The Seville Cathedral, locally known as Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, is the third largest church in the world. With my penchant for Catholic churches, it was inevitable that it would feature as one of the two main attractions when we visited the capital of Andalucía. An earthquake in 1356 badly damaged the city’s mosque and the then Christian rulers made the decision to build “… a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad…” on its remains. It is indeed a spectacular Gothic masterpiece and I was in awe from the moment I laid eyes on it.
Ducking expertly past the gypsy women aggressively trying to foist bunches of rosemary off on any passing tourist, we waited in the long queue to enter the cathedral, admiring the architecture and the statue of the saint. We had promised Gareth’s parents, who had decided to stay outside, that we wouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes. But once we’d paid the €8 per person entry fee and was ushered into the cathedral, we knew we couldn’t possibly be there for less than an hour. In fact, I think it turned out to be closer than two hours.
The first thing that struck me was the sense of space. It’s not as big as St Paul’s in the Vatican, but it’s BIG. And every inch of it is decorated. I hardly knew where to look. There were beautiful oil paintings, gold and silver relics, inscriptions on tombs on the floor, a breathtaking golden altarpiece (the largest in the world) and colourful stained-glass windows. An angled mirror placed in the main sacristy allows you to get a better view of the intricately worked dome above. And the pièce de résistance (for me at least) was stumbling upon the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which I hadn’t known was there before we came.
And, also according to tradition, I had to make my way to the highest point in the cathedral for a view across the city. That meant climbing to the top of La Giralda, the original mosque’s minaret which has been converted into a bell tower and now serves as the symbol of Seville. Unlike other towers, this one was moderately easy to climb, because it has a series of 35 ramps wide enough to accommodate two guards on horseback instead of stairs. I was still winded when I finally reached the top, though. Gareth had a wonderful time taking pictures of the bells (“the bells, the bells!”), which started ringing while we were up there. It was with great reluctance, and legs that still felt a little like jelly, that we decided we’d been keeping his parents waiting long enough now and made our way back down the tower, smiling encouragingly at red-faced people still busy making their way up.
We made one quick stop to appreciate the Patio de los Naranjos (or Courtyard of Orange Trees) on our way out, a haven of tranquility among the bustle of tourists coming in and out of the cathedral. I absolutely love that Spanish churches and mosques all have these courtyards filled with orange trees. In fact, the streets of big Spanish cities are all lined with orange trees (someone told us that the fruit were not fit to eat though, and are only used to make marmalade from).
Blinking in the bright Spanish sunlight, we left the courtyard behind and stepped back onto the busy streets of Seville. You can easily forget about the outside world, completely engrossed by the beauty and the history of this magnificent cathedral.
(PS: I love that you’re allowed to take pictures in Spanish cathedrals. I’ve been to many cathedrals all over Europe and can’t remember what any of them look like inside, but Spain I will remember. Unfortunately, I still need to learn how to play with the settings on my camera, so many of the photos are a little too blurry to share here. It’s a learning process.)
For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.
What other magnificent cathedrals have you visited? Where should we go to next?