Sevilla is 2000 years old with the usual group of defining influences Romans, Moors and Christians. The city sits on the Guadalquivir river, which is very difficult to pronounce, but which provided navigatable access to the sea so that vessels could dock in the port of Sevilla.
Sevilla has a Cathedral and an Alcazar which are its two major attractions. But which is the best? Here they go head to head.
The Cathedral took eighty or a hundred years of construction effort, depending on your source (say 1434- to say 1511), it is enormous and it’s very gothic. It has the thickest supporting stone pillars I think I’ve ever seen and is decorated with extreme wooden carvings inside.
The Alcazar is a palace which was first built in 913 as a fort. The Moors worked on it for a couple of hundred years from sometime in the 1000’s. The Christians arrived in 1248 and used it as their main palace and continued with the building works.
The cathedral is certainly very large, it is still the largest cathedral in the World, the two churches that are larger don’t have an Archbishop so they aren’t cathedrals. The big churches are St Peter’s at the Vatican and a church with a long name in Brazil that can hold 70,000 worshippers. In particular, the Sevilla cathedral is tall. I can imagine the effort that it took to move all those enormous stones and place them one on top of another until they finished up 42 metres high in the main churchy drag, called the central nave. The tower is an even more impressive 105 metres tall that has been built with ramp access so horses can be ridden up there, which we did not attempt. An incredible feat for the age. Perhaps more impressive if it had been engineered sufficiently to prevent the roof falling in. Firstly, in 1511, shortly after version 1.0 had been completed and secondly after an earthquake in 1888.
The Alcazar is light and bright and adorned with carved arches, stucco and many courtyards that reflect a different Moorish mindset. It is joyous to walk around and at 17,000 square metres it has also been built on quite a scale. I say this to compare with the the cathedral which was deliberately done large, but which is, by my calculations, 1,500 square metres smaller in footprint.
The visit to the Alcazar is made all the more delightful by the sounds of running water and the various ponds stocked with fish and the extraordinary underground baths.
Just when you have decided that this is a most fabulous experience, there’s more:
Seven hectares of gardens by the side of the Alcazar. They are well maintained and again feature many pools, plus shaded walkways and elevated viewing corridors.
I found the cathedral to be dark and oppressive. During the last sixty years of the cathedrals construction the Catholics were ramping up the Inquisition. Torturing people (Jews and Arabs and others) and burning them to death with both Papal and Royal support. This suggests to me the Catholics of the time liked their religion to be served with a lot of suffering (mostly of non Catholics but not exclusively so). With this context, for me the Cathedral’s architecture reflects and captures the brutal misery of those times.
During the last twenty years of the cathedral’s build “trade” was starting with the new lands of the Americas and bringing great wealth to Sevilla. I place the word trade between rabbits ears as I understood that much of the bounty from the new lands was extracted forcibly, an activity similar to theft. Upshot was, Sevilla and the royal family had increasingly large amounts of cash to splash. Behind every great fortune there is a great crime. In this instance a slice of the great fortune was spent on, what I think is, an ugly cathedral, with a funding model that was also ugly.
The Alacazar and its gardens were light and bright, joyous expressions of the people who designed them, the Moors. Altogether a happier, more uplifting place to be.
As a cheapskate I occasionally stand next to tour guides without subscribing. The tour leader I stood next to for five minutes at the Alcazar was pointing out the Star of David incorporated into a window design. She explained how the Moors thought that everyone should get along famously for mutual benefit. As a result the Moors didn’t persecute Jews or Christians. As a result I have awarded contextual moral high ground points to the Alcazar.
At the Alhambra, and from my free audience at the Alcazar, I learnt the Moors were highly advanced in architecture and engineering, they were navigating using the stars and were great educators. I chose to see this advancement reflected in a more aesthetically designed edifice than the cathedral, more points.
The Spanish royal family have rooms at the Alcazar which they use. I decided Felipe VI and his family would like me to allocate liveability points to the Alcazar on their behalf. Finally, at Euros 9, the Alcazar has an entrance fee that is 50 cents cheaper than the Cathedral. That Cathedral just cannot take a trick.
Final score: Alcazar awarded bags full of points from many perspectives. The Cathedral many points also, but many negative ones which nets it out under water. The Alcazar is a must visit while in Sevilla.