Beautiful Seville, the capital of Andalusia, has an incredible amount to offer: breathtaking architecture, tranquil gardens dating back a thousand years, history on every corner, art, benign weather and great nightlife.
Many of the must-see places are located in the city centre and tourists tend to head straight to the cathedral, the nearby Royal Palace or the Museo de Bellas Artes.
We’ve blazed a trail that visits those locations and also swings by some other places that are well worth a visit, even if you only have a short time here. We’ve tossed in eight of our trademark trivia questions along the way to keep you on your toes! Answers at the end.
So, step out into the orange-tree lined cobbled streets of Seville and follow this trail of discovery.
We start our exploration on the bank of the river at the ancient Torre del Oro or Tower of Gold. It was built in 1220 as part of the town’s defences when Seville was ruled by the Moorish Almohads. There was a similar tower on the opposite bank of the river and a massive chain would be stretched between them to prevent ships sailing up the river.
There is debate over the origin of the tower’s name. Some believe it comes from the golden reflection on the river from the walls which were made of lime mortar and compacted straw. Others say it once had gilded elements attached to it or perhaps it comes from the New World gold that was unloaded here.
Nowadays the Torre del Oro contains a brilliant maritime museum and, from the top, extensive views of the river and city.
Q1: What is the name of the river? a) Guadalupe b) Guadalquivir c) Guadalcanal
Walk along the shady river bank past the modern Opera House, the Teatro de la Maestranza, and you’ll soon come to the bullring, dazzlingly white on a sunny day. It’s said to be the finest in Spain. Construction on this stone building started in 1760 to replace an earlier wooden structure.
It’s an intricate design and took until 1880 to complete. Even if you don’t like the idea of bullfights, the museum with its collections of costumes and paintings, the chapel and stables is a fascinating place to visit.
Continuing the trail, head away from the river and up Calle Garcia de Venuesa to find the Puerta del Perdon on the north side of the cathedral. Try not to get lost in the maze of small alleyways that makes up the El Arenal district of the city.
Puerta del Perdon or Gate of Forgiveness is a stucco engraved masterpiece from the original Almohad mosque which stood here. The top of the arch is embellished with verses from the Holy Quran, below which is a 16th century bas-relief of Jesus driving the merchants from the temple.
The gate leads into the Patio de los Naranjos, where, in Moorish times, worshippers would wash their hands and feet in the fountain under the orange trees before praying.
Ahead of you is the impressive Cathedral of Seville, the biggest cathedral in the world when it was completed in the early 16th century. It took over a century to build and still holds the size record.
The Puerta del Lagarto doorway leads from this courtyard into the cathedral and, like many parts of the building, has a story to tell. In 1260 the Sultan of Egypt sent gifts to King Alfonso X (‘The Wise’) asking for the hand of his daughter in marriage. The king declined the offer and returned the gifts, except three that he had really taken a shine to: an elephant tusk, a crocodile and a giraffe.
Q2: A 16th century replica of one these is hanging over the door. Which one? a) crocodile b) elephant tusk c) giraffe
In the cathedral there is so much to see that it can be overwhelming, but be sure to visit the tomb of Christopher Columbus and don’t miss the incredible golden Capilla Mayor in the main chapel.
After exploring the interior, head outside to find the ancient La Giralda, the bell tower crowned with a beautiful weathervane. This structure was originally a minaret, completed in 1198, but the Islamic spheres at the top were replaced in the 15th century when the cathedral was built. In 1568 the belfry was added to replace the earlier top of the tower.
Q3: What does the weathervane, or giraldillo, represent? a) Faith b) Hope c) Charity
Relax for a while and admire La Giralda from the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. There are tapas bars and restaurants, flower sellers and horse drawn carriages for hire. On the north side is the Archbishop’s Palace with its magnificent baroque doorway, while opposite is the whitewashed Convento de la Encarnacion, founded in 1591, which retains its facade in the Mudejar style.
On the wall of the convent you can find a stone referring to an inn called Corral de los Olmos that once stood in the plaza. This hostelry featured in the works of Cervantes, the best-known writer in the Spanish language.
Q4: Cervantes joined the navy as a young man but this career was cut short when he was… a) stranded on a desert island b) taken ill with scurvy c) captured by pirates.
If you walk down the road between the cathedral and the convent you’ll find a Baroque column among the trees and hedges of this formal plaza.
Q5: This column marks the survival of Seville from a natural disaster in 1755. What happened? a) Flood b) Earthquake c) Locusts
There is a fine building at the side of the cathedral, constructed in the 16th century as a ‘lonja’ or trading exchange. It is now the Archivo de Indias housing the archives of the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Philipines. It covers the period from the first of the conquistadores to the end of the 19th century and includes 86 million handwritten letters and other documents including 8,000 maps and drawings.
Around the corner is the Peurta del Leon entrance to the Real Alcazar. It’s easy to find – look for the red wall with the ceremonial lion depicted above.
The Alcazar was built by the Moorish Almohad rulers and turned into a royal palace on the orders of Pedro I in 1364. It is a truly outstanding example of mudejar architecture and renowned as one of the most beautiful buildings in Spain. The upper floors are still used by the Spanish Royal family and it is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.
Q6: The royal family belongs to the House of Bourbon, dating from the 13th century. Which other country’s royal family is from this house? a) Romania b) England c) Luxembourg.
The palace and the gardens are an absolute delight and not to be missed.
There is more to see, so head along the wide street in front of the cathedral, Constitution Avenue, with its twin tramlines.
At the end of the street with the Ayuntamiento (city hall) straight in front of you, the Banco de Espana building is on your right with the statue of Mercury in front of it on a high plinth.
The Plaza de San Francisco which fronts the town hall is not specially pretty, but it has been Seville’s main square since the 16th century. It’s a bustling place, shaded in summer by giant overhead sunshades.
Q7: What was the unit of currency of this country for hundreds of years from the 14th century to the mid 19th century, eight of these being equal to one Peso or Spanish Dollar? a) Real b) Escudo c) Paseta
Head around the north side of the building and into the Plaza Nueva. In the centre of the square is the equestrian statue of Fernando III, celebrated for liberating Seville from the Moors in 1248. Fernando was quite a guy: he was King of Castile as well as King of Galicia and Leon and was canonized by the Pope in 1671. He has places named after him all over the world, including the San Fernando Valley in California.
Q8: What was Fernando known as? a) the Conqueror b) the Saint c) the Great
At the far right hand end of the plaza, walk up Calle Mendez Nunez and you’ll come to the beautiful parish church of Real Parroquia de Santa Maria Magdalena.
You can see the interior virtually on a 360 degree virtual tour: http://visitavirtual.rpmagdalena.org/
Walk up Calle Bailen next to the church and you soon reach the Seville Museum of Fine Arts. This used to be a convent, build in the early 17th century, and is now known as one of the best fine art galleries in Spain. It is a glorious place to see an extensive collection of the works of Murillo and other renowned Spanish artists in a peaceful setting of cloistered courtyards. Don’t miss it.
We will leave you here admiring the paintings and sculptures and indeed the building itself with features such as the domed ceiling of the restored convent church.
There is so much more to experience on a visit to Seville. Go and see a flamenco show – if you’ve never experienced flamenco before you’ll be blown away by the music and raw passion. Tapas bars, a cruise on the river, the beautiful Plaza de Espana, the old tobacco factory immortalised in the opera, Carmen – it’s all waiting for you!
Planning a visit? Take a look at the Tourism website: https://www.visitasevilla.es/en
How did you do on the quiz? Here are the answers: 1b, 2a, 3a, 4c, 5b, 6c, 7a, 8b.