Conquering the New World in 1492 made Seville Spain one of Europe’s most affluent cities and the financial epicenter of the Spanish Empire. It was a veritable dumping ground for the gold Conquistadors pillaged from Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and anyone else in South America who wasn’t Catholic. Today, all that ill-gotten gain is on full display in every castle, church, and building that isn’t a Starbucks.
So where exactly is Seville in Spain?
Located in the western part of Andalusia, Seville—pronounced “Sa-VEE-ah”—is the name of both a southern Spanish province and its capital. Unlike other cities in Spain, Seville wasn’t built on a plateau 2,000 feet above sea-level, or on the edge of a horrifying 400-foot-high ravine. Instead, it was located inland, about 60-miles up the Rio Guadalquivir.
The working hypothesis for choosing this spot was that invading armies would have to sail their ships up the river, making them sitting ducks for Spanish archers lining both river banks. They even strung a chain across the river from the base of the Torre del Oro watchtower to prevent enemy ships from attacking the city. Regardless, Seville was invaded and conquered, like, five separate times. Still, it was a nice theory. Good effort, Seville.
The climate of Seville Spain is furnace-like.
Like most of Spain, Seville is dryer than powdered cinnamon, and only slightly cooler than the Sahara. Hell, it was 106-degrees Fahrenheit while we were there in May, and that wasn’t even Summertime. Happily, it didn’t feel that miserable because this ancient city has long understood the importance of shade. Tragically, that shade mostly comes from trees.
Trees are everywhere in Seville Spain, and many of those trees produce more pollen than the Sackler family did opioids. Every time we stepped outdoors, our sinuses instantly went apoplectic, triggering a sudden impairment of all neurological function and tsunami-level sneezing attacks. So bring a lot of facial tissue if you come here, and maybe a spare nose.
The Seville was Cadillac’s answer to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. No, seriously.
From 1976 to 2004, the Cadillac Seville was intended to win back America’s European car buyers. It had become obvious—even to the heads of GM, incredibly—that their “Bigger Is Better” automotive philosophy was losing its appeal to more worldly Americans. So the Seville was designed as a smaller, but more expensive Cadillac, effectively inverting their traditional marketing and pricing strategy. To make matters worse, they built the car on GM’s X-body platform, the same one that underpinned the Chevy Nova. That’s right, GM built their most expensive new car on the same chassis as one of their cheapest. Incredibly, Cadillac found over 43,000 suckers to drive Sevilles off the showroom floor the first year.
A little historical background on Seville Spain.
Seville Spain was allegedly founded around 200BCE by an Ancient Roman dude named Hercules. He’s not to be confused with the Ancient Greek bro named Heracles, a totally different guy also famous for his strength and far-ranging adventures. It’s said that Hercules sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Atlantic, a ballsy move considering the lack of GPS at the time. After that stunt, he started a trading post where Seville now resides, likely to sell sick Hercules merch to all his fans.
The Ancient Romans then ruled Seville—and the rest of Spain—for more than six centuries, until around 500CE. During that time, the Romans were busy. Not only did they build roads, baths, and aqueducts—as Romans back then were wont to do. They also developed the city into one of the great markets and industrial centers on the Iberian Peninsula. Those once-polytheist bastards even converted to Christianity! Honestly, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t watch any TV.
Muslims take Seville to the next level.
Yet it was the Muslims who had the most significant and lasting impact on the city. Morocco’s Abbadid dynasty invaded the city in 712CE and reigned in Seville for over 500 years, until 1248CE. During this Muslim period, some of the city’s finest and fanciest buildings were designed and constructed.
Moorish craftsmen used their mad design skills to create beautiful Moorish-style buildings with intricate graphic details and even Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance elements shoehorned in. The results were impressive structures like the Torre del Oro, La Giralda, and parts of Seville’s Royal Castle that survived mostly intact to this day.
Around 1228CE, a crisis of ruling succession drew the city’s Muslim rulers back to Morocco. The political chaos gave Castilian Christians in the north of Spain an opening they could use to annex the region. Once the Abbadid leaders had all buggered-off back home, King Fernando III and Team Christianity got to romp through the south of Spain virtually unopposed.
Fernando and his posse of partisans retook the city with barely a fight. What followed “The Reconquering” was a period of peaceful—albeit brief—cohabitation among Christians, Jews, and Muslims known as “La Convivencia.” (SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t last.)
The Royal Castle of Seville would make a killer Airbnb, amiright?
King Fernando III and his God Squad strode into Seville Spain like a boss and he immediately called dibs on the Real Alcázar (nee, Royal Castle) previously occupied by the Abbadid dynasty.
Sadly, this former residential fortress wasn’t up to Fernando’s high building standards, so it was destroyed. Fernando then had it rebuilt into the preeminent example of a Mudéjar-style crib, combining all three major architectural styles of the time.
It’s so fantastical looking that the production company for HBO’s fantasy series, “Game of Thrones” didn’t have to embellish anything with computer graphics after they shot location scenes here.
Yet, Fernando never saw his artistic vision fully realized. By the time this new Royal Castle was move-in ready, King Fernando III was long dead and the 16-year-old King Peter “The Cruel” of Castile was in charge.
The new king allegedly “lisped a little” and constantly insisted that he “loved women greatly,” despite suspiciously never staying married to any of them for very long. Remarkably, he managed to sire nine kids anyway.
The Christian King was also said to be “friendly” with both Jews and Muslims, presumably only the attractive, male ones. Still, the duties of state undoubtedly weighed heavily on the young king, like a swarthy, sweaty Arabian warrior in full battle regalia.
Peter wasn’t comforted by his religious advisors—for obvious reasons—and was excommunicated due to his cruelties towards them. Ironically, the nickname instead stemmed from his unpleasant habit of just straight up murdering lots of people. He was a real son-of-a-bitch, to be sure, but he was still better behaved than most Airbnb guests.
I suspect the Seville Cathedral is overcompensating for something.
Seville’s St. Mary of the See Cathedral is the fourth-largest church in the world, and the largest Gothic church, period. It was built from 1401 to 1519 directly on top of a previous Moorish mosque, which was built atop an old Visigoth fortress, which was built atop an even older Roman structure. So the chances of this cathedral not being haunted by the souls of long-dead Muslims, Visigoths, and/or Romans, are vanishingly slim.
After its completion in the early 16th century, the Seville Cathedral supplanted Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia as The World’s Largest Cathedral, a title the Hagia Sophia had held unchallenged for a thousand years. Clearly, it was time for some new blood of Christ in that dick-measuring contest.
Besides being among the largest of all medieval and Gothic cathedrals, the interior of Seville Cathedral is also lavishly decorated with obscene, Versace-esque displays of goldness. Specifically, the tons of gold that massacre-minded Spanish conquistadors brought back as “souvenirs” from their New World sightseeing cruise. Evidently, the native Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans didn’t sell tchotchkes, jewelry, or air-brushed t-shirts.
A visit to Casa de Pilatos is worth your time.
Casa de Pilatos (aka, House of Mind-Body Exercise) is a prime example of non-religious Mudéjar architecture in the center of Seville, and one of the most beautiful private palaces you can legally traipse through as a gawking commoner.
After acquiring and cobbling together more than ten properties of prime downtown real estate (in what was surely a totally legal maneuver), Pedro Enríquez, the Chief Governor of Andalusia, began construction in 1483 on what would become the second-largest palace in Seville Spain.
Over the next 47 years, the compound incorporated numerous extensions and new spaces, each with details reflecting the aesthetics of its successive period of time.
Today, the palace consists of over 10,000 square meters—that’s 107,639 sq ft(!)—of rooms, patios, and gardens. Casa de Pilatos is considered one of the most striking sights in Spain and has been the object of study in numerous textbooks about art, architecture, and income-inequality.
Towers were the “height” of technology in 12th Century Spain.
La Giralda was once the minaret of an old Moorish mosque, where clerics would chant the “Call to Prayer” at an ungodly hour. The structure later converted to Christianity to get more sleep in the morning, and to be eligible for the job as Seville Cathedral’s bell tower.
Built in the 12th Century, the tower is 342 ft tall, but more interestingly, about 50′ wide at the base. Why so wide? So horses could climb to the top. Yeah, freaking horses! I don’t know what’s more impressive; that horses could climb a tower, or that they could chant the call to prayer?
The tower gets its name from the weather-vane attached to its top, once the largest bronze sculpture of the European Renaissance. Originally called “The Triumph of the Victorious Faith,” it was ultimately shortened to “Giralda” or “Giraldillo,” because even back then, people had other things to do.
We visited Plaza de “Attack Of The Clones.”
I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Star Wars® franchise, but I have nevertheless watched them all. And, while sitting through the muddled morass that was “Attack of the Clones,” I distinctly remember a scene where Anakin Skywalker, Padmé, and R2-D2 all take an Aaron Sorkin-style “walk and talk” together through some fancy-looking ancient building.
Turns out, that fancy-looking ancient building was the Plaza de España in Seville Spain. Of course, I don’t remember what the two characters were talking about, because, like everyone else in the theater, I had nodded off long before then. It was boring. Gods, the movie was boring. The plaza, luckily, wasn’t.
More Seville in popular culture.
“The Barber of Seville” was a comic opera created by Giovanni Paisiello, based on a play by Pierre Beaumarchais, and set to a libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini. Not to be confused with Warner Brothers’ animated “Rabbit of Seville,” this famous opera was first performed in 1782 and tells the timeless story of a wily rabbit being chased by a dim-witted hunter named Elmer.
The Santa Cruz Quarter is more like four-fifths.
Overall, the city of Seville is damn attractive. It has charming European barrios (neighborhoods) with picturesque plazas and narrow streets that provide protection from the hot Spanish sun.
The Santa Cruz quarter is Seville’s old Jewish quarter. Within it, most of the popular tourist sites are concentrated. It’s also where the city’s entire Jewish population were concentrated before 1492. That’s when King Ferdinand III booted them out of Spain entirely for not being Catholic enough.
You wouldn’t be stupid to visit Seville Spain.
Seville is renowned for its rich history, art, and architecture—for good reasons. The place was rolling in dough for decades, like Miami during the 1980s, and it shows.
Around every corner, there’s an endless array of spectacular buildings showcasing architectural innovation, where someone will offer to sell you cocaine.