Photo: SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23, 2006: Plaza de Espana, Seville / Federica Chioni via Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The travel giant Lonely Planet has announced that its top travel city for 2018 is the quintessentially Andalusian city of Seville, home of the flamenco, bull fighting, tapas, and over 500 hundred years of Muslim history. So here are our top five Muslim heritage sites you simply have to visit in the stunning Spanish city once known as “Ishbiliya”.
1. THE GIRALDA
Photo: SEVILLE, SPAIN - APRIL 18, 2016: View of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Cathedral in Seville which was originally built as a minaret in the Moorish period, seen from the gate of Patio de Banderas (Courtyard of the Flags) / Naeblys / Shutterstock.com
This 90-metre-high decorated bell tower was once the minaret of the city’s mosque. It was constructed between 1184 and 1198, at the height of Almohad rule. The delicate geometric patterns, now common throughout the Muslim world, sit on brickwork that changes colour with the light. Said to be Spain’s most perfect Islamic building, the Giralda is the official symbol of the city of Seville. A climb to the top takes you into the 16th-century Christian additions, made after the minaret was converted into a bell tower and the mosque into a cathedral. This is also the best place in town for spectacular views across Seville.
2. THE ALCAZAR
Photo: SEVILLE, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 19, 2008: The Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens) in the Royal Alcazar of Seville. / By Cat from Sevilla, Spain - Patio de las Doncellas, via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
This is Seville’s Alhambra. Smaller but equally beautiful, the Alcazar is often overlooked by seekers of Andalusian Muslim heritage. This is because what you see today has been mainly built by Christian kings on the site of the original 10th-century Muslim fort. However, their architects were Muslims, and nowhere is this more apparent than the “jewel” in The Alcazar’s crown, the Mudejar Palacio de Don Pedro. This sumptuous courtyard built by King Pedro I is a direct replica of the one in Granada’s Alhambra, complete with water feature and arabesque arches. Even inside the Alcazar, Christian kings praised their Lord in the then-fashionable Arabic language, using inscriptions such as “Wa la ghalib ill Allah”: “There is no victor but God.”
3. TORRE DEL ORO
Photo: SEVILLE, SPAIN - MAY 4, 2015: Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold) / Lisi4ka / Shutterstock.com
This 13th-century “Tower of Gold” is also an Almohad construction. It sits overlooking the River Guadalquivir (from the Arabic “Wadi al Kabir”, or “the Great River”) at what was once a corner of the ancient city. The tower gets its name from the belief that its dome used to be covered in golden tiles. Today, it is home to a maritime museum.
4. PATIO DE LOS NARANJOS
Photo: SEVILLA, SPAIN - JANUARY 7, 2016: People strolling through Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of Oranges) inside the cathedral in the Spanish city of Sevilla / trabantos / shutterstock.com
Once part of the Great Mosque of Ishbiliya, this courtyard and the Giralda are all that remain of the old Islamic building. It contains 66 naranjos (orange trees, which are said to have been introduced to Andalusia by the Muslims) and has many of the arabesque arches along the original garden walls that flank the Puerta del Perdon, the stunning Muslim-era gate. With a trickling fountain in the middle, the Patio de Los Naranjos is the perfect oasis to sit and contemplate Seville’s five centuries of Muslim civilisation.
5. BANOS ARABES
Photo: Aire de Sevilla / Source: Aire Ancient Baths Facebook page
A modern homage to the ancient culture of Ishbiliya, the Aire de Sevilla offers a classical Moorish hammam experience in a setting that evokes Muslim Iberia. The baths are housed in a riyadh-like set of rooms overlooking an open courtyard, where visitors are whisked back to the age of the Morisco (Muslim Spaniard). The central water fountain is surrounded by eastern lanterns, Moorish tiles and furniture where customers sit sipping warm mint tea. The Aire de Sevilla offers a host of treatments inside rooms lit by soft candlelight, including a cold pool, two warm ones, and a steam room.
(This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk)
(Writing by Tharik Hussain; Editing by Seban Scaria)
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