Presiding over the city of Seville for almost a millennium is the Giralda, a monument that stands as testament to the fusion of architecture, reflecting the cultures and civilisations that has enriched this historic city.
Many define it as special while some say it is just built of stone. The Giralda Tower in Seville is indeed unique. It gives a sense of permanence, and perspective on the passage of time across civilisations as well as the union of cultures that is emblematic of the passionate and mysterious Andalusian capital in Southern Spain. Perhaps also, because the iconic Giralda Tower in Seville was born of the Almohad dynasty, a minaret to the then famous mosque and now, is a Renaissance style bell tower for Cathedral Santa Maria de la Sede (simply known as Seville Cathedral) today. The Giralda Tower remain as one of the most iconic symbols of Seville since the Middle Ages.
The Tower offer charming views over the bijou city — Patio de los Naranjos, sounds of guitar music, close-up of the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and the exotic flamenco rhythms that never fail to seduce and charm you.
‘Giralda’ means “one that turns” in Spanish and takes its name from the weather vane at the top of the tower (the bronze sculpture).
The Giralda Tower or La Giralda (in Spanish) of Seville Cathedral is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1987, along with the Real Alcázar and the General Archive of the Indies. It is a popular attraction, accessed from within Seville Cathedral. We highly recommend that you go. La Giralda will not disappoint. Access to Giralda Tower is included in the Tour to the Seville Cathedral.
This guide shares a brief history of the Giralda Tower, features on what makes the tower unique and ways on how to explore the monument.
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I | History of the Giralda Tower in Seville
The Giralda Tower was born in 1184 as a minaret to the mosque that was built in 1176. The base of the minaret was in cut stone and the main body of the minaret was built in brick, with a later addition of a small secondary shaft at the top of the tower. Crowning the minaret were four golden balls and metal spheres to top the tower. In addition to bricks sourced locally, recycled marble were used from old Umayyad masterpieces. It was the biggest mosque in the Andalusian territory and the pride of the Almohads during their reign.
1 | The design of the minaret
The mosque had a rectangular floor measuring 113 by 135 metres decorated in Cordoban style with stucco and wood, embellished with sandalwood, ivory, ebony, gold and silver. Its base was a square at street level. The foundation was built with solid stones and the tower consisted of two sections, the main shaft and a smaller shaft with a series of ramps so a horse or donkey could carry the Islamic leader to the top of the tower five times a day so he could call for prayers.
2 | From a minaret to a bell tower
However, when Seville was reconquered in 1248 by the Castillian Christians, the mosque was converted to a cathedral. In doing so, some exits and archways were closed off and a number of small chapels were created. The minaret was used as a bell tower.
3 | Rebuilding of the mosque/cathedral
The mosque/cathedral was badly damaged in 1356 during the Basel Earthquake. The metal spheres that topped the structure fell and these were replaced with a cross and bell around 1400s.
Following the earthquake, rebuilding of the Cathedral commenced. The construction project brought together the best artisans in the trade from all over the Castilian empire, as far as the Netherlands and Germany. Work was entrusted to the famous architect of the time, Hernan Ruiz II. The Cathedral was completed in 1506, after some 106 years.
Known simply as Seville Cathedral, it is the largest Catholic Cathedral of Gothic style in the world.
Recommended read: Seville Cathedral
II | What makes the Giralda Tower in Seville unique | 5 features to lookout for when you visit
There are no great ornaments that adorn La Giralda but its uniqueness lies in its marriage of architecture between a fine example of Arab design of the time and the 16th century Renaissance additions, along with its famous bells in the belfry.
Here are some features across civilisations to look out for when you visit:
1 | Design of the Giralda Tower in Seville
The original design of the minaret was inspired by Koutoubia, the great mosque of Morocco, located in Marrakech. As can be noted from the photo above, the facade of the minaret reflect simple stone base and bricks. The main shaft followed by a smaller shaft with netting design on the walls. The windows on the tower are placed in tune with the ramps in order to maximise light coming through to the path, and vary from a single horseshoe arch to double arched openings. They are framed by marble columns and arabesque carvings.
When Seville Cathedral was constructed in the 16th century, the architect, Hernan Ruiz II also constructed an extension to the solid stone tower of two shafts and winding ramps. The Christian Renaissance style belfry was added to the top of the tower to house the bells. The belfry was constructed between 1458 and 1568. With the addition of the belfry, the tower stood at 96 metres.
The additions encompassed several tiers. The lower base is square, to fit the top of what was the minaret. It is adorned with lantern-like ‘windows’ structure and an arch in the middle on each of its sides. It is here that the Cathedral bells are hung, in between the pillars. On each corners are mounted bronze flower vases with lillies. In the centre, there is a circular opening like a dome and the top edge is decorated with stone urns. Another tier is added to this section.
This second tier is narrower and features two square sections. In 1765, a beautiful bell was installed in the upper level (attic) of this story. The top of the upper square is home to two circular sections of decreasing sizes. The fourth looks like a jar, and is named “La Tinaja.” (The Jar). Black tiles are used as decoration throughout the belfry.
On the summit, sits a rotating sculpture, known as Giraldillo, (weather wane), that gives the Tower its name. With the Giraldillo, the height of the tower is 103 metres. The Giralda Tower dominated the skyline for 800 years but now, it is the second tallest structure in Seville following Sevilla Tower at 178 metres high.
2 | The Bells at the Giralda Tower in Seville
A unique feature of the Giralda Tower is that it has 25 bells. There are 24 in the belfry and 1 in the attic. Out of the 24 bells, 6 are clapper bells. The other 18 turn around. Therefore, Seville Cathedral is not only the largest Gothic cathedral in the world but it is also one with the greatest number of bells.
3 | Giraldillo Seville — a symbol of victory
The Giraldillo was originally called the Triumph of the Victorious Faith, to symbolise the victory of Christianity over the Muslim world. It was regarded as the largest sculpture of European Renaissance, weighing at more than 1000 kilograms. It embodies a sculpture of a woman about 4 metres high and 4 metres wide carrying a flag pole and a cross, symbolising the victory of Faith. She is made of bronze and is held together with metal bars, while being supported on a vertical metal axis. The vertical axis allows the statue to rotate around like a weather vane.
Time took a toll on the Giraldillo. Damaged and worn, the Giraldillo was moved to the Andalusian Historical Heritage Institute for restoration in 1999 while a replica was placed on the summit of the Giralda Tower. The Giraldillo was returned to its rightfully honoured place in 2005 together with instrumentation to monitor its condition.
The unique design of the Giralda Tower in Seville appears to have inspired some countries or states to replicate their very own towers. More on this, below.
4 | The 35 ramps at the Giralda in Seville
Visitors can visit the belfry and reach the top of the tower via a series of ramps and a short flight of stairs.
There are 35 ramps, wide enough and gently inclining, winding around the perimeter of its core to the top of the tower. You get to walk in the footsteps of history as these are the very same ramps that were placed instead of stairs to ease the journey of a horse that carried the Islamic leader to the top of the tower five times a day so he could call for prayers back in the 12th century.
There is a short flight of stairs to reach the top for spectacular vistas over the historic city of Seville.
5 | The Views over Seville from the Giralda Tower
For a 360 view of the historic city of Seville, you need to reach the belfry. As you climb to the belfry, up the 35 ramps, you can stop at each ramp and look out the windows to view the surroundings. At the belfry, you can walk around the four sides for spectacular views of Seville.
III | The Giralda Tower in Seville has inspired other buildings
There are some towers across the world that appear to have borrowed their design from the La Giralda. Here are just a few as examples.
IV | How to visit the Giralda Tower
There are so many ways with a good selection of ticket options to visit the Giralda Tower for best experience. You could select from either to visit on your own by pre purchasing your ticket online or select to join a guided tour. Both options are available by pre purchasing your ticket online and both include priority access. Your experience will be significantly enhanced if you opt for a guided tour as you will learn of the history from a knowledgeable guide.
TTS recommends the following three best ways to experience the La Giralda to suit your interests:
1 | Explore independently by pre purchasing a ticket online that gives you skip-the-line access.
2 | Join a small group guided tour with priority access to Seville Cathedral and La Giralda.
3 | Explore all three monuments in half a day with a guide and priority access. Learn all there is to know about these iconic landmarks from your expert guide.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Royal Alcazar along with Seville Cathedral, & General Archive of the Indies.
Add: Av. de la Constitución, s/n, 41004 Sevilla, Spain
Hours: 10:45 – 5:00 pm
OUR BEST SELLING ACTIVITIES FOR SEVILLE
1 | For an all-round experience of the sultry city, opt for a food walking tour
2 | Buy a combo ticket to visit the Royal Alcazar, Seville Cathedral + Giralda.
3 | Enjoy timeless experiences on the Guadalquivir River.
Thank you – glad you enjoy reading my posts. Yes, there are several very beautiful towers around and I do love the one in Marrakech. I just found this tower fascinating and the ingenious architect who placed a Renaissance belfry atop the minaret.
Another great blog to read, whether visiting or not. Being in the process of booking Morocco again the links were interesting. I am someone who likes the blend, or clash of architectural styles but also simply the wonderful views the towers give. I can think of a few I really liked just for this!