Sevilla’s cathedral is the third largest church building in the world and the largest gothic building in the world. First built as Sevilla’s main mosque and minaret in 1181, the courtyard (Patio de los Naranjos) and minaret (which now forms the lower part of the Giralda bell tower) are the only parts remaining from these times. Building work on the existing cathedral started in 1401 and lasted over 100 years.
The cathedral was built to demonstrate the city’s wealth after the Reconquista and it was said that the idea of members of the cathedral chapter was to build such a magnificent and wondrous temple that “when they contemplate it, future generations will think us crazy”. The inside of the building is huge and one gets the sense that the goal was achieved.
The building is 126 metres long, 83 metres wide and the ceiling is up to 37 metres high. Although it is the technically the third largest church building, it is in fact the largest in the world by volume.
Just inside the main door of the cathedral stands the tomb of Christopher Columbus, held by four allegorical figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during Columbus’ lifetime: Castille, Aragon, Navara and Leon. This tomb was one of the last additions to the cathedral, installed in 1899.
Christopher Columbus was initially laid to rest in Valladolid in Spain, where he died in 1506. A short time later his body was moved to Sevilla, by orders of his surviving brother, Diego. In 1542 his remains were moved again, this time to Colonial Santa Domingo (now the Dominican Republic), where they remained for a few centuries. When Spain lost control of the Dominican Republic the remains were moved to Cuba until Spain lost control of Cuba 100 years later. Columbus’ remains were then shipped back to Spain and returned to Sevilla.
At the time of our visit, the High Altar was undergoing restoration and we were only able to see a life-sized photograph of what was behind the screen. This is the largest and richest altar in the world, measuring 360 square metres. The masterpiece was the life’s work of craftsman Fleming Pieter Dancart and is made up of over 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ, originally carved in wood in the Gothic style. Later it was evolved to the Renaissance style by Jorge Fernández and then to the gold leaf work of Alejo Fernández.
We wander through the Sacristía de los Cálices, where many of the Cathedral’s main art treasures are displayed, the Sacristía Mayor, home of the treasury, and the oval shaped Sala Capitular before heading towards the Giralda.
The Giralda was originally built under orders of the Almohad ruler Yousouf Yacoub al-Mansour as the minaret for Sevilla’s mosque in the middle of the 12th century. At the time it was used to called the Moors to prayer and as an astronomical observatory. The Giralda is now the bell tower of the Cathedral and is one of the tallest religious structures in the world. Originally it was 70 metres tall however, with the Christian addition, it now stands at almost 100 metres tall.
Inside the tower visitors may climb to the top. There are no stairs, only ramps wide enough for two guards on horseback. It is said that King Fernando III climbed to the top of the Giralda on horseback on the day the city was taken. When we reach the top we admire the panoramic views of the city, spot the landmarks, such as the Plaza de Torros, and look down on the Cathedral.
TOP TIP: The queue for the cathedral can be quite long, especially during the high-season, so if you can purchase your tickets online before your visit. Tickets cost 9€ per person (discounted tickets for children, students, etc. cannot be applied online). The cathedral’s opening hours are: Mondays -11:00 to 15:30, Tuesday to Saturday – 11:00 to 17:00 and Sundays 14:30 to 18:00 (these times are subject to change without notice).
- Nuñez, J. (ed) n.d., Seville in Focus, EDILUX
- Information leaflet provided at the Seville Cathedral.