UNESCO Heritage Sites and must-sees in Seville
Walking through the streets of Seville, you’ll notice a jumble of architectural styles. Ancient Gothic churches with stone doorways sit next to early 20th century brick buildings with colorful ceramic tiles and Moorish horseshoe-shaped arches; beautiful mansions with flower-filled patios, Roman columns and renaissance towers.
Similarly, three impressive but very different buildings make up Seville’s Unesco World Heritage complex – the Cathedral, the Alcazar (Royal Palace) and the Archive of the Indies. Together, this trio of monuments takes us through three key centuries in Seville’s extraordinary history. After the Romans and Visigoths, the city was ruled by Moors (North African Muslims) for 500 years. Reconquered in the 13th century by Spanish Catholic kings, at first the city’s communities – Christians, Muslims who stayed behind, and Jews (Seville had the second-largest Jewish community in Spain) – lived harmoniously together.
During this period the finest part of the Alcazar was built in mudejar (Christian-Islamic) style, and then came the vast cathedral, making Seville the ultimate expression of a multicultural medieval city – a Gothic basilica next to a quasi-Islamic palace.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the so-called “Indies” heralded the arrival of untold riches to Seville. At the same time however, the Spanish Inquisition, based in the city, started targeting non-Catholics. As Spain’s main trading port, Seville enjoyed a Golden Age. Churches, monasteries and convents sprung up, filled with religious-themed paintings by Velazquez, Murillo and Zurbarán which you can see in the Fine Arts Museum, the Cathedral and other historic sites.
Gold, silver, tobacco, as well as slaves arriving from the New World were traded at the Casa Lonja de Mercadores (Merchants’ Trading House), later converted into an archive to store thousands of documents relating to the Spanish Empire – the Archivo de Indias.
Seville is a compact city, and these three magnificent monuments, located just meters away from each other, provide you with the perfect historical context to start your discovery of this vibrant and endlessly fascinating southern Spanish metropolis.
This behemoth took an entire century to build – it has 80 chapels and numerous priceless works of art by Zubarán and Murillo, including the Inmaculada (Virgin Mary) painting in the Chapter House. One of the main must-sees is Christopher Columbus’ magnificent tomb, and be sure to climb the Giralda tower for fabulous views of barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish Quarter. The children’s audio guide is recommended – informative and interesting, but picking out only the main highlights. Don’t miss the exquisite Puerta del Perdon, through which you leave, dating from the Almohad mosque which originally stood here.
Cathedral de Santa Maria de la Sede
Avenida de la Constitution, Seville
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King Peter’s Palace
Hidden behind castle walls opposite the cathedral, the palace complex unwraps itself to visitors – from the Lion’s Gate where you enter, past Arabic walls and impressive patios and into the room where Columbus signed the contract for his voyage with Queen Isabella. But the most magical part is the Palace of Pedro the Cruel, with its Mudejar patios and intricately carved arches. In the Ambassadors’ Hall you’ll need a few minutes to absorb the stunning gold ceiling, then venture on into the pretty gardens, with palms, pools and pavilions, best seen from the grutesco walkway above the grounds.
Reales Alcazares de Sevilla
Patio de Banderas, Seville
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Documenting the Empire
Between the Cathedral and the Alcazar you’ll find the third building of Seville’s Unesco complex. This large square edifice was originally built in the 16th century as the Casa Lonja de Mercadores (Merchants’ Trading House), for all the goods which flooded in from the New World. Documents from Columbus and Magellan, whose trips were planned in the city, along with a multitude of historic materials, trace the founding and administration of Spain’s colonies. Temporary exhibitions around the theme of the Spanish Empire are often held here.
Archivo de Indias
Avenida de la Constitucion 3, Seville
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The Mushrooms and the Roman remains
The 21st century springs up in Seville’s heart with this postmodern forest of wood-lattice mushrooms, the largest wooden structure in the world. Officially called Metropol Parasol, the multi-layered entity was designed by German architect H Jurgen Mayer, and is popularly known as Las Setas (The Mushrooms). Skateboarders use its stalks as ramps, foodies mooch through its market, history fans will enjoy the Roman remains in the basement and everyone should go up to the swooping rooftop walkway with fabulous city views.
Metropol Parasol and the Antiquarium
Plaza Encarnacion , Seville
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Art lover’s dream
Like many grand buildings in Seville, this was originally a convent. With peaceful patios, pools and tiled seats, its galleries offer the finest Golden Age works – paintings of religious themes such as the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and saints, strikingly lit and richly-colored.
Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum)
Plaza del Museo, Seville
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A mighty defensive tower built on the riverbank by the Almohad dynasty just after the Giralda, this was part of the city’s fortified walls with more than 150 towers in total. Now it’s a naval museum – climb up to the roof for the best views over the Guadalquivir (which means “mighty river” in Arabic).
Torre del Oro
Paseo de Cristobal Colon, Seville
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Published: January 14, 2020