It is the world’s largest gothic cathedral and third largest church. The only interior space we have seen that compares with the vast heights and grandeur of the Seville Cathedral is the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, which we described in a prior blog entry.
Indeed, having seen both, it seems apparent that Gaudi must have received inspiration from the Seville Cathedral, built four centuries earlier.
Skeptics might dismiss it as mere illusion, wrought by legions of ingenious architects, artists and craftspeople, but these extraordinary interior spaces give the visitor a distinct sense of being in the presence of the Divine.
Inside the Seville Cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus, whose discovery of America played a huge role in Seville’s subsequent history, several centuries after the great cathedral was built. It was revealing to see the esteem in which Columbus is held in Spain. They are unabashed in their admiration for the great explorer, whose reputation in the Americas is much more controversial.
The Seville Cathedral was built over the ruins of a great mosque dating back to the 10th or 11th Century. The mosque itself was destroyed, supposedly by an earthquake, clearing the way for the Cathedral. But major portions of the old Moorish complex are preserved, including a beautiful courtyard and a huge minaret known as the Giralda.
We climbed to the top of the Giralda. It is a wondrous specimen of Islamic architecture as well as engineering, straight as an arrow and perfectly proportioned.
Amazingly, there are no steps inside the tower, not until you reach the uppermost portion (which was added by the Christians, centuries after it was built). Instead, a long, continuous ramp, circling around the center, leads all the way up from the ground level.
We noticed the ceiling above our heads as we ascended the ramp was quite high. Later we learned that it was indeed built so that the Mu’adhan, who recites the adhan (call to prayer) five times a day, could ride a horse or donkey to the top of the minaret, and back down, rather than walk.
From the top of the tower, all of Seville is visible, including, just below, the courtyard of the ancient mosque, lined with orange trees.
The uneasy but centuries-old juxtaposition of ancient Islamic art and architecture, directly alongside medieval Christian art and architecture, is especially evident in Seville.
It was only the afternoon of our very first day in Seville, and we hadn’t even checked into our apartment yet. But already we were absorbing history beyond what we had imagined, and our hearts were opening to the beauty and refinement of Seville.