ISBILIA, THE DREAM OF ALMUTAMID
First the Almoravids and, later, the Almohads made the city the capital of the Caliphate of Seville.
The arrival of the Arabs in the year 711 resulted in a radical transformation for the entire Peninsula, but especially for the South, which is where they ruled the longest. Isbilia (the Arabic name for Seville) would become a flourishing city in the Islamic world, with an Arabic-Andalusian culture. Jews, Christians and several ethnic groups of the Arab world lived peacefully side by side in Isbilia. Mozarabs also appeared as a result of the fusion of cultures.
Isbilia was an important city, although the capital of Al-Andalus was in the nearby city of Cordoba, against which it rose in arms on several occasions. The reign of Al-Mutamid (11th century) is a key period in this time of Seville’s history, when it became the most important enclave in the West. Then, with the arrival of the Almoravids, who displaced the Berbers and even eventually expelled Al-Mutamid himself.
In the 12th century, the Almohads arrived and the city recovered its lost splendour. The Giralda, the minaret of the mosque, is a good example of this.
During the time in which Seville was the capital of the Almohad Empire in Al Andalus, from 1146 until shortly before its conquest by Ferdinand III in 1248, important construction work was done in the Alcazar and in the rest of the city. Caliph Abu Ya‘qub Yusuf, an educated prince who had grown up in Seville, undertook the first constructions. Between 1171 and 1172 he built a bridge between Seville and Triana, a new almunia, or residential palace, outside the walled grounds, called Buhayra, and he ordered the commencement of work on a new Great Mosque, larger than the old Umayyad mosque (today the Church of San Salvador). Later, the grounds of the Real Alcazar were also extended.
The Real Alcazar of Seville is a complex of palace buildings located in the city of Seville. Their construction, which began in the late Middle Ages, displays many overlapping styles, from the Islamic art of its first inhabitants, the Mudejar and Gothic of the period following the conquest of the city by Spanish troops to the Renaissance and Baroque of later reforms. The Palace is used as a residence for members of the Spanish Royal Family and Heads of State visiting the city. It was declared a World Heritage Site, together with the Cathedral and the Archive of the Indies, in 1987.
El Salón de Embajadores (Hall of Ambassadors) is the main room of the Reales Alcázares. The Hall is covered by a majestic semi-spherical dome of gilded woodwork. Formerly known as the Salón de la Media Naranja due to this magnificent dome, it was rebuilt by Diego Ruiz in 1427. The doors are original from 1366, as well as the plasterwork and tiled decoration on the walls.
The Buhaira Palace was a new building and was significant for its gardens, orchards and the crops cultivated there, irrigated with water from the Caños de Carmona, an old Roman aqueduct. The Almohad zone is a small pavilion situated to the south of the great cistern and has many elements of a complex irrigation system and water features incorporated into the architecture. The water was brought from the Carmona aqueduct.
The walls erected by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC.) probably followed a line from Mateos Gago, Puerta de la Carne, Puerta Osario, Santa Catalina, Villasís, Cuna, and El Salvador to the Cathedral.
During the time of the Visigoths, the walls deteriorated seriously and their fragility hardly defended the city against the Moorish invasion in 711 and Viking attacks in 844. Abd-al-Rahman II (788-852) ordered their reconstruction to protect the city against further assaults and river flooding. In 1126 the Almoravids enlarged the walls, making them three times as long. Most of the new walled area was for agricultural use although some was empty land. In 1221, an outer wall and a moat surrounding it were built. These were the walls that Fernando III(1201-1252), the Saint, found when he conquered the city in 1248.
At the time the wall had more than 150 towers and a dozen gates which survived until medieval times. In the following centuries, as the wall was no longer used for defensive purposes, houses and stables were built next to it. It nonetheless provided the best possible protection against the violent floodings of the Guadalquivir River. In 1861, a municipal agreement was reached to knock down the wall in order to expand the city. The works were completed in 1869 but parts of the wall can still be seen today at Torre de Abdellaziz, Torre de la Plata, Plaza del Cabildo and Postigo del Aceite. The longest part still standing stretches from the Macarena Arch to the Puerta de Córdoba gate, where an arch, the Torre Blanca (white tower) and seven square watchtowers, approximately 40 metres apart each other, stand next to the outer wall and the moat.
The Golden Tower was the last major building that the Muslims constructed in Seville. It was built around 1220, during the time of Yusuf II, when the Almohad Empire was in decline after their defeat by the Christians at Navas de Tolosa in 1212. Designed as an outer defensive tower to protect the port to the south of the city, it formed the end of a coracha, a fortified structure which provided access to the river. On the opposite bank, stood another tower which has not survived. The towers were linked by a thick chain which prevented ships from entering or leaving the port without authorisation. The chain was broken by Admiral Bonifaz’ ship in 1248 during the siege of the city.
In 1830, in the times of Governor Arjona, the demolition of the coracha meant that the tower was left to stand alone. After being used for many purposes over the years (it served as a chapel, prison, gunpowder warehouse, post office), the tower now houses the Maritime Museum. According to chronicler Ortiz de Zúñiga it was named “golden” because its walls were covered with gilded tiles, although others maintain that the name referred to the fact that the tower was used to store valuable objects. After its restoration in 2005, it is believed that the name might derive from the golden tone given from the plaster composed of mortar, lime and straw. The small turret crowning the tower was added in 1760 and was designed by Sebastián van der Borcht under Governor Ramón Larumbe (1760-1767).