Visiting the Cathedral of Seville and the Giralda Bell Tower
As churches go, the Cathedral of Seville ranks right up there with the grandest of them all. A worthy rival to the grand cathedrals of Italy, the Cathedral of Seville has the distinction of being the largest cathedral, and the third-largest church, in the world behind St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil.
Regardless of where it ranks, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is immense in both stature and majesty and is certainly a must-see on any visit to Seville.
The Seville Cathedral is considered the largest cathedral in the world, as both St. Peters and Our Lady of Aparecida are not seats of bishops and therefore do not qualify as cathedrals.
Along with many other historical buildings in southern Spain, the Cathedral of Seville was constructed during the time of the Moorish occupation and was originally a mosque. In 1248, after the Christian conquest of Seville, the mosque was transformed into a cathedral. Early in the 15th century during a time of great prosperity for Seville, the decision was made to build a new cathedral that would rival any in the world.
After over 100 years of construction, the final result was pretty much the cathedral we see today, massive in size and with a more Gothic look. Despite a new cathedral being built, some elements of the original mosque were retained including the courtyard and the minaret, which was later modified into the current Giralda Bell Tower.
Skipping the Line
The cathedral is perhaps the top destination for visitors to Seville along with the nearby Alcazar (royal palace). Over 1.2 million visitors flock here annually, and depending on the time of year you are visiting the lines to enter can be long. An easy way to avoid the long queue is to first visit the nearby Church of El Salvador, beautiful in its own right, and then use your ticket to skip the line at the cathedral. We used this strategy and it worked perfectly saving us precious time.
As large as the cathedral is you really don’t get a sense for the magnitude of this church until you enter. Once inside, its massive columns and 80 separate chapels will leave you in awe. When visiting these grand cathedrals I am always struck by not just the enormity of the building itself, but also the intricate detail work that must have taken skilled craftsmen years to perfect. These cathedrals really are works of art, and thankfully have been well preserved for generations to enjoy.
Exploring the Interior
Once you get over the sheer size of the interior it’s time to explore the treasures within. Most visitors will, of course, want to see the tomb of Christopher Columbus. His tomb is located not far from the entrance and it is hard to miss, prominently perched atop the shoulders of four knights. The Knights represent the four regions of Spain during the time of Columbus: Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Navarro.
Years of debate over whether the remains here are indeed those of Columbus were seemingly put to rest when DNA tests conducted in 2006 on the remains matched DNA from Columbus’s brother, who is also buried in Seville. Skeptics, however, point to the fact that Columbus’s body was moved many times after his death and prefer to believe his remains are still buried in the Dominican Republic.
Unbeknown to many visitors is that the son of Christopher Columbus, Diego, is also buried in the cathedral. Other notable dignitaries buried here include Ferdinand III of Castile who liberated the city from the Moors, and Pedro I and Alfonso X, who both ruled Castile during the Middle Ages.
Of the 80 Chapels in the cathedral, the most opulent is certainly the Capilla Mayor or the Great Chapel. Carved from wood and covered with gold, it is the largest altarpiece in the world at over 20 meters in height, and also the most expensive. The gold that adorns the Capilla Mayor was brought to Spain from the Americas and is a testament to the prosperity of Seville during this period.
This incredible work of art was done by a single craftsman, Flemish artist Pieter Dancart, who hand-carved each of the 45 scenes representing the life of Christ. Dancart spent 44 years working on this single work of art. Absolutely incredible!
The other Chapel to take note of is the Capilla Real or the Royal Chapel. This lavishly decorated domed chapel was constructed during the 16th century and was built to house the royal tombs interred here. This includes Ferdinand III, his son Alfonso X the Wise, and King Peter of Castile. There is a crypt beneath the Royal Chapel where many of the tombs are located.
There was a mass being held in the Capilla Real during our visit and I was unable to get a photo. When visiting any church or cathedral, please be respectful and remember that these are places of worship.
The Seville Cathedral contains 15 very large doors, each given a name and elaborately decorated.
As you roam the cavernous interior don’t miss visiting the Great Sacristy, which houses the cathedral’s museum and is somewhat hidden. The treasury of the cathedral is also located here and contains a number of works of art by Spanish artists including Goya and Murillo. Also here are the “Keys to Seville”, presented to Castilian King Fernando by the Moors upon the surrender of the city in 1248.
Climbing the Giralda Tower
Before you exit the cathedral be sure to walk the ramps to the top of the Giralda Tower. Built during the late 12th century as a minaret during the Moorish period, it was converted into a bell tower after the Christian conquest. At 104 meters (342 feet), the tower dominates the skyline of historic Seville.
The ramps make the climb a little easier and were used instead of stairs to allow horses to climb the minaret. There are strategically placed displays as you climb that allow for breaks and give some of the history of the tower.
Once at the top, the view is stunning and reveals Seville in all its glory. As you look to the west, you will see Seville’s bullfighting ring, while just to the south is a wonderful view of the Alcazar and the Jewish Quarter.
From the tower you can now head to the large courtyard, called the Patio de los Naranjos (patio of the oranges). The courtyard remains from the days when this was a mosque, and its fountain was used by worshippers to wash their hands and feet prior to their daily prayer. Today it’s a wonderful spot to sit and relax after touring the cathedral. The orange trees provide ample shade and the view of the tower and cathedral is beautiful.
- Adults: 9 euro
- Students, and those over age 65: 4 euro
- Free for minors under age 15, those unemployed, and people with disabilities over age 65.
- Monday: 11 am to 3:30 pm
- Tuesday to Saturday: 11 am to 5 pm
- Sunday: 2:30 pm to 6 pm
- During July and August, hours are extended.
Don’t forget, purchase your ticket at the nearby Church of El Salvador and you can skip the line at the Seville Cathedral.
Your visit complete, it’s time to explore the many other amazing sites here in Seville. I hope you enjoyed this tour of one of the world’s great cathedrals that is certainly the heart and soul of Seville.
© 2018 Bill De Giulio