natural. On the right hand side of the door we find the rules that every man must follow when entering the sacred place, abandoning leisure and business. On the left, allusions to paradise, the access to the courtyard or garden is the clear allusion to Paradise.
One of the uses of the building is as a colossal pantheon. Its justification is to be found in the system of financing the construction of the temple, the donation. Many people, both clergymen and laymen, as well as the royal family, made donations in cash or in rustic and urban properties, with the condition of being buried in a chapel, officiating mass for the eternal rest of their souls. Under this condition, the Royal Chapel, a funeral chapel where the tomb of Fernando III is located, in a silver gilded urn, stands out. Under the High Altar, presided over by the Virgin of the Kings, there is a crypt where Pedro I, Doña María de Padilla, the infants Don Fadrique, Don Alonso and Don Pedro are buried, as well as contemporary infants, such as the children of the Dukes of Montpensier. At the entrance to the chapel, on either side, are the mortal remains of Alfonso X and Beatrice of Swabia. It is a Renaissance chapel, with a square floor plan covered with a dome and a lantern, and with a semicircular profile on the outside, acting as an apse.
It is one of the most admirable examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture. The Chapter House has an elliptical floor plan, which offers visibility to all the members in the meetings of the cathedral chapter, in which the problems of spiritual and material government of the temple were expressed and discussed. The expansion of the voice and its exceptional acoustics are also a consequence. The decoration of its walls, a complex iconographic program, exalts the virtues that had to be held by those who met there so that their exchanges of ideas and opinions were done in harmony and harmony. The iconographic programme was drawn up by Canon Francisco Pacheco, and includes a repertoire of sculptures and paintings accompanied by Latin inscriptions alluding to the content of the images. The vault contains a magnificent work of the Immaculate Conception by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, commissioned by the Chapter in 1667.
It is a single space conceived in a central plan in the form of a Greek cross with very reduced arms. Its space is covered with a dome that rests on pendentives. It is raised on pillars that support half columns and pilasters with their richly carved profile with plateresque carving. The arms of the cross are covered with fan-shaped vaults supported by bevels decorated with scallops. The dome is decorated with reliefs arranged in three rings, representing the Final Judgement and the Heavenly Court. On the wall of the chancel we find the traces of the three altars that were in each of the chapels, dismantled in the 19th century.
As is often the case in Spanish cathedrals, the location of the choir in the centre of the main nave helps to avoid great depth perspectives. It is decorated with stone walls, except on the front, where it is exceptionally well known for a Renaissance grille that is finished off with a crest with the central motif of the getse tree. Inside the choir are the ashlars composed of two bodies, in which 117 carved wooden seats are arranged. They are of Gothic-Mudejar style and represent saints in a sculptural way and scenes from the old and new testament in relief. Of great interest is the decorative set in the misericordias where a wide allegorical repertoire of the vices appears, personified in monstrous figures. The decorative process of the masonry ended in the 16th century. The lectern stands out for its large dimensions, a Renaissance work in wood and bronze, and the double-body organ with pipes.
Curiosities about the Cathedral of Seville
The stained glass windows of the Cathedral constitute one of the most extensive, homogeneous and best preserved groups of cathedrals in Spain. They are 79 and correspond to the beginning of what has been called “The Golden Age of Spanish stained glass”, which runs from 1480 to 1580, although it is a magnificent chapter to know the history of this technique in the peninsula from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. The shapes of the windows and the iconography are the result of different commissions and the different stages. The openings of the western half of the temple and the central nave correspond to the oldest period of the construction, the individualization and the great graphic precision can be appreciated.
It’s a repository for Christopher Columbus’ remains. The fame that the navigator of Portuguese origin had gained for the discoveries of the new world from the land that saw him leave and return, was the reason why the remains, which were in the Cathedral of Havana, were requested from the Cathedral of Seville. The fact is that the famous sailor of the Indians was transferred after the independence of Cuba in 1898. In Seville a monument was built to house his remains, located at the door of San Cristobal. It is located high up and there are 4 coffin bearers, representatives of the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Navarra and Aragon. Touching their feet can bring us luck, which is why hundreds of people pass their hand through each of these shoes and look so bright.
The bell tower has a unique and non-transferable decoration. The Islamic imprint is useful in its decorative program, we see it clearly in the 4 identical faces that vary in height as the ramp of its interior grows in height. That is to say, in spite of the fact that it is the same decoration, the interior ramp is the one that marks the height of the windows in its different faces. Its staggered faces allow us to understand the interior system with the wandering of the tower.
The lizard’s door is another one that is filled with mystery, as it is known for the lizard that hangs from the ceiling, next to an elephant tusk, the morsel of a horse and a staff. Legend has it that these are objects that King Alfonso X received as a gift from a sultan to ask for his daughter’s hand. After the monarch refused the request, he delivered the gifts to the Cathedral which, being of strange and exotic symbolism, decided to hang them by the door. Another theory is that each object symbolizes the cardinal virtue, so the crocodile the prudence, the tusk the strength, the morsel the temperance and the stick the justice.
Schedule to visit the Cathedral of Seville
This monument declared a World Heritage Site has to be adapted to the visit and to the celebration of religious and cultural events, hence its schedule can be modified. We recommend that you consult the calendar for more information on the day of your visit.
The site is open on Mondays from 11:00 to 15:30, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11:00 to 17:00 and Sundays from 14:30 to 18:00. The months of July and August (except 17 and 25 July) will be on Mondays from 10.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday from 10.30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The reduced timetable will apply on 5 January, 24 and 31 December from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will be closed on 1 January, 6 January and 25 December.
Eviction from the Cathedral and the Giralda begins 30 minutes after the ticket office closes.
Prices for visiting the Cathedral of Seville
The entrance fee includes the visit to the Gothic Cathedral, the Renaissance sacristies and chapter house, the treasury, the Giralda, the orange tree courtyard and the Church of the Saviour located in the Saviour’s Square (600 metres from the cathedral). The visiting areas can be modified, without previous notice, due to the celebration of acts of worship and cultural activities.
The entrance fee for adults is 10 euros, students up to 25 years of age and pensioners will pay 5 euros. Another option is the combined visit that includes the guided tour of the decks, its price is 16 euros.
Free access to the facilities is available to those who are nationals or residents of the Diocese of Seville, the unemployed, the disabled with a degree higher than 65%, minors up to 14 years of age accompanied by an adult and pensioners over 65 years of age. All of these will have to show the supporting document in access control.
The visit does not include an audio guide, it costs 4 euros, except for the free visit on Mondays from 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Radio guides can also be purchased for an additional 1 euro or the cathedral magazine for 1.50 euro.
How to get to the Cathedral
The Cathedral is located in the centre of the city, so access on foot is one of the best ways to get there, as well as to see the splendour of the whole complex from a distance. The monument, thanks to its Giralda, is visible from many areas of the city. Although there are several alternative options for getting there. The tram stops at the Archivo de Indias, and the metro at the Puerta de Jerez, both of which are just a few metres from the cathedral. Taxi drivers and horse-drawn carriages also stop in the vicinity of the cathedral.