Cathedral spires: Ascending Seville’s most arresting edifice
The view from the top of Seville Cathedral’s belltower, the Islamic-inflected Giralda, is one of the Andalusian capital’s most arresting sights.
The cloudless sky adds a shimmer to the brown and white shades of the city’s architecture and the distant clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages resonating on the Plaza del Triunfo below.
And yet the climb to the top of the minaret can be a discombobulating experience as visitors try to process the centuries of history echoing from the edifice’s past.
Legend has it the church authorities wanted to create a building so large ‘as to make future generations think we were mad’, and a tour of the cathedral does nothing to dispel that.
Perhaps the most enigmatic, certainly the most adventurous, and probably the most contentious, aspect is the burial site of Christopher Columbus.
Originally buried in Havana, his remains were transferred to Spain in 1492 where a monumental tomb, held aloft by four ornate figures, was sculpted to house his remains.
This has become a controversial topic, as doubts remain over tomb’s remains’ authenticity.
To the casual observer, however, swept away by the building’s grandiosity, the remains of a major historical figure ensconced within its walls, genuinely or not, flows nicely with the perverse scale of the structure.
Unsurprisingly, the cathedral has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its interior is magnificent, playing host to many chapels, treasures, sculptures and relics.
Stained glass windows illuminate the five-aisled interior and cast light on the choir area of the main transept.
Most eye-catching of all is the golden Retablo Mayor, the 26-metre tall altarpiece in the main chapel which seemingly stretches up the building’s vaulted ceiling. Hundreds of sculpted figures line its carved panels, telling stories from the life of Christ.
A walk through the chapel into the orange tree courtyard, the Patio de los Naranjos, is another sensory explosion, the green leaves of the trees, set out in a grid formation, combining magnificently with sky’s deep blue above. Oranges, the courtyard’s namesake, add delightful pips of colour to proceedings.
The sun casts a new light on the cathedral’s exterior and picks out new elements of its restrained grandeur.
Most notable is La Giralda, the 42-metre high minaret now converted to a belltower, its interlaced arches giving the strongest example of the Islamic influences which went into the cathedral’s design, and pointed most clearly to the site’s history as a mosque.
And once visitors reach the top of the tower, another grand view presents itself.
A 360 degree panorama sweeps around Seville, taking in a bird’s eye view of the cathedral’s buttresses and the courtyard below, stretching to the waffle-like Metropol Parasol and catching a glimpse of the equally grand Alcazar, the Royal Palace, next door.
The feeling is mesmeric and the atmosphere respectful. The bell makes a satisfying clang and as the hubbub of Seville continues below the cathedral stands guard in the city’s heart, a symbolic sentinel safeguarding its awe-inspiring heritage.