Seville is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Andalusia and the province of Seville, Spain. It is situated on the plain of the river Guadalquivir.
The inhabitants of the city are known as sevillanos (feminine form: sevillanas) or hispalenses, after the Roman name of the city, Hispalis. Seville has a municipal population of about 703,000 as of 2011, and a metropolitan population of about 1.5 million, making it the fourth-largest city in Spain and the 30th most populous municipality in the European Union.
Its Old Town, with an area of 4 square kilometres (2 sq mi), contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcázar palace complex, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies. The Seville harbour, located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain.
Seville is also the hottest major metropolitan area in the geographical Western Europe, with summer average high temperatures of above 35 °C (95 °F).
Seville was founded as the Roman city of Hispalis. It later became known as Ishbiliya (Arabic: إشبيلية) after the Muslim conquest in 712. During the Muslim rule in Spain, Seville came under the jurisdiction of the Caliphate of Córdoba before becoming the independent Taifa of Seville; later it was ruled by the Muslim Almoravids and the Almohads until finally being incorporated into the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III in 1248.
After the discovery of the Americas, Seville became one of the economic centres of the Spanish Empire as its port monopolised the trans-oceanic trade and the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) wielded its power, opening a Golden Age of arts and literature. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan departed from Seville for the first circumnavigation of the Earth. Coinciding with the Baroque period of European history, the 17th century in Seville represented the most brilliant flowering of the city’s culture; then began a gradual economic and demographic decline as silting in the Guadalquivir forced the trade monopoly to relocate to the nearby port of Cádiz.
The 20th century in Seville saw the tribulations of the Spanish Civil War, decisive cultural milestones such as the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and Expo ’92, and the city’s election as the capital of the Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
Spal is the oldest known name for Seville. It appears to have originated during the Phoenician colonisation of the Tartessian culture in south-western Iberia and, according to Manuel Pellicer Catalán, meant “lowland” in the Phoenician language (similar to the Hebrew Shfela). During Roman rule, the name was Latinised as Hispalis. After the Umayyad invasion, this name was adapted into Arabic as Ishbiliyya (Arabic: إشبيلية) since p does not exist in Arabic, it was replaced by b, the Latin place-name suffix -is was replaced by its direct Arabic equivalent -iyya, and stressed a /æ/ turned into i /i/, due to the phonetic phenomenon called imāla.
“NO8DO” is the official motto of Seville. It is popularly believed to be a rebus signifying the Spanish “No me ha dejado”, meaning “It has not abandoned me” but pronounced with synalepha as. The eight in the middle represents a madeja, or skein of wool.
Legend states that the title was given by King Alfonso X, who was resident in the city’s Alcázar and supported by the citizens when his son, later Sancho IV of Castille, tried to usurp the throne from him. The emblem is present on the municipal flag and features on city property such as manhole covers, and Christopher Columbus’s tomb in the Cathedral.
The mythological founder of the city is Hercules (Heracles), commonly identified with the Phoenician god Melqart, who the myth says sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Atlantic, and founded trading posts at the current sites of Cádiz and of Seville. The original core of the city, in the neighbourhood of the present-day street, Cuesta del Rosario, dates to the 8th century BC, when Seville was on an island in the Guadalquivir. Archaeological excavations in 1999 found anthropic remains under the north wall of the Real Alcázar dating to the 8th–7th century BC. The town was called Spal or Ispal by the Tartessians, the indigenous pre-Roman Iberian people of Tartessos, who controlled the Guadalquivir Valley at the time.
The city was known from Roman times as Hispalis. Hispalis developed into one of the great market and industrial centres of Hispania, while the nearby Roman city of Italica (present-day Santiponce, birthplace of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian, remained a typically Roman residential city. Large-scale Roman archaeological remains can be seen there and at the nearby town of Carmona as well.
Existing Roman features in Seville itself include the remnants of an aqueduct, a temple in Mármoles Street, the columns of La Alameda de Hércules, the remains exposed in situ in the underground Antiquarium of the Metropol Parasol building and the remains in the Patio de Banderas square near the Seville Cathedral. The walls surrounding the city were originally built during the rule of Julius Caesar, but their current course and design were the result of Moorish reconstructions.
Following Roman rule, there were successive conquests of the Roman province of Hispania Baetica by the Vandals, the Suebi and the Visigoths during the 5th and 6th centuries.
Seville was taken by the Moors, Muslims from North of Africa, during the conquest of Hispalis in 712. It was the capital for the kings of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Almoravid dynasty first and after the Almohad dynasty (from Arabic al-Muwahhidun, i.e., “the monotheists” or “the Unitarians”), from the 8th to 13th centuries.
The Moorish urban influences continued and are present in contemporary Seville, for instance in the custom of decorating with herbaje and small fountains the courtyards of the houses. However, most buildings of the Moorish aesthetic actually belong to the Mudéjar style of Islamic art, developed under Christian rule and inspired by the Arabic style. Original Moorish buildings are the Patio del Yeso in the Alcázar, the city walls, and the main section of the Giralda, bell tower of the Seville Cathedral.
In 1247, the Christian King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon began the conquest of Andalusia. After conquering Jaén and Córdoba, he seized the villages surrounding the city, Carmona Lora del Rio and Alcalá del Rio, and kept a standing army in the vicinity, the siege lasting for fifteen months. The decisive action took place in May 1248 when Ramon Bonifaz sailed up the Guadalquivir and severed the Triana bridge that made the provisioning of the city from the farms of the Aljarafe possible. The city surrendered on 23 November 1248.
The city’s development continued after the Castilian conquest in 1248. Public buildings were constructed including churches, many of which were built in the Mudéjar style, and the Seville Cathedral, built during the 15th century with Gothic architecture. The Moors’ Palace became the Castilian royal residence, and during Pedro I’s rule it was replaced by the Alcázar (the upper levels are still used by the Royal Family as the official Seville residence).
After the 1391 Pogrom, believed to having been instigated by the Archdeacon Ferrant Martinez, all the synagogues in Seville were converted to churches (renamed Santa María la Blanca, San Bartolome, Santa Cruz, and Convento Madre de Dios). The Jewish quarter’s land and shops (sited in modern-day ‘Barrio Santa Cruz’) were appropriated by the church. Many were killed during the pogrom, although most were forced to convert.
The first tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition was instituted in Seville in 1478. At first, the activity of the Inquisition was limited to the dioceses of Seville and Córdoba, where Alonso de Hojeda had detected converso activity. The first Auto de Fé took place in Seville on 6 February 1481, when six people were burned alive. Alonso de Hojeda himself gave the sermon. The Inquisition then grew rapidly. The Plaza de San Francisco was the site of the ‘autos de fé’. By 1492, tribunals existed in eight Castilian cities: Ávila, Córdoba, Jaén, Medina del Campo, Segovia, Sigüenza, Toledo and Valladolid; and by the Alhambra decree all Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or be ejected from Spain.
Following the 1492 Christopher Columbus expedition to the New World (from the port of Palos de la Frontera), the results from his claiming territory and trade for the Crown of Castile (incipient Spain) in the West Indies began to profit the city, as all goods imported from the New World had to pass through the Casa de Contratacion before being distributed throughout the rest of Spain. Unlike other harbours, reaching the port of Seville required sailing about 80 Km up the river Guadalquivir. In addition, the river was heavily defended with fortifications since the Middle Ages. This made Seville the best defended port to bring the riches from the Americas. A ‘golden age of development’ commenced in Seville, due to its being the only port awarded the royal monopoly for trade with the growing Spanish colonies in the Americas and the influx of riches from them. Since only sailing ships leaving from and returning to the inland port of Seville could engage in trade with the Spanish Americas, merchants from Europe and other trade centres needed to go to Seville to acquire New World trade goods. The city’s population grew to more than a hundred thousand people.
In the late 16th century the monopoly was broken, with the port of Cádiz also authorised as a port of trade. The Great Plague of Seville in 1649 reduced the population by almost half, and it would not recover until the early 19th century. By the 18th century its international importance was in decline. After the silting up of the harbour by the Guadalquivir (river), upriver shipping ceased and the city went into relative economic decline.
The writer Miguel de Cervantes lived primarily in Seville between 1596 and 1600. Because of financial problems, Cervantes worked as a purveyor for the Spanish Armada, and later as a tax collector. In 1597, discrepancies in his accounts of the three years previous landed him in the Royal Prison of Seville for a short time. Rinconete y Cortadillo, a popular comedy among his works, features two young vagabonds who come to Seville, attracted by the riches and disorder that the 16th-century commerce with the Americas had brought to that metropolis.
During the 18th century Charles III of Spain promoted Seville’s industries. Construction of the Real Fábrica de Tabacos (Royal Tobacco Factory) began in 1728, with additions to it over the next 30 years. It was the second largest building in Spain, after the royal residence El Escorial. Since the 1950s it has been the seat of the rectorate of the University of Seville, together with the Schools of Law, Philology, Geography and History.
Up to 153 operas have been set in the city, including those by such composers as Beethoven (Fidelio), Mozart (The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni), Rossini (The Barber of Seville) and Bizet “(Carmen)”.
Seville became the dean of the Spanish provincial press in 1758 with the publication of its first newspaper, the Hebdomario útil de Seville, the first to be printed in Spain outside Madrid.
Between 1825 and 1833, Melchor Cano acted as chief architect in Seville; most of the urban planning policy and architectural modifications of the city were made by him and his collaborator Jose Manuel Arjona y Cuba.
Industrial architecture surviving today from the first half of the 19th century includes the ceramics factory installed in the Carthusian monastery at La Cartuja in 1841 by the Pickman family, and now home to the El Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC), which manages the collections of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Sevilla. It also houses the rectory of the UNIA.
In the years that Queen Isabel II ruled directly, about 1843–1868, the Sevillian bourgeoisie invested in a construction boom unmatched in the city’s history. The Isabel II bridge, better known as the Triana bridge, dates from this period; street lighting was expanded in the municipality and most of the streets were paved during this time as well.
By the second half of the 19th century Seville began an expansion supported by railway construction and the demolition of part of its ancient walls, allowing the urban space of the city to grow eastward and southward. The Sevillana de Electricidad Company was created in 1894 to provide electric power throughout the municipality, and in 1901 the Plaza de Armas railway station was inaugurated. The Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla) opened in 1904.
In 1929 the city hosted the Ibero-American Exposition, which accelerated the southern expansion of the city and created new public spaces such as the Plaza de España and the Maria Luisa Park. Not long before the opening, the Spanish government began a modernisation of the city in order to prepare for the expected crowds by erecting new hotels and widening the mediaeval streets to allow for the movement of automobiles.
Seville fell very quickly at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. General Queipo de Llano carried out a coup within the city, quickly capturing the city centre. Radio Seville opposed the uprising and called for the peasants to come to the city for arms, while workers’ groups established barricades. De Llano then moved to capture Radio Seville, which he used to broadcast propaganda on behalf of the Franquist forces. After the initial takeover of the city, resistance continued among residents of the working-class neighbourhoods for some time, until a series of fierce reprisals took place.
Under Francisco Franco’s rule Spain was officially neutral in World War II (although it did collaborate with the Axis powers), and like the rest of the country, Seville remained largely economically and culturally isolated from the outside world. In 1953 the shipyard of Seville was opened, eventually employing more than 2,000 workers in the 1970s. Before the existence of wetlands regulation in the Guadalquivir basin, Seville suffered regular heavy flooding; perhaps worst of all were the floods that occurred in November 1961 when the River Tamarguillo, a tributary of the Guadalquivir, overflowed as a result of a prodigious downpour of rain, and Seville was consequently declared a disaster zone.
Trade unionism in Seville began during the 1960s with the underground organisational activities of the Workers’ Commissions or Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), in factories such as Hytasa, the Astilleros shipyards, Hispano Aviación, etc. Several of the movement’s leaders were imprisoned in November 1973. On 3 April 1979 Spain held its first democratic municipal elections after the end of Franco’s dictatorship; councillors representing four different political parties were elected in Seville. On 5 November 1982, Pope John Paul II arrived in Seville to officiate at a Mass before more than half a million people at the fairgrounds. He visited the city again 13 June 1993, for the International Eucharistic Congress.
In 1992, coinciding with the fifth centenary of the Discovery of the Americas, the Universal Exposition was held for six months in Seville, on the occasion of which the local communications network infrastructure was greatly improved: the SE-30 ring road around the city was completed and new highways were constructed; the new Santa Justa train station had opened in 1991, while the Spanish High Speed Rail system, the Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), began to operate between Madrid-Seville. The Seville Airport, (Aeropuerto de Sevilla), was expanded with a new terminal building designed by the architect Rafael Moneo, and various other improvements were made. The monumental Puente del Alamillo (Alamillo Bridge) over the Guadalquivir, designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, was built to allow access to the island of La Cartuja, site of the massive exposition. Some of the installations remaining at the site after the exposition were converted into the Scientific and Technological Park Cartuja 93.
In 2004 the Metropol Parasol project, commonly known as Las Setas (English: The Mushrooms – due to the appearance of the structure), was launched to revitalise the Plaza de la Encarnación, for years used as a car park and seen as a dead spot between more popular tourist destinations in the city. The Metropol Parasol was completed in March 2011, costing just over €102 million in total, more than twice as much as originally planned. Constructed from crossed wooden beams, Las Setas is said to be the largest timber-framed structure in the world.
The Alcázar, the Cathedral, and the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The St. Mary of the See Cathedral was built from 1401–1519 after the Reconquista on the former site of the city’s mosque. It is among the largest of all medieval and Gothic cathedrals, in terms of both area and volume. The interior is the longest nave in Spain, and is lavishly decorated, with a large quantity of gold evident. La Giralda is a tower attached to the Cathedral that dates back to the twelfth century. It was originally built as part of a mosque when the Moors ruled in Spain and was later added onto by the Christians. Tourists today can climb the tower by walking up a series of ramps that were previously used by officials who rode their horses to the top of the tower. La Giralda gets its name from the weathervane attached to the very top of it, as “gira” means “turning one” in the Spanish language.
The Alcázar facing the cathedral was developed from a previous Moorish Palace. Construction was started in 1181 and continued for over 500 years, mainly in the Mudéjar style, but also in the Renaissance style. The popular TV show Game of Thrones has shot many scenes at this location.
The Torre del Oro was built as a watchtower and defensive barrier on the river. A chain was strung through the water from the base of the tower to prevent boats from traveling into the river port.
The City Hall was built in the 16th century in high Plateresque style by master architect Diego de Riaño. The façade to Plaza Nueva was built in the 19th century in Neoclassical style.
The Palace of San Telmo, formerly the University of Sailors, and later the Seminary, is now the seat for the Andalusian Autonomous Government. It is one of the most emblematic buildings of baroque architecture, mainly to its world-renowned churrigueresque principal façade and the impressive chapel.
The Royal Tobacco Factory is housed on the original site of the first tobacco factory in Europe, a vast 18th century building in Baroque style and the purported inspiration for the opera Carmen.
The Metropol Parasol, in La Encarnación square, is the world’s largest wooden structure. A monumental umbrella-like building designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer, finished in 2011. This modern architecture structure houses the central market and an underground archaeological complex. The terrace roof is a city viewpoint.
The General Archive of the Indies, is the repository of extremely valuable archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. The building itself, an unusually serene and Italianate example of Spanish Renaissance architecture, was designed by Juan de Herrera.
The Plaza de España, in Maria Luisa Park (Parque de Maria Luisa), was built by the architect Aníbal González for the 1929 Exposición Ibero-Americana. It is an outstanding example of Regionalist Revival Architecture, a bizarre and loftily conceived mixture of diverse historic styles, such as Art Deco and lavishly ornamented with typical glazed tiles.
The neighbourhood of Triana, situated on the west bank of the Guadalquivir River, played an important role in the history of the city and constitutes by itself a folk, monumental and cultural center.
On the other hand, La Macarena neighbourhood is located on the northern side of the city centre. It contains some important monuments and religious buildings, such as the Museum and Catholic Church of La Macarena or the Hospital de las Cinco Llagas.
The most important art collection of Seville is the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville. It was established in 1835 in the former Convent of La Merced. It holds many masterworks by Murillo, Pacheco, Zurbarán, Valdés Leal, and others masters of the Baroque Sevillian School, containing also Flemish paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Other museums in Seville are:
The Archaeological Museum, which contains collections from the Tartessian and Roman periods, located in América square at the María Luisa Park.
The Museum of Arts and Traditions, also in América Square, in front of the Archaeological museum.
The Andalusian Contemporary Art Center, situated in the neighbourhood of La Cartuja.
The Naval Museum, housed in the golden Torre del Oro, next to the river Guadalquivir.
The Carriages Museum, in the Los Remedios neighbourhood.
The Flamenco Art Museum
The Bullfighting Museum, in the La Maestranza bullring
The Palace of the Countess of Lebrija, a private collection which contains many of the mosaic floors discovered in the nearby Roman town of Italica.
The “Centro Velázquez” (Velázquez Centre) located at the Old Priests Hospital in the touristic Santa Cruz neighbourhood.
The Antiquarium in Metropol Parasol, an underground museum which exhibits in situ Roman and Muslim remains.
The Castillo de San Jorge (Castle of St. George) is situated near the Triana market, next to the Isabel II bridge. It was the last seat for the Spanish Inquisition.
The Museum and Treasure of La Macarena, where the collection of the Macarena brotherhood is exhibited. This exhibition gives visitors an accurate impression of Seville’s Seville Holy Week.
La Casa de la Ciencia de Sevilla – Science Museum, opposite the María Luisa Park.
Museum of Pottery in Triana.
Pabellon de la Navegación (Pavilion of Navigation).
The Parque de María Luisa (María Luisa Park), is a monumental park built for the 1929 World’s Fair held in Seville, the Exposición Ibero-Americana. The so-called Jardines de las Delicias (literally, Delighting Gardens), closer to the river, are part of the Parque de María Luisa.
The Alcázar Gardens, within the grounds of the Alcázar palace, consist of several sectors developed in different historical styles.
The Gardens of Murillo and the Gardens of Catalina de Ribera, both along and outside the South wall of the Alcázar, lie next to the Santa Cruz quarter.
The Parque del Alamillo y San Jerónimo, the largest park in Andalusia, was originally built for Seville Expo ’92 to reproduce the Andalusian native flora. It lines both Guadalquivir shores around the San Jerónimo meander.
The impressive 32-metres-high bronze sculpture, The Birth of a New Man (popularly known as Columbus’s Egg, el Huevo de Colón), by the Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, is located in its northwestern sector.
The American Garden, also completed for Expo ’92, is in La Cartuja. It is a public botanical garden, with a representative collection of American plants donated by different countries on the occasion of the world exposition. Despite its extraordinary botanical value, it remains a mostly abandoned place.
The Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the Feria de Sevilla (Seville Fair), also known as Feria de Abril (April Fair), are the two most well-known of Seville’s festivals. Seville is internationally renowned for the solemn but decorative processions during Holy Week and the colourful and lively fair held two weeks after. During the Feria, families, businesses and organisations set up casetas (marquees) in which they spend the week dancing, drinking, and socialising. Traditionally, women wear elaborate flamenco dresses and men dress in their best suits. The marquees are set up on a permanent fairground in the district of Los Remedios, in which each street is named after a famous bullfighter.
The tapas scene is one of the main cultural attractions of the city: people go from one bar to another, enjoying small dishes called tapas (literally “lids” or “covers” in Spanish, referring to their probable origin as snacks served on small plates used to cover drinks). Local specialities include fried and grilled seafood (including squid, choco (cuttlefish), swordfish, marinated dogfish, and ortiguillas), grilled and stewed meat, spinach with chickpeas, Jamón ibérico, lamb kidneys in sherry sauce, snails, caldo de puchero, and gazpacho. A sandwich known as a serranito is the typical and popular version of fast food.
Typical desserts from Seville include pestiños, a honey-coated sweet fritter; torrijas, fried slices of bread with honey; roscos fritos, deep-fried sugar-coated ring doughnuts; magdalenas or fairy cakes; yemas de San Leandro, which provide the city’s convents with a source of revenue; and tortas de aceite, a thin sugar-coated cake made with olive oil. Polvorones and mantecados are traditional Christmas products, whereas pestiños and torrijas are typically consumed during the Holy Week.
Bitter Seville oranges grow on trees lining the city streets. Formerly, large quantities were collected and exported to Britain to be used in marmalade. Today the fruit is used predominantly as compost locally, rather than as a foodstuff. According to legend, the Arabs brought the bitter orange to Seville from East Asia via Iraq around the 10th century to beautify and perfume their patios and gardens, as well as to provide shade. The flowers of the tree are a source of neroli oil, commonly used in perfumery and in skin lotions for massage.