Walking Tour: The Old City
Start: At the Giralda by the cathedral.
Finish: At the Hospital de los Venerables in the Barrio Santa Cruz./p>
Time: 4 hours, including rapid visits to the interiors.
Best Times: Early morning (7-11am) and late afternoon (3-7pm).
Worst Times: After dark or during the heat of midday.
Seville is so loaded with architectural and artistic treasures that this brisk overview of the central zone doesn't begin to do justice to its cultural wealth. Although this walking tour includes the city's most obvious (and spectacular) monuments, such as the Giralda and the cathedral, it also visits lesser-known churches and convents, the city's most desirable shopping district, and the labyrinthine alleyways of the Barrio Santa Cruz.
Begin with a visit to the:
1. Cathedral & Giralda
This Gothic structure is so enormous that even its builders recognized the folly and fanaticism of their dreams. Its crowning summit, the Giralda, one of Europe's most famous towers, was begun in the late 1100s by the Moors and was raised even higher by the Catholic monarchs in 1568. Because of the position of these connected monuments near the summit of a hill overlooking the Guadalquivir, some scholars nostalgically refer to the historic neighborhood around them as the Acropolis.
After your visit, walk to the cathedral compound's northeastern corner for a visit to the:
2. Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop's Palace)
This 16th-century building rests on 13th-century foundations, with a 17th-century baroque facade of great beauty. Although designed to house the overseer of the nearby cathedral, it was sometimes pressed into service for secular visitors. One of these was Napoleon's representative, Maréchal Soult, after he conquered Seville in the name of the Bonaparte family and France early in the 19th century.
From here, walk across the street, heading south, to Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, for a visit to the:
3. Convento de la Encarnación (Convent of the Incarnation)
Its origins date from the 1300s, shortly after the Catholic Reconquest of Seville. Part of its architectural curiosity includes the widespread use of the lobed, horseshoe-shape arches and windows traditionally used in mosques.
Exit the church, and then walk eastward across Plaza del Triunfo into the entrance of one of the most exotic palaces in Europe, the:
4. Reales Alcázar (Royal Alcázar)
The oldest royal seat in Spain was originally built for the Moorish caliphs in A.D. 712 as a fortress, then enlarged and embellished over the next thousand years by successive generations of Moors and, beginning in 1248, Christian rulers. Its superimposed combination of Arab and Christian Gothic architecture makes for one of the most interesting monuments in Iberia. Lavish gardens, as exotic as what you'd expect in the Old Testament, sprawl in an easterly direction in back. More than any other monument on this tour, with the exception of the cathedral, the Alcázar deserves a second visit after the end of this walking tour.
Exit from the Alcázar back onto Plaza del Triunfo. At the plaza's southwestern edge rises the imposing bulk of the:
5. Archivo de Indias (Archive of the Indies)
Built as a commodities exchange, it was abandoned for a site in Cádiz when that port replaced Seville as the most convenient debarkation point for ships coming from the New World. In 1758 it was reconfigured as the repository for the financial records and political and cultural archives of anything concerning the development of the Western Hemisphere. Its closets and storerooms contain more than four million dossiers.
From here, walk a half-block west to the roaring traffic of Avenida de la Constitución; then turn north, bypassing the facade of the already-visited cathedral. The avenida will end within 2 blocks at the ornate bulk of Seville's:
6. Ayuntamiento (Town Hall)
Begun in 1527, and enlarged during the 19th century, this is the city's political showcase. To see its most interesting (Plateresque) facade, turn right (east) when you reach it; then flank the building's eastern edge for a view of the medallions and allegorical figures that kept teams of stonemasons busy for generations.
The town hall's northeastern facade marks the beginning of Seville's most famous shopping street:
7. Calle Sierpes
This street stretches north from the Town Hall. Its southern terminus, where you're standing, was once the site of a debtor's prison where Miguel de Cervantes languished for several years.
Walk along the western edge of this famous street, turning left (west) after 2 blocks onto Calle Jovellanos for a view of the:
8. Iglesia (Church) de San José
Named in honor of a famous carpenter (St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin), this lavish baroque chapel functioned as the seat of the carpenter's guild after its completion in 1747.
Retrace your steps along Calle Jovellanos to Calle Sierpes, traverse the busy street, and continue walking due east along Calle Sagasta. Within a block, Calle Sagasta will deposit you in Plaza del Salvador, in front of the elaborate facade of the:
9. Iglesia del Salvador (Savior)
One of the grandest churches of Seville, this is preferred by many visitors to the rather chilly pomposity of the previously visited cathedral. The enormous building was begun in 1674 on the site of one of the Muslim world's holiest sites, the mosque of Ibn Addabas. Beneath the Catholic iconography you can still make out the base of the Moorish minaret (converted long ago into a Christian belfry) and the Moorish layout of the building's courtyard.
Take a Break -- You can sit at La Antigua Bodeguita, Plaza del Salvador 6 (tel. 95-456-18-33), enjoying cold, refreshing drinks while admiring the facade of the old Iglesia del Salvador. If you're hungry, you can order a number of tasty, inexpensive tapas.
After your visit, walk 3 blocks north along Calle Cuna (a wide boulevard that Sevillanos usually refer to simply as "Cuna") for an exterior view of one of the most envied private homes in town, at Calle Cuna 18:
10. Palacio de Lebrija (Casa de la Condesa de Lebrija)
Austere on the outside, lavish and Mudéjar on the inside, the palace was built in the 1400s and managed to incorporate in its floors a series of ancient mosaics, dug up from the excavations in the nearby town of Itálica. The Marquis of Lozolla, the general director of fine arts, has declared the palace as "the best decorated in Europe," with its Moorish arches and Plateresque decorations. The palace is the most visible vestige of an aristocratic way of life that's rapidly fading.
The palace is now open to visitors Monday to Friday from 10:30am to 1pm and 4:30 to 7pm, Saturday from 10am to 1pm. Admission is 7€ ($11) to explore the entire palace or 4€ ($6.40) to see the ground floor. For more information, call tel. 95-421-81-83.
From here, walk 2 short blocks east along Calle de Goyeneta for a view of the:
11. Iglesia de la Anunciación
Built in 1565 with profits from the New World, and associated for many centuries with both the Jesuits and the city's university, this church contains a cold, rather macabre-looking crypt (Panteón de Sevillanos Ilustres) where many of the city's governors and their families are buried.
From here, head east, passing through Plaza de la Anunciación onto Calle del Laraña Imagen for a short 2 blocks. Rising ahead of you from its position beside Plaza de San Pedro is the:
12. Iglesia de San Pedro
Built in the Mudéjar style in the 1300s, with some portals and towers added in the 1600s and 1700s, San Pedro is famous as the site where Spain's greatest painter, Velázquez, was baptized in 1599. Coffered ceilings rise above the building's main sanctuary and its eight shadowy chapels. The site is available for visits only during Mass.
From Plaza de San Pedro, adjacent to the church's eastern entrance, walk east for 2 blocks along Calle del Almirante Apodaca until you reach the:
13. Iglesia de Santa Catalina
This 14th-century Gothic-Mudéjar monument has endured many alterations and additions. Most significant of these is a simple Gothic portal that was moved into its present position in 1930 from another church. Make it a point to walk around this medieval hybrid for views of horseshoe (lobed) arches that attest to the strong influence of Moorish design on its past.
After your visit, walk south for a block along Calle Carrión, whose name will change after a block to Calle Francisco Mejiás. The massive and severe-looking building that rises in about a block is the:
14. Convento de San Leandro
Although the building you see today was begun around 1580, it replaced a much older 13th-century church that was the first to be constructed in Seville after the Christian Reconquest in 1248. Severe and simple, with a single barrel vault covering its single aisle, it's open only during early morning (7am) Mass and on some holy festival days.
Immediately to the southeast, opening off Plaza de Pilatos, is the grandest and most ornate palace that's open to view in Seville, the:
15. Casa de Pilatos (Pilate's House)
One of the city's most frequently visited museums, Pilate's House was built in 1521 by the Marquis de Tarifa after his trip to the Holy Land where, according to legend, he was inspired by the ruined house in Jerusalem from which Pontius Pilate is said to have governed. The main entrance, modeled after an ancient Roman triumphal arch, is fashioned from bronze, jasper, and Carrara marble, and the overall effect is one of imperial Roman grandeur.
After your visit, walk less than a block southeast for a view of the:
16. Iglesia de San Esteban
This is one of the finest examples of Mudéjar-Gothic architecture in Andalusia. Constructed during the late 1300s and early 1400s, it combines Moorish-style coffered ceilings with Gothic ribbed vaulting.
From here, retrace your steps to Plaza de Pilatos, and then fork right onto Calle Caballerizas for a block until you reach Plaza de San Ildefonso. Flanking its edge rises the:
17. Iglesia de San Ildefonso
This colorful and graceful small-scale structure filled with artistic treasures is one of the most charming baroque churches in Seville. Regrettably, it's open only during Mass, at which time discreet visitors can admire the interior.
From here, walk west for 2 short blocks south along Calle Vírgenes until you reach the:
18. Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari
Although the church was built in the 1700s, long after the departure of the Moors, the forest of red-marble columns that supports the five aisles of its interior evokes some aspects of a mosque. The eclectic, and somewhat cluttered, aspect of its baroque interior is particularly charming.
From here, walk south for a block along Calle de Federico Rubio until you reach the soaring walls of a building usually described as the gateway to one of Seville's most colorful antique neighborhoods, the:
19. Iglesia de Santa Cruz (Holy Cross)
Originally built between 1665 and 1728, and conceived as the parish church of the Barrio Santa Cruz, which you'll visit shortly, it's prefaced with a relatively new facade that was added in 1929. This is a particularly active church, servicing the spiritual needs of a congested neighborhood, and is normally open only during Mass.
At this point your tour will become less rigidly structured and will allow you to wander through the narrow and labyrinthine alleyways of the:
20. Barrio Santa Cruz
Before 1492, when the Jews were driven from Spain by the repressive edicts of Ferdinand and Isabella, this was the Jewish ghetto of Seville. Today it's highly desirable real estate -- thick-walled houses, window boxes studded with flowers, severe exteriors opening onto private patios that ooze Andalusian charm. Wander at will through the neighborhood, and don't be surprised if you quickly get lost in the maze of twisting streets. Know that your final destination is uphill (to the southwest) at a point near the cathedral (discreet signs indicate its direction).
We recommend that you walk southwest along the relatively wide Calle Ximenez de Enciso, ducking into side alleyways at your whim for views of the streets that radiate out from there. At the barrio's southwestern edge, beside Plaza de los Venerables, you'll want to visit one of the barrio's greatest monuments, the:
21. Hospital de los Venerables (Hospice of the Venerable Ones)
It was founded in 1675 as a retirement home for aged priests, was completed 12 years later, and is maintained today as a museum.
Take a Break -- Some of the best tapas in the Old Quarter are served at Casa Román, on Plaza de los Venerables (tel. 95-422-84-83), which is also a good place to stop for a pick-me-up glass of regional wine.