Torre del Oro is a signature monument in the city of Seville. It stands on the left bank of the Guadalquivir, next to the bullring of Real Maestranza de Caballería. The tower was built in 1220 with the aim of guarding the city’s harbour and the entrance to the current old town.
Presently, Torre del Oro has become a symbol of the Andalusian capital city. The fact that the monument reaches a height of 36 metres contributes to the effect it has on anyone seeing it for the first time. The view is particularly impressive if we watch the tower from the bridge of San Telmo, where we can enjoy the tapas in the area of Triana. It was declared a historic-artistic monument in 1931.
Torre del Oro (“the golden tower” in Spanish) has been called this way from the Almohad period. As far as we know, it’s possible that it was originally named bury al-dahab. However, many people wonder why they called it this way. The most obvious answer to that question is that, initially, it was covered in gold. Nevertheless, the truth is that there are many theories regarding the monument’s name.
One of those theories —and also one that doesn’t seem likely to be true — is that the tiled exterior reflected the golden sunlight, which resembled the precious metal. Another popular theory states that the king Peter of Castile concealed treasures of silver and gold in the tower. However, during a series of restoration works in 2005, some experts found out that the glimmering of the tower’s façade was the result of mixing lime mortar and compressed straw for its construction.
Our golden tower can be divided into three separate sections made of ashlar stones, with a height of 36 metres and a width of 15. We can perfectly discern them because each of them was built in a different time period. The first section was built between 1220 and 1221, under the Almohad governor of Seville Abù I-Ulà. It was conceived as a defensive tower, and it was attached to a wall with the aim of protecting the harbour and blocking the entrance to El Arenal. It was considered an Albarrana tower which belonged to the city’s defence system and it was connected to Torre de Plata (“the silver tower”), a monument that still remains, but it’s in a state of neglect.
The second section was built under the reign of Peter the Cruel in the 14th century. Finally, the upper section, with a cylindrical shape ending in a dome, was designed in 1760 by the military engineer Sebastián Van der Borcht, after the damage caused by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The interior of Torre del Oro consists of three different floors as well, and they are connected by a dodecagonal staircase.
This emblematic monument has served different purposes throughout the years. It makes total sense, since it has been around for 800 years. In the first years after its construction, it was a defensive tower intended for preventing enemy vessels for entering the city through the river. However, after the Reconquista of the Christian kingdoms, the tower became a chapel for worshipping San Isidoro de Sevilla, former archbishop of the city. In the following centuries, the watchtower has been used as a prison for aristocrats, a gunpowder magazine, and the premises of the Harbourmaster and the Naval Command. Some legends suggest that Peter I used the building for lying with the damsels he courted. The most famous one was Doña Aldonza, a woman who —according to rumours— lived in the tower.
In 1931, the tower was declared a historic-artistic monument, and it was restored multiple times during the 20th century. It’s been home to the city’s Maritime Museum since 1944, and 400 items of Madrid’s Naval Museum are displayed there in an interesting exhibition.
Said exhibition takes up two floors and it guides us through the history of the Spanish army. There, we will find models of historical ships, nautical charts, and many navigational instruments. Our visit will conclude with an excellent panoramic view of Seville from the top of the tower, with a delightful painting in the canvas of the Guadalquivir river.
The different theories regarding the tower’s name make up only a small fraction of all the legends that have arisen around it over the years. For instance, there is one that says Torre del Oro and its twin sister Torre de Plata were connected through chains across the river. According to this belief, the chains prevented the ships for crossing the Guadalquivir, but that’s not entirely true. Historians assert that there was a barrier, but it consisted of a row of ships fastened to each other. The tower remained impregnable until 1248, when the Cantabrian Admiral Ramón Bonifaz navigated across the Guadalquivir aided by the tides, breaking through the barrier with the aim of conquering Seville. This is the reason why Torre del Oro is pictured in Cantabria’s flag, with a broken chain, two Muslims and a ship.
Considering all this, we can say for certain that Torre del Oro is an essential monument when it comes to learning the history of Seville, and one of the most fascinating tourist attractions in the area of Santa Cruz and El Arenal. All in all, it’s a precious jewel whose past and architecture make it an absolute must-see.
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You can read part II of this list here.