The Giralda, the main tower of the Cathedral of Seville contemplates us more than 800 years ago. Today we tell you some of its secrets and its most curious stories.

The Giralda, 5 amazing stories about the tower of the Cathedral of Seville

1. One tower and two religions

In the 12th century, Muslim Seville was governed by the Almohad dynasty. In 1184 the caliph Abu Yacoub Yusuf ordered the construction of the minaret tower of the mosque. In 1195 they defeated the Christians in the battle of Alarcos and to celebrate the victory the tower was crowned with the yamur, four gilt bronze balls that could be seen for miles and made the minaret one of the most beautiful and imposing towers in Al- Andalus.

But the city was conquered in 1248 by Ferdinand III, called the Saint. Years later, the balls that crowned it were replaced by a small bell tower. A cross that definitively put Seville under the banner of Christianity.

The American wealth of the 16th century in Seville led the city to devise a change in the appearance of its main tower. They wanted a tower even higher, more powerful and even more beautiful, crowned by an allegory of the triumph of the Church.

It was then that they installed the bronze sculpture that crowns it, called Giraldillo since it was a weathervane (from “girar” to rotate) . Since then, the tower would be known as Giralda. And therefore, it has about 55 meters of the old Islamic tower and the Christian bell corps added in the 16th century.

2. Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, called her the Giantess of Seville

In those same years, around 1580, an illustrious visitor was struck by the grandeur of the tower and its statue. It was the writer Miguel de Cervantes who called her the Giantess of Seville and as such appears in a passage from Don Quixote:

The Giralda, 5 amazing stories about the tower of the Cathedral of Seville

“Once I was commanded to go and challenge that famous giantess of Seville called the Giralda, who is as brave and strong as made of bronze, and without moving from one place is the most mobile and steadfast woman in the world.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Giralda, 5 amazing stories about the tower of the Cathedral of Seville

3. A twin tower in Marrakech

Actually, there is more than one twin tower, the one in Marrakech being the most famous. It is the tower of the largest mosque in this Moroccan city, the so-called Kutubiya. It was built a few years before our Islamic Giralda and by the same dynasty that reigned in Morocco and Al-Andalus, the Almohads. Stylistically it is very similar and of similar height.

Of course, the twin of Marrakech is still crowned by the golden bronze balls that our Sevillian tower once had.

4. The Giralda of America

And if there are twin towers from the same period, there are also replica towers that took our Sevillian tower as a model. The fame of the Giralda spread throughout the world and was particularly popular in America in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Those first travelers who knew Seville wanted to reproduce this symbol in their cities. The most striking was J. C. Nichols, an American businessman from Kansas City in the 1920s. He promoted that both cities, Kansas City and Seville, be twinned.

Years later, in central Kansas, his son had a replica of the Virgen de los Reyes square built with a Giralda tower, somewhat smaller than the original but which undoubtedly attracted attention in this remote American city in the Midwest.

Also, a Giralda once graced New York City. It was between 1890 and 1925 where the current Madison Square Garden, in the middle of Manhattan. It was crowned by a statue of the goddess Diana.

Unfortunately, it was demolished in 1925

5. Sister Barbara of la Giralda

And we return to Seville.

Barbara, a sevillian girl was born In the interior of the Giralda in 1842, on ramp 30th, because her father, who was a bell ringer, occupied a room in this tower. For this reason she was called the Daughter of the Giralda or Sister Barbara de la Giralda.

The Giralda, 5 amazing stories about the tower of the Cathedral of Seville

When she was 11 years old, her older brother who was 13, died accidentally, falling from the tower while the bells were ringing, because the San Fernando festivity was being celebrated.

She entered the Dominican convent of Madre de Dios, in the Santa Cruz neighborhood of Seville. She had mystical visions and died in the odor of sanctity.

Currently she is in the process of canonization.

As you can see, this tower that over the centuries has served as a bell tower, an astronomical observatory, a lightning rod, a lookout post and, above all, a symbol of one of the most emblematic and beautiful cities in Europe, combining Islamic and Christian culture.

Stories like these and many more in our private tours of Seville

More info and useful tips to visit the Giralda in the website of Seville City Hall

The Giralda, 5 amazing stories about the tower of the Cathedral of Seville

The first around the world trip took place in the 16th century and the departing point and organization was from the city of Seville.

In 1518 Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães in Portuguese) had proposed his idea of reaching the Moluccas to obtain spices to King Manuel I of Portugal. Faced with his refusal, he presented his project to the young emperor Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany, at that time the most powerful monarch of Europe.
In full expansionism of the kingdom of Castile, the emperor supported the company and gave Magellan the money necessary to charter five ships with 245 men. The expedition was going to be very profitable economically if they managed to trade in the Moluccan Islands and get the precious spices there: Cloves, Cinnamon, Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg …

Why were spices so precious in Europe? Goal for the first trip around the world

Por qué eran importantes las especias en la primera vuelta al mundo

In 16th century Europe, spices were almost or so much more valued than gold. Their value resided on the one hand in food preservation and they were also an ingredient for perfumes, medical recipes and a luxury for dishes in an increasingly rich and refined Europe. Like silk, porcelain, and of course gold and silver, there was a great demand for spices.
And the place to find them was far away, on the other side of the world, in the exotic Spice Islands, called Moluccas and today corresponding to the Indonesian archipelago.

To get there, the the usual route was bordering Africa and crossing the Indian Ocean. But that area was in Portuguese power. A new route arose in Magellan’s mind, sailing west across the Atlantic, finding a passage to the Pacific (later known as the Strait of Magellan) and arriving after the long journey to the Spice Islands.
The return route in this first around the world trip would be made bordering India, crossing the Indian Ocean and going to the Atlantic by surrounding Africa.

Three years of adventure and hardship lasted this journey. Of the 245 men, only 18 survived, of the five ships that started the expedition, only one, with a symbolic name, returned to Seville: Nao Victoria (Victory).

Along the way riots, shipwrecks, diseases, internal struggles and fights with the indigenous people threatened the first around the world trip. However, despite the large number of human losses, the objective of the expedition was fulfilled: they successfully traded, returned laden with spices and it was also the first time that the roundness of the Earth was 100% demonstrated.
A milestone that at first they were not looking for, they had made for the first time in History the First World Tour.

Seville, the city who saw the departure of the first around the world trip

Magallanes y Elcano: La primera vuelta al mundo 1519-1522
The city of Seville when the first around the world trip was made

The Andalusian city was the starting and ending point of this first around the world trip.

Seville became in 1503 the world center of commerce with America. This decision made by Queen Isabel de Castilla was motivated by the strategic position of the Andalusian city crossed by a river, the Guadalquivir, which was navigable to its mouth in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, allowing the arrival of the ships 80 km inland. This made Seville much safer than any other city on the Atlantic coast.

The Guadalquivir was therefore the gateway to the first products to come from the New World: tomatoes, corn, tobacco or cocoa. And, of course , gold and huge amounts of silver from the mines of Mexico and Potosí (Bolivia). All the overseas expeditions managed by the House of Trade, nowadays in current dependencies of the Real Alcazar of Seville.

The Port of Seville in August 1519 saw the five ships commanded by Ferdinand Magellan in search of the Spice Islands depart towards Sanlúcar de Barrameda first and then west.

A Portuguese and a Spaniard

Magallanes y Elcano: La primera vuelta al mundo 1519-1522
Juan Sebastian Elcano, one of the protagonist of the First around the world trip

Ferdinand Magellan, captain and ideologist of the expedition organized this trip with the help of the also Portuguese cosmographer Rui Faleiro. However, the expedition also included men of 10 nationalities, of whom 166 were Spanish men.

Magellan had the misfortune to die in the middle of the trip in a skirmish with the indigenous people in the Philippines (they would be called with this name years later in honor of King Felipe II). Luck wanted an experienced Basque sailor from Guetaria (Guipúzcoa), Juan Sebastián Elcano, to command the expedition. He was the one who ended the trip in Seville on August 13, 1522 when the battered Victoria with 18 survivors climbed the Guadalquivir and arrived in our city.

In such a way that the feat was shared by two navigators, from two different nations: the Spanish and the Portuguese.

The first around the world trip was made, and with it the roundness of the Earth was demonstrated, since always marching in the same direction, the starting point was reached. The emperor Carlos I, upon receiving Juan Sebastián Elcano, gave him as a shield a globe with the Latin legend: Primus circumdedisti me (“you were the first in surrounding me”). And also 500 ducats of income per year.

What can we see in Seville related to the First around the World trip

Qué podemos ver en Sevilla en relación con la Primera vuelta al Mundo

In addition to the Guadalquivir river, which witnessed trade and expeditions to the New World and beyond there are historical places and monuments in Seville that inform us and illustrate this important event and the History of the Andalusian capital in the 16th century. These are the most remarkable ones:

  • Tower of Gold. Built as part of the Wall in the 13th century by the Muslims, it was the starting and ending point of trips to the Indies. Today it houses an interesting Naval Museum and clearly exposes the main events of the First World Tour.
  • Archive of the Indies. Declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, it houses a true treasure inside. There is all the documentation about this trip. Unfortunately for us, the documents are reserved for researchers and there is very little that they reveal to the general public. The impressive Exhibition “The Longest Journey” about the first round world has been hosted from September to February can now be visited in the city of San Sebastián.
  • Monument to Juan Sebastián Elcano. Fountain built in the 70s by the sculptor Antonio Cano Correa. It is Seville’s tribute to the figure of this Basque navigator, captain of the expedition at the arrival.Monumento a la Primera Vuelta al Mundo en la calle Adriano. Mas reciente del año 2014 es este monumento hecho en mármol que recuerda la expedición. Estáestratégicamente situado en el antes llamado Monte del Baratillo del Barrio del Arenal, barrio marinero por excelencia en aquel tiempo.
  • Monument to the First Round the World on Adriano Street. Most recent in 2014 is this marble monument that it is a tribute to the expedition. It is strategically located in the formerly called Monte del Baratillo of Barrio del Arenal, a sailors district at that time.
  • Armillary sphere-Mile 0 next to the “Muelle de las Mulas (Mule’s Dock)” in the Plaza de Cuba. From here the expeditionaries left and here the returned three years later. A few meters from the Gold Tower, this great sphere is a tribute to the scientific expeditions that changed our world.
  • Chapel of the Virgen de la Antigua (at Seville Cathedral). In the largest chapel of the Cathedral, this precious image of a Gothic Virgin was especially venerated in the 16th century. Our expeditionaries entrusted themselves to her and the eighteen survivors returned to give thanks for the return. A plaque on the floor at the entrance to the Chapel remembers the name and job of those who returned.
  • Nao Victoria Foundation and replica of the ship Victoria. Next to the river, on the ground floor of the Paseo Marqués del Contadero. It is currently the most interesting and concrete exhibition we have about the First Round the World of Magellan and Elcano. Although it is not very extensive, the trip is told in a didactic way and it allows us, above all, to visit the replica of the main ship anchored on the banks of the river.
    For a while we can feel like sailors from 500 years ago who sailed wide unknown seas and performed feats hitherto unprecedented in the History of Humanity.

if you want to do a guided tour with this theme, feel free to ask us. This is our contact

Also we can offer you a virtual tour to know more about this from your home. Our history tours on line take 1 hour by Zoom. Know more here:

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In a large room of the Alcazar of Seville there are a series of 6 huge tapestries of almost 40 square meters. Five of them represent scenes of a war, but the sixth is different, it shows a strange map of the European continent and North Africa with the peculiarity that everything is upside down, north to south, east to west and vice versa. On one side there is a venerable old man with a white beard who carries a compass in his hand, he is the map designer, the Flemish Jan Vermeyen, with the other hand he is holding a sign written in old Spanish where we read how to understand this strange map since the cartographer knew that it would not be easy at first sight.

The map is framed between two large columns with the symbols of Emperor Charles V, the columns of Hercules with the legend Plus Ultra and the two-headed black eagle of the Habsburgs. In the upper part there is an inscription in Spanish, in the lower one more in Latin, the international language of the time. The tapestry collection and its original map tell us about the military expedition to Tunisia in 1535 that Emperor Charles V undertook against his enemy Suleiman, nicknamed the Magnificent.

Who was Suleiman the Magnificent?

¿Quién era Solimán el Magnífico?

Less than a century earlier, in 1453, the Christian city of Constantinople had been conquered by the Ottoman Muslims. His new name would be Istanbul, the churches were transformed into mosques, but its fame, its commercial and artistic power continued to grow with the new owners. The Ottoman dynasty came from the steppes of Central Asia and little by little they controlled the entire western territory of Asia and the wealth of the Silk Road.

On the death of his father Selim II, his son Soliman took the throne. A new sultan who soon revealed himself as a powerful monarch with the intention of enlarging his empire and beautifying his capital.

He is known to Suleiman with the appellation of the Magnificent for the splendor and richness of his court, as well as for his personal reputation as a generous and detached monarch.
His possessions with the base of Turkey would go from Hungary to Iraq and from Yemen to the Russian steppes west of the Caspian Sea.

Who was Emperor Charles?

¿Quién era el emperador Carlos?

Charles I of Spain and V of the German Empire was the first monarch of the Habsburg dynasty. Grandson of the Catholic Monarchs inherited the throne in 1517 and dedicated himself to maintaining and expanding Hispanic territories throughout the known world that now also included the West Indies, soon called America. From Spain to the Indies, in addition Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and in Italy Sicily, Naples and Sardinia.

The Ottomans and the Habsburgs, Turkey and Spain, two great empires face to face.

The conquest of Tunisia

North Africa was a complicated area. Tunisia was held by the Berbers who were vassals of the emperor, but in 1534 the Turks conquered the city for Soliman. Less than a year later, the Emperor Charles tried to recover it. Would he succeed?

In addition, the Spanish Mediterranean coast was frequently attacked by North African pirates who in their raids captured Christians to make them slaves, members of their armies or women to be part of their harems. The most fearsome pirate was called Barbarossa (Red Beard), he was based in Algiers, but the powerful Ottoman Sultan Soliman was financing him from far away in Istanbul. That is why, with the conquest of Tunisia, Carlos tried to curb pirate incursions and expand his influence in the Mediterranean against the influential Turkish Sultan.

The tapestry of the map

El tapiz del mapa de los Reales Alcázares

On this occasion the emperor won the war and Tunisia was conquered by the Spanish in 1535. He wanted to represent his victory in a series of tapestries. The originals were made in Brussels and signed by Pannemaker.

However, in the 18th century the originals were so damaged that Felipe V commissioned in 1.740 the copies in silk and wool that are now exposed. They were manufactured in Madrid, in the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Barbara. In one of them we can see the signature of the artist, Fco.Y. Vandergoten.

Of the ten tapestries produced in the 1730s six are in this room of the Alcazar of Seville and the other four are in Madrid. The most original is undoubtedly the one that represents the map, with the particularity that it has a vision from Spain to Africa, with which Africa is above and Europe below.

The maritime expedition left from the port of Barcelona and it was joined by the famous Genoese galleys. After a stop in the Balearic Islands they continued towards Tunisia.
The other tapestries do not represent maps but they do play with the points of view, and some have the view from the ground and others from the sea, so that it shows in a new and modern way the different scenes as if from a film camera It will be.

It was not the first map that was made in this way with south-north orientation. But this is especially detailed, you just have to look backwards.
After all, the orientation with the north above is arbitrary, since it depends on where the viewer is located. Anyway there are clues on the map, we find compasses or wind roses with their needle always pointing north… So we never lose our way!