Also known as Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, the Cathedral of Seville is the 3rd largest church building in the world and also the 3rd biggest one in Europe, after Saint Peter (in the Vatican) and Saint Paul ( in London, UK). It is also the most beautiful and spectacular one of all of Spain, followed by the one in Toledo. Cervantes, the creator of Don Quixote de la Mancha, once said the famous phrase: If you haven’t seen Seville, you haven’t seen a marvel!
Its construction started in 1401, after the Christians reconquered Seville, and it ended in 1506. The Cathedral of Seville was built on the site of a grand Almohad Mosque dating back to the 12th Century. There were two main reasons for which the cathedral was errected. The first one was that the old mosque was badly damaged after an earthquake. The second second reason was that the rulers of Seville wanted to demonstrate the city’s wealth and power as well as the Christian’s domination over the Muslims. In the planning stages, a member of the chapter is said to have commented: “we shall have a church of such a kind that those who see it built will think we were mad.”
The only two parts of the mosque that have been preserved are the Giralda, originally a minaret that was later converted into a bell tower, and the Patio de los Naranjos (Patio of the Oranges) the Moorish entrance court.
The sumptuous interior of the cathedral, with a central nave and four side aisles, is luxuriously decorated. Gold is everywhere. But at the same time, there is an overall sense of moderation and simplicity in the decoration. The cathedral is entered on the south side, via the Puerta de San Cristóbal. Just off the center of the nave, stands the monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida.
The tomb is held up high by four allegorical figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during Columbus’ life, Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon. Columbus was originally buried in the cathedral of Havana, on the island he had discovered on his first voyage in 1492, but was moved to Seville in 1902 during the Cuban revolution. The authenticity of his remains were largely disputed, but the DNA tests done in 2006 confirmed that the tomb in the Cathedral of Seville are indeed those of the great explorer.
When visiting the cathedral, you can also climb to the top of the Giralda, the bell tower, which was originally the minaret of the mosque. Unlike other cathedrals, the climb is not up a long winding staircase. Instead of stairs, there is a series of ramps that lead to the top, with plenty of alcove windows along the way where you can snap some great pictures over the city. But the best views await you at the top.
In 1987, along with the city’s Alcazar (the royal palace in Seville), the Cathedral of Seville was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.