La Giralda: A harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles

A view of the Seville Cathedral from the Setas

The magnificent campanile of the Seville Cathedral

When you look at the Giralda, it is hard to imagine that it is a product of two entirely different cultures. The lower half is part of the minaret built in the 13th century by the Almohads – a Moorish dynasty originated from North Africa. The upper half is a Renaissance-style bell tower built in the 16th century by the Christians, who took controls of Seville after the Reconquista. Despite the differences in architectural styles and religious traditions, the building appears to be seamlessly integrated and harmonious, and is reflective of the multi-cultural aspects of Spain.

Giralda means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish. The decorative bronze sculpture placed at the top, which rotates with the wind and acts as a weather vane, is responsible for the name. It depicts a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith.

Islamic Section – Highly ornate Moorish minaret

Giralda exterior
Giralda exterior

The minaret part of the tower appears to use two types of construction: Ashlar stone in the base and brick exterior in the rest. Richly decorated arched windows and balconies adorn the brick exterior on all four sides of the tower. They allow light and air into the interior.

Mounted on top of the original minaret was a hemispherical dome, and above it was a stack of three bronze spheres of decreasing size, crowning it with a crescent moon. The dome and spheres remained in place until an earthquake destroyed them in 1365.

Each side of the tower measures 45 ft at the street level. The foundation below the street level is a bit wider and is about 20 ft deep. Most of the stones used on the foundation and the base came from the existing Roman structures, including a wall nearby. The minaret segment of the tower is about 165 ft high.

The interior of the minaret consists of chambers at the center and ramps around them built with enough space to allow people and horseback riders to climb the tower. There are a total of 35 ramp segments, starting at the entrance and ending near the Christian part of the Giralda. The image below shows a segment (i.e., number 23) with the original flooring. As you can see, the ramp is big enough for people to walk comfortably, and the path is lit by the light that passes through the window situated on the right side.

A ramp segment of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral
A ramp segment of the Giralda

Christian Section – Bell tower with Victory of Faith at the top

Giralda upper part
Giralda upper part

In the 16th century, Seville was flourishing, thanks to the trade with the New World conquered by the Conquistadors. With an enormous wealth in hand, the cathedral chapter entrusted the work of building a magnificent bell tower for the Seville Cathedral to Hernan Ruiz II in 1558. He was an ingenious architect who already built other structures in the Seville cathedral. It took ten years for him to complete the bell tower addition.

Overlaid on top of the original minaret are the four stories built with the Renaissance-style architecture. The transition to the new addition is smooth, and onlookers hardly notice the difference. The size (includes width and height) of the stories decreases as you go higher. The bottom two floors are square-shaped, and the top two are circular.

The first story sits perfectly on top of the minaret and appears as though it is a continuation of it. Built with bricks, stones, and ceramics, it serves as a bell-chamber housing 24 bells, eight on each side. The exterior is highly ornate with columns, round windows, and an arch in the middle of each side. The bells hang between the pillars. Mounted above the corners are the bronze flower vases with lilies.

The second story has two levels. In 1765, a Franciscan Friar named José Cordero installed a beautiful bell in the upper level of this story, and it became the 25th bell of Giralda. The third story is circular, and the fourth looks like a jar and is named “La Tinaja” (The Jar).

El Giradillo

Sitting above the fourth floor is a dome which acts as a pedestal for a magnificent bronze sculpture of a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith. This sculpture is known as El Giradillo because it rotates with the wind and acts like a weather vane.

The woman in the statue is holding the cross with the right hand and the foliage with the left. The semi-oval plate attached to the lower part of the cross helps to point El Giradillo in the direction of the wind. This rotating behavior is responsible for Giralda’s name, which means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish.

El Giradillo is about 13 ft high and rests on a pedestal that is 10 ft high. It was cast in bronze by Bartolomé Morel in 1568 using a model most likely built by Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo, who was also responsible for the reliefs on the Chapter house dome. The model for the cast was based on a painting by Luis de Vargas. A duplicate of El Giradillo is in front of the Puerta del Principe.

Panoramic views

If you take the Seville Cathedral tour, it culminates with the climbing of the Giralda, first walking on the ramps of the minaret and then taking the flight of steps to the belfry, the last stop. As you climb the minaret part, you can stop at the balconies to view the surroundings. Once you reach the belfry, you can go around all the four sides and get a 360 view of the historic city of Seville. One of the spectacular views you see is of the Seville Cathedral itself.

Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees) located on the north side of the Seville Cathedral
Patio de los Naranjos – Courtyard of the Orange Trees

The image shows an aerial view of the Patio de los Naranjos, a garden of orange trees, enclosed by the structures belonging to the Seville Cathedral complex, which are, the northern facade of the Seville Cathedral on the left, Iglesia del Sagrario in the middle, and a gallery on the right.

The small tower in the middle of the right side (i.e., north side) gallery belongs to the Puerta del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness), a gate through which visitors enter the Patio de los Naranjos from the Calle Alemanes. The gallery on the east side (not visible) houses La Bibliotheca Colombina, a library that holds the private book collection of Fernando Colón, the second son of Christopher Columbus. Both Fernando Colón and Christopher Columbus were interred in the Seville Cathedral.

The Patio de los Naranjos used to be the courtyard of the Almohad mosque once stood in this space. The only thing that remains of the courtyard from that era is the fountain where the worshipers performed ritual ablutions, i.e., washing of feet and hands before entering the mosque.

The Patio de los Naranjos is now used by the visitors to gather and relax before and after the tour of the Seville Cathedral.

A panoramic view from the belfry of the Giralda in Seville, Andlusia, Spain
A panoramic view from the belfry of the Giralda

The image shows the eastern end of the Seville Cathedral. The dome with the roof lantern is above the Capilla Real. Below the cathedral is the La Plaza de la Virgen de Los Reyes, and behind it is the Real Alcazar and the adjoining gardens. The Guadalquivir River is in the far end of the image.

Related Pages
Seville Cathedral: An awe-inspiring architectural marvel
Sala Capitular – The Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral
Sacristía Mayor – The Main Sacristy of the Seville Cathedral

Copyright © 2020 by Lawrence Rodrigues. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.