Exploring Sevilla’s Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias

If you climb to the top of the Giralda Tower, you’ll enjoy prime views of Sevilla.

Slowly and steadily, the line of people plods upward. Sighing, panting, gasping, straining. The woman in front of me desperately wants to commiserate with me about this relatively arduous trek, but I don’t speak French. Finally, she holds up three fingers, then five, to signal there are 35 ramps to climb. Then she points at the number on the wall ahead of us, which designates the ramp we’re completing — number 20 — and sighs heavily. Fifteen more to go.

Yes, the climb to the top of Sevilla’s Giralda tower will get your heart rate up. But the views are more than worth the effort. And what better way to honor the impressive landmark, and its history, with a bit of a struggle?

The Sevilla Cathedral, which includes the Giralda tower, plus the neighboring Real Alcázar and Archivo de Indias, are together considered a “monumental complex.” The grouping snagged a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List because it provides a wonderful synopsis of Spain in her heyday: her ecclesiastical importance, role as a center of Islamic culture, royal prestige and successful colonizer of the New World, which brought her impressive trading power.

In Your Bucket Because …

  • These three sites together are considered a monumental complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The cathedral is the world’s largest by area.
  • Good for history, art and architecture buffs.

The Gothic-Renaissance cathedral, founded in 1403, stands on the grounds of a former major 12th-century mosque. It’s Spain’s largest church, and third-largest in the world. Besides containing treasures like the tomb of Christopher Columbus, it also features the Giralda tower. Once the mosque’s minaret, the tower is one of the only parts of the mosque still remaining.

Sevilla’s Giralda Tower, part of the Sevilla Cathedral, was once the minaret for an important 12th-century mosque.

The Real Alcázar, conveniently located next to the cathedral, is a fortified palace. Initially built in the 10th century for a Muslim governor, it consists not only of palatial buildings, but extensive gardens. His Royal Majesty Juan Carlos stays here when he’s in town. The structure is considered one of the most important examples of Mudéjar (Moorish) architecture in Sevilla.

The Archivo de Indias houses the greatest collection of documents concerning the discovery of the New World. Its building was constructed in 1585 for the consulate of the merchants of Sevilla, and was later transformed into archives.

Walking through Spanish History

Plan to spend a full day exploring the Cathedral and Real Alcázar. (The Archivo de Indias isn’t something to tour, but you may wish to walk around the building to admire its architecture.) It’s easy to pass a few hours in the vast cathedral, especially if, say, an organist is playing or you have to wait for crowds to disperse around popular stops like Columbus’ tomb. The Alcázar is similarly expansive, and if the weather’s great, you’ll want to linger in the gardens.

Sevilla’s Real Alcázar is an old, fortified palace that features beautiful gardens.

Capping Things Off

My French friend and I finally emerge from the “rampwell” and into the top of the Giralda tower. Sweating and muttering, she lifts her eyes up from the last ramp and a smile bursts across her face as she takes in the sight of Sevilla spreading out below. She quickly rushes to a window while I begin snapping photos.

Later that night, I stop at a nearby café and relax with a nice glass of vino tinto (red wine), followed by a small flute of cava, Spain’s version of champagne. Hey, they’re important parts of Spanish history, too.


  • There may be a long line to get into the Cathedral, but it should move relatively quickly.
  • For 3€ you can rent an audio guide.
  • The numerous bells in the Giralda Tower do ring. While they’re set to ring on the hour, they’re not always on time, and can be as much as 10-15 minutes late.
  • If you go into the Alcázar with others, make sure you stick together or have cell phones. The place is enormous and the gardens are like a maze, making it easy to get lost. Just ask my husband.

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