Seville’s cathedral, Santa Maria de la Sede, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral was built in the 15th century (1401 to 1506 A.D.) on the site of the 12th century Aljama mosque. Portions of the mosque survive within the Cathedral’s structure, most notably the belltower known as Giralda.
Seville’s Cathedral is very popular with visitors and unless you arrive early or late, you’ll likely have to wait in line to purchase your ticket. It’s one of the most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen, and I found it well worth the wait and price of admission. While you wait in line you’ll have time to study and enjoy some of the beautiful craftsmanship adorning the Cathedral’s exterior, including many intricate carvings and a copy of the weathervane atop the Giralda (belltower) known as Giraldillo (a portrait of faith).
As you enter the nave you’ll be struck by the sheer size and beauty of the place. The nave alone is a lofty 42 meters high, and there are 80 side chapels (many of which are larger than an average church). Take your time, explore on your own or with the available audio-guide.
Here are some of the highlights of our visit to the Seville Cathedral:
Capilla Mayor and Retablo Mayor
The Capilla Mayor (Great Chapel) is dominated by a vast Gothic retablo (High Altar), the finest I’ve ever seen. The alterpiece is the largest (65 ft tall) and richest in the world. It is situated behind a tall wrought iron grille which protects it from damage and theft, but it’s easy to peak through the iron bars to study some of its magnificent detail.
The altar is comprised of 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ and Santa Maria de la Sede, the cathedral’s patron saint. The altar is the life’s work of a single craftsman, Pierre Dancart, who carved these detailed scenes from walnut and chestnut; they were then blanketed with gold leaf. The amount of gold included in the altarpiece’s construction is hard to conceive, but spend some time and study the details as it is a highlight of a visit here.
You’ll first see it reflected in a mirror on the floor, and then you must gaze up to marvel at this wonderfully crafted feature.
Facing the high altar, the choir is beautiful. An organ with more than 7,000 pipes lies on its outer walls.
The tomb of Christopher Columbus
This is one of the main attractions of the cathedral for visitors, housing the remains of the great explorer who died in poverty in Valladolid. The tomb itself is more recent, from 1892, with statues of four royal bearers.
Columbus traveled far in life but likely even further in death. Posthumously his remains have journeyed from Northwestern Spain to Seville, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the USA and finally back to Seville. With all that travel, one might begin to wonder if this is indeed the remains of Christopher Columbus, but recent DNA tests were pretty convincing that this tomb does hold Columbus’ remains.
Altar de Plata
A huge silver altarpiece resembling that used in communion, adorned with statues.
Parish of the Tabernacle
A side chapel used for daily worship and with it’s own entrance. You can peer through a glass window to see it’s magnificence.
Other side Chapels and features of the Cathedral
There are a many beautiful side chapels, with beautiful altars. The stained glass windows of the Cathedral are numerous and also worth some of your time. There is much original art within the Cathedral, including works by Goya and Murillo.
The Chapter House and Treasury (Sacrista Mayor) were being extensively renovated when we visited and did not photograph well. But we could explore the many treasures within the treasury.
The climb to the top of Giralda is worth the effort for the amazing views you’ll see. The tower has gently sloped ramps leading to the top allowing for riders and their horses to make the journey centuries ago (eg. for the call to prayer when this was part of a mosque). Beneath the bells is the observation deck, with breath-taking views. We were there when the bells tolled on the hour and it was deafening.
Patio de los Naranjos
You walk through this large courtyard contained within the cathedral as you’re about to exit. This patio dates to Moorish times when worshippers would wash their hands and feet in the fountains here — under the orange trees — before entering the mosque for their dialy prayers.
If you Visit:
The cathedral is open daily, though with limited afternoon hours on Sunday (check before you visit). The ticket office closes one hour before the cathedral closes. There is no fee for attending mass.
General: 9 €,
Pensioners and Students 4 €,
Seville residents, under 14yrs: free
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