Spain Guide


Seville History

Legend has it that Seville was founded by the greatest of all Greek heroes, Hercules. More a matter of historic fact is that the Tartessian civilisation of Iron Age Andalucians were the original founders of a settlement called Hispalis which later became known as Isbiliya under the Moors and ultimately as Sevilla.

The Romans, who governed Spain for more than 600 years, established their first colony at Italica, nine kilometres north of Seville, in 206 BC. The city was of great military importance in the second and third centuries but much of it was later dismantled to provide stone for the development of Seville. The archaeological site of Italica, with an amphitheatre and about 20 mosaics, can still be visited today.

It was the Arabs who made the biggest impact on the city, transforming it into the opulent capital of the kingdom of Al Andalus. The Moors ruled from 711 to 1248 when Ferdinand III of Castile recaptured the city after a long siege and made it his residence.

About 300,000 Arabs fled Seville but left a rich legacy which survives today in the form of some magnificent buildings including the Alcazar palace, the Torre del Oro and Patio de los Naranjos.

In the 15th century Seville played a key role in the "discovery" and conquest of the New World and entered its period of greatest prosperity. Its access to the sea via the Guadalquivir River enabled it to become the most important port of trade with the new American colonies.

Spain was the super power of the 16th century and gold and silver poured into Seville on the hundreds of galleons which arrived from the Americas each year. The city was also the main receiving port for imports from all over Europe, funded by the empire's newfound wealth.

They were heady days during which Seville acquired a reputation as a centre of hedonism and excess. The exploitation of America financed a flourishing school of art in the city which produced the two great masters Diego Velazquez and Bartolome Murillo. Velazquez became a favourite of the royal court whilst Murillo was the first Spanish painter to gain widespread acclaim across Europe. Murillo concentrated on religious paintings in later life but his earlier works included many studies of the ragged boys and flower girls of Seville.

The arrival of tobacco in great quantities led to the construction of a huge tobacco factory in the mid 18th century which, in its hey day, employed 10,000 female cigar makers. The factory inspired Bizet's gypsy heroine Carmen and still stands today as part of the University of Seville.

But by this time Seville's importance as a port was superseded by Cadiz and the city's economic fortunes fell into decline in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Its recovery has been relatively recent, boosted by two major events of the 20th century. In 1929 the Spanish American Expo was held here, resulting in many important improvements to the city including the creation of Plaza de España and the Maria Luisa Park.

The Expo '92 world fair put Seville in the global spotlight once again on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. Millions of visitors enabled the city to acquire eight new bridges over the River Guadalquivir, a new high speed rail link to Madrid and thousands of new hotel rooms.