6 September 2001
A Crocodile, Elephant Tusk and La Giralda
La Giralda - Sevilla
A Moorish minaret built in 1198, last remaining part of the great mosque destroyed in 1401, is now the bell tower of the huge cathedral of Sevilla. In the photo above the area starting with the arched, differently colored masonry is last of a series of changes to the top. Drawings of previous versions indicate they were smaller towers carrying the theme of the brickwork below. It is my opinion that, unlike so many of the changes to Moorish architectural gems made after the reconquest, the result of this final version made by Hernán Ruiz in 1568 is an improvement. At the tip is a very large 16th century bronze weather vane, a giraldillo, giving this entire landmark and symbol of the city its name of La Giralda.
The shot above is from the Patio de los Naranjos, a paved area with little channels irrigating the orange trees. It was the place worshipers in the mosque would wash before entering. This area was preserved along with what became La Giralda when the cathedral replaced the mosque. It is entirely surrounded by a chapel and building-wall with an arched walkway along the side next to the tower.
One might visit the cathedral itself. It is an impressive, interesting and sometimes beautiful building. The great (Capilla Mayor) altar is a mass of wonderfully carved panels done over about a hundred years starting from 1482. The figures in the panels are about half life size and painted to show against the gold covered background. The cathedral is massive, second (some say third) in size to St. Peters in Rome. It also contains some weird things. One is the tomb of Columbus borne by figures representing the kings of the period of exploration. There is serious question of whether the remains inside are actually those of Columbus, but it is a nice touch. After a long rest in the cathedral one might decide to walk the ramps, built so horsemen could ride to the top of La Giralda, to see the bells and for the view. Just be sure to be rested. Somewhere around level 25-30 the constant, turning climb seems somewhat endless.
On the way there is a chance to view the stonework closely and also get vistas of the city at different levels. Little exhibits of the history, architecture and artifacts are in chambers of the inside walls. I was personally amused, though I doubt maintenance people share that feeling, at how the pigeons took advantage of deeply carved stonework as little cave dwellings. At either the opening below or above this one a pure white pigeon was so far back into one niche, only slightly larger than the bird, that only a wind driven rain could have touched it.
The top is worth the walk and most will probably want to stay for a good long rest. Even kids seemed worn out and possibly a little dizzy from the constant left turns at each ramp segment's end. In this view the Reales Alcázares, the Royal Palaces, and its gardens are immediately below. The palaces were inserted within the earlier Moorish palace. Isabel I sent explorers to the New World from her quarters here, but it is the Moorish portion that is of great fame. The gardens -- well I could have spent a full day in the gardens alone as they are huge, changing and beautifully done.
One strange little bit of the cathedral stuck in my mind from a brief visit many years before. I loved the city, remembered bits of the cathedral, had never climbed La Giralda, but one thing kept popping up in memories. I'd visited for a few hours while driving from Madrid to Rota. The cathedral and many other buildings were closed so it was outside views except that we could enter the Patio de los Naranjos. Hanging by chains way up in that covered walkway around the building-wall was a musty old crocodile and an elephant's tusk. What strange artifacts of the age of discovery or empire were these?
On my last visit (2000) they were missing. I was told this was only during some restoration work. Above where they had been was gray painted wood covering the stonework. The poor state of some can be seen right above the crocodile's head in the enlarged section above of a photo from 1974. Pieces may have been falling and creating a danger. I certainly hope the restoration included hanging of these artifacts that add that little touch of weird interest to the place. One expects chapels and relics, but a crocodile and very large elephant tusk hanging in chains? It is one of those pleasant curiosities.
I asked and found a bit of the story, but not much. The crocodile is a wooden model sent by Egypt's ruler as a gift long ago. I did not find the origin of the tusk.
Sevilla is not all old. It is a modern city with much entertainment, assuming one can stay up until things liven up sometime around one to three in the morning, beautiful parks and a playground of a river through the heart. In a walk over the bridge near the cathedral we were passed by kids, possibly twelve or thirteen years old, rushing across. My wife and I had stopped to look at the river and saw these kids joining more of the after school crowd launching kayaks from a boat storage building just below the bridge's other side over in the Triana section. Little squadrons of these kids and a number of older people were forming lines, paddling four abreast, racing and in general having a great time in the city's heart.
The AVE (tren de Alta Velocidad Española) connect Sevilla with Madrid. Some stop in Cordoba. The trip to and from Madrid is a scenic and very comfortable 2½ hours. I'd commented in Madrid's beautiful station that if this were Japan these Shinkansen equivalents would stop exactly on a mark telling us our car and seat section. Instead of the brass markers behind which Japanese stand I found larger green painted sections showing car number. Pleased at this efficiency I'd liked in Japan I carefully observed the minute hand on the clocks to see if we moved on the minute. We did. It was almost as smooth as I'd remembered the Shinkansen where on my first trip I thought we were late until raising the shade and seeing the outskirts of Tokyo racing by at over 100 miles per hour. Spain with Japanese precision and efficiency? Yes. And isn't it refreshing? It does not take a dictator to make the trains run on time! The AVE make the trip pleasant and very fast.
For some details on the area and cathedral see Atrium's SEVILLA CLÁSICA page.
See Catedral de Sevilla: La Giralda for unusual close views of the weather vane that is the origin of this name. The main page of Hispalis Net's Turismo y Cultura has links to much more detail on the cathedral, Reales Alcazares and other sights of the city.
Copyright © 2001 by Ramon Jackson