The entrance to the Giralda lies to the left of the Capilla Real in the cathedral’s northeast corner. Unquestionably the most beautiful building in Seville, the Giralda, named after the sixteenth-century giraldillo, or weather vane, on its summit, dominates the city skyline. From the entrance you can ascend to the bell chamber for a remarkable view of the city – and, equally remarkable, a glimpse of the Gothic details of the cathedral’s buttresses and statuary. But most impressive of all is the tower’s inner construction, a series of 35 gently inclined ramps wide enough to allow two mounted guards to pass.
The Giralda tower, before it was embellished with Christian additions, was the mosque’s minaret and the artistic pinnacle of Almohad architecture. Such was its fame that it served as a model for other minarets at the imperial capitals of Rabat and Marrakesh. It was used by the Moors both for calling the faithful to prayer (the traditional function of a minaret) and as an observatory, and was so venerated that they wanted to destroy it before the Christian conquest of the city. This they were prevented from doing by the threat of Alfonso (later King Alfonso X) that “if they removed a single stone, they would all be put to the sword”. Instead, it became the bell tower of the Christian cathedral.
The Giralda’s construction
The Moorish structure took twelve years to build (1184–96) and derives its firm, simple beauty from the shadows formed by blocks of brick trelliswork (a style known as sebka), different on each side, and relieved by a succession of arched niches and windows. The original harmony has been somewhat spoiled by the Renaissance-era addition of balconies and, to a still greater extent, by the four diminishing storeys of the belfry – added, along with the Italian-sculpted bronze figure of “Faith” which surmounts them, in 1560–68, following the demolition by an earthquake of the original copper spheres. Even so, it remains in its perfect synthesis of form and decoration one of the most important and beautiful monuments of the Islamic world.
The Patio de los Naranjos
To reach the cathedral’s exit, move east along the nave’s north side to reach the Puerta de la Concepción, passing through this to enter the Patio de los Naranjos. Along with the Giralda tower, this was the only feature to be spared from the original mosque. In Moorish times the mosque would have been entered via the Puerta del Pardon, now the visitor exit. Taking its modern name from the orange trees that now shade the patio, this was the former mosque’s entrance courtyard. Although somewhat marred by Renaissance additions, the patio still incorporates a Moorish fountain where worshippers carried out at ritual ablutions prior to worship. Interestingly, it incorporates a sixth-century font from an earlier Visigothic cathedral, which was in its turn levelled to make way for the mosque.