Giralda of Seville, the symbol of the city

Considered the great icon of the Andalusian city, the Giralda deserves a special mention in any review of the city of Seville. It belongs to the Cathedral of Santa María de la Sede in Seville. It constitutes an exotic route to Seville’s Arab past, as well as an indispensable complement to the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Not in vain, it was for hundreds of years the tallest building in Spain and one of the closest to heaven in Europe.

Visión panorámica de La catedral de Sevilla.

Panoramic views of La Giralda and Seville Cathedral. | Shutterstock

One of the great Arab legacies of Seville

The 12th century marked the beginning of this tower. The capital of Seville also became the capital of the Almohads. Thanks to this, it was fortified and cemented its future greatness. The impetus of these ultra-conservative Islamic warriors was enormous at first, but pressure from the medieval Christian kingdoms was evident. These conditions shaped the defensive and religious projects they carried out. For example, that of the mosque that preceded the spectacular cathedral of Seville.

Inspired by that of Córdoba and by Maghrebi temples, such as that of Koutoubia in Marrakech, the aggressiveness shown by the Castilians led to their possible defence being made a priority. Thus, when the great watchtower from which to call the prayer or minaret was projected, it was decided that it would have to be inserted in the walls of those that still remain, such as the Torre del Oro, la Plata or the Macarena. The Giralda suffered an intermittent construction, result of the convulsive Almohad politics.

Giralda de Sevilla

Giralda of Seville. | Shutterstock

In 1198 the project was completed with the installation of four balls at the top. Placed by order of the emir, they were a finish called yamur. Typical of Almohad minarets, they were shaped like apples. The material they were made of was bronze, although their appearance was golden. The leader Abu Yaacub al-Mansur, winner of Alarcos, had managed to finish raising a tower whose bodies were almost 65 meters high. Even then it had four different facades.

However, the Arabs would suffer a severe setback almost half a century later. Ferdinand III, King of Castile and Leon, took Seville from the Muslims. A shock that made the mosque, and with it La Giralda, convert to Christianity. It was a place of great symbolism, as the city was a spearhead inserted in the depths of Al-Andalus. During these first stages of Castilian-Leonese control the tower would become a bell tower and would lose the aforementioned golden balls due to the earthquake of 1356.

Mezquita de la Koutoubia, edificio que sirvió de referencia para la Giralda de Sevilla

Koutoubia Mosque, building that served as a reference for the Giralda of Seville. | Shutterstock

The House of El Giraldillo

Once in Christian hands, the survival of La Giralda came into question. According to documents of the time, the works of the Gothic cathedral contemplated destroying it. Luckily, it was finally decided to integrate it into the building, as well as the courtyard of Los Naranjos. Several periods saw how the tower evolved until it found its present appearance. For example, in the mid-sixteenth century the development of external murals was promoted. Ordered by Canon Francisco Pacheco, they survived until they were lost in the 19th century.

At that time, the religious watchtower had the colour that would give its name to the Alhambra in Granada, red. A lost tone next to the paintings on stucco mentioned above. This was a hard blow to the works of fine arts in Seville. The upper body that can be seen today on the Arab minaret dates from this same period, as well as the statue that crowns it and gives its name to the complex. This project consolidated the work as the bell tower of La Giralda, which houses 24 of these instruments.

The Giraldillo, the representation of the Victorious Faith that crowns the tower, is the work of Bartolomé Morel. An extraordinary master metalworker, he chose bronze as the material for one of the most famous weather vanes in Spain, along with others such as the rooster of San Isidoro in León. Helped in the work of design and worship, he carried it out in 1568. Its shield and spear allow it to indicate the direction of the wind and shows elements of medieval taste, such as its crown.

La Giralda de Sevilla junto a la Catedral de Santa María 

The Giralda of Seville next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria. | Shutterstock

Other works by Morel stand out in the bell body. They are the vases with lilies. As in the case of the Giraldillo, he collaborated with the architect Hernán Ruiz to design it. In those years, he did not have the flowers and it is believed that his mission was to carry fires at key moments. The floral decorations would arrive in the 18th century. These symbols of purity were gilded and executed by the master Basilio Cortés, who also intervened in improvements to the ball that supports the Giraldillo.

From the terrace of the lilies, where the vases are, the last bodies of the Giralda unfold, culminating in the statue described above. These are environments full of curiosities. The first one serves to house a clock from 1765, made by José Cordero. Before that there were others of Sol. On it, the body of the Estrellas, with the oldest bell of the tower and surrounded by the most famous quote of the same. Its translation from Latin is as follows: “The strongest tower is the Name of the Lord”. The body of Carambolas and the Penacho would be left on top. With them it reaches 104.1 meters in height.

La Giralda de Sevilla desde la Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

The Giralda of Seville from the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. | Shutterstock

The Giralda today

Together with the Alcazares and the Archive of the Indies, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Such is its fame that it has inspired many other buildings. The church of Nuestra Señora de Granada in Moguer (Huelva) or the replica in Árbos (Tarragona) are some examples. Even Madison Square Garden had a replica of this building in the 1920s. In Kansas, sister city to Seville, there is a replica of the tower.

To access it you must buy a combined ticket for it and the cathedral. However, it is worth it by itself. On the one hand there is the ascent to the upper part, with one of the best viewpoints that exist in all of Seville. With the Giraldillo in sight, next to the lilies, it is possible to contemplate a city that has a past that goes back to Roman times. The effort of the ascent is more than rewarding for being able to contemplate this city on the Guadalquivir. Inside there are different rooms that cover the facets of the Giralda; from the Arab era to its function as a bell tower.

Miradores de las Setas de Sevilla

Viewpoint of Setas of Sevilla. | Shutterstock

The external visit is also vital since one of the most outstanding characteristics of the Giralda is that its four faces are different. A good place for this is the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. Another alternative is to use the modern viewpoint of Las Setas. Although it loses detail as it is further away, it allows the watchtower to be integrated into the Seville skyline.

About the author