Spanish SEVILLA, ancient Hispalis, city and capital of the provincia of Seville, in the Andalusia comunidad aut?noma (”autonomous community”) of southern Spain. Seville lies on the left (east) bank of the Guadalquivir River at a point about 54 miles (87 km) north of the Atlantic, and about 340 miles (550 km) southwest of Madrid. An inland port, it is the chief city of Andalusia and the fourth largest in Spain. It was important in history as a cultural centre, as a capital of Muslim Spain, and as a centre for Spanish exploration of the New World.
Seville was originally an Iberian town. Under the Romans it flourished from the 2nd century BC onward as Hispalis, and it was an administrative centre of the province of Baetica. The Silingi Vandals made it the seat of their kingdom early in the 5th century AD, but in 461 it passed under Visigothic rule. In 711 the town fell to the Muslims, and under their rule Ixvillia, as it was now called, flourished. It became a leading cultural and commercial centre under the ‘Abbadid dynasty and the subsequent Almoravid and Almohad confederations. As the Almohad capital in the 12th century, Seville enjoyed great prosperity and ambitious building programs. But after the Muslim possession of Seville was ended in 1248 by Spanish Christians under Ferdinand III, the substantial Moorish and Jewish minorities were driven into exile, and the local economy temporarily fell into ruin.
The Spanish discovery of the Americas brought new prosperity to the city. Seville became the centre of the exploration and exploitation of America through the House of Trade, which was established there in 1503 to regulate commerce between Spain and the New World. For two centuries Seville was to hold a dominant position in Spain’s New World commerce; it was the site of the chief mint for gold and silver from the Americas, and many Spanish emigrants to the New World sailed from its quays. Seville was in fact the richest and most populous city in Spain in the 16th century, with some 150,000 inhabitants in 1588. This brilliance was fleeting, however, since Seville’s prosperity was based almost entirely on the exploitation of the colonies rather than on local industry and trade. As a result, Seville’s economy declined in the 17th century, though its cultural life underwent a great flowering at this time. The painters Diego Vel?zquez, Francisco de Zurbar?n, and Bartolom? Esteban Murillo, the sculptor Juan Mart?nez Monta??s, and the poet Fernando de Herrera are the glories of Seville and of Spain. Miguel de Cervantes conceived of his novel Don Quixote while he was confined in Seville’s jail.
In the 18th century Spain’s Bourbon rulers managed to stimulate a limited economic revival in the city, but in the 19th century the French invasion, revolutions, and civil war halted such development. In 1847 the April Fair, an annual gala following Easter, was established. The Iberoamerican Exposition of 1929 initiated a new renaissance in Seville. During the 20th century the port was enlarged, and the city revived as an industrial and commercial centre. The Universal Exposition world’s fair opened in Seville in 1992.
Seville’s many architectural monuments survived the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) intact because the city was held by the Nationalists throughout the entire conflict, and was thus never fought over. The oldest part of Seville lies on the left bank of the Guadalquivir and is irregularly planned, with a maze of narrow and twisting streets, small enclosed squares, and houses built and decorated in the Moorish style. There is a somewhat more spacious layout in the central district near the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Alc?zar Palace. Seville’s cathedral is one of the largest in area of all Gothic churches. Most of it was constructed from 1402 to 1506 on the site of the city’s principal mosque, which had been built by the Almohads in 1180-1200 on the site of an earlier Visigothic church. One of the mosque’s few surviving portions, its minaret, called the Giralda, was incorporated into the cathedral as its bell tower. The minaret has surfaces almost entirely covered with beautiful yellow brick and stone paneling of Moorish design. The main portion of the Cathedral of Santa Maria is built in the Late Gothic style of France, but its various parts display building styles ranging from the Moorish through the Gothic to the Plateresque and the Baroque. The cathedral’s interior contains paintings by Murillo and Zurbar?n, among others.
The finest survival from the Moorish period is the Alc?zar Palace, which lies near the cathedral. The Alc?zar was begun in 1181 under the Almohads but was continued under the Christians, so that, like the cathedral, it exhibits both Moorish and Gothic stylistic features. A decagonal brick tower, the Torre del Oro, once part of the Alc?zar’s outer fortifications, remains a striking feature of the riverbank. Other examples of Moorish building are the tower of the Church of San Marcos (once the minaret of a mosque) and two sides of the cathedral’s Patio de Naranjos. Seville has many other churches built in the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo styles.
The Casa Lonja, adjacent to the cathedral and finished in 1599, houses the General Archive of the Indies, a superb collection of books, plans, manuscripts, and several million documents bearing on the history and administration of Spain’s empire in the Americas. The University of Seville, founded in 1502, is now housed in the imposing Baroque and Rococo buildings of the old Tobacco Factory, which was completed in 1757. The city museum has a fine collection of paintings of the Seville school, with works by Vel?zquez, Zurbar?n, Murillo, and Juan Vald?s Leal. Seville is still the seat of a Roman Catholic bishopric.
More spacious and regular planning is found beyond the walls of the old city centre, where there are residential and industrial districts. Maria Luisa Park is a particularly beautiful park in the southern part of the city. Five miles (8 km) northwest of Seville are the ruins of the large Roman town of It?lica, which was the birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. The remains of its amphitheatre are especially imposing.
Modern Seville is the most important inland port of Spain. The port’s principal exports are wines, fruit, olives, cork, and minerals. The city’s industries include the manufacture of tobacco, armaments, porcelain, and agricultural machinery. Shipbuilding became a major industry after World War II, as did the manufacture of textiles from locally grown cotton. Tourism is a chief economic mainstay of the city. Pop. (1988 est.) 663,132.