The view from the top of Seville Cathedral’s bell tower, the Islamic-inflected Giralda, is one of the Andalucían capital’s most striking sights.
The cloudless sky adds a shimmer to the brown and white shades of the city’s architecture and the distant clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages resonating on the Plaza del Triunfo below. And yet the climb to the top of the minaret can be a discombobulating experience as visitors try to process the centuries of history echoing from the edifice’s past.
Legend has it the church authorities wanted to create a building so large, ‘as to make future generations think we were mad’. A tour of the cathedral does nothing to dispel that.
Perhaps the most enigmatic aspect is the burial site of Christopher Columbus.
Originally buried in Havana, the authorities transferred his remains to Spain in 1492. A monumental tomb, held aloft by four ornate figures, was sculpted to house his corporeal form.
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This situation became a controversial topic, and doubts still stand over the tomb’s authenticity.
However, to the casual observer, swept away by the building’s grandiosity, the idea of a major historical figure ensconced within its walls, genuine or not, flows nicely with the perverse scale of the structure.
Unsurprisingly, the cathedral has acquired the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its interior is magnificent, playing host to many chapels, treasures, sculptures and relics.
Stained glass windows illuminate the five-aisled interior and cast light on the choir area of the principal transept.
Most eye-catching of all is the golden Retablo Mayor, the 26-metre tall altarpiece in the main chapel. It seemingly stretches up the building’s vaulted ceiling. Hundreds of sculpted figures line its carved panels, telling stories from the life of Christ.
A walk through the chapel into the orange tree courtyard, the Patio de Los Naranjos, is another sensory explosion. The green leaves of the trees set out in a grid formation combine magnificently with sky’s deep blue above. Oranges, the courtyard’s namesake, add delightful pips of colour to proceedings.
The sun casts a new light on the cathedral’s exterior and picks out new elements of its restrained grandeur.
Most notable is La Giralda, the 42-metre high minaret now converted to a bell tower. Its interlaced arches give the broadest example of the Islamic influences which went into the cathedral’s design and points most clearly to the site’s history as a mosque.
And once visitors reach the top of the tower, another grand view presents itself.
A 360-degree panorama sweeps around Seville. A striking bird’s eye view of the cathedral’s buttresses and the courtyard below stretches to the waffle-like Metropol Parasol and catches a glimpse of the equally grand Alcazar, the Royal Palace, next door.
The feeling is mesmeric and the atmosphere respectful. Down below, the bell makes a satisfying clang, and the hubbub of Seville continues. As it has done for centuries, the cathedral stands guard in the city’s heart, a symbolic sentinel safeguarding its awe-inspiring heritage.