Visually Erasing the Past: The History of La Giralda

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When you think London, you think The London Eye. When you think Paris, you think the Eiffel Tower. When you think Chicago, you think The Bean. When you think Seville, you think La Giralda. While many associate La Giralda with the beautiful cathedral that it is now attached to, few associate it with its Muslim past. La Giralda was once the minaret of a mosque. It was used to sing and call people to prayer. Today, you can hear church bells from La Giralda, calling people to mass. This tower is the visual image of the history of the Muslim control in Seville, the Catholic Reconquest, the Inquisition, and the Renaissance.

The tower all the way to the left represents the minaret created by the Almohades in the 12th century. The tower to the far right represents the one remodeled by the Catholics, during the reconquest in the 14th century. The tower in the middle is the tower as it stands today. It was created in the 16th century, during the Renaissance, along with the cathedral.

During the 12th and 13th century, Seville was controlled by the Almohades. This was an African Muslim group who came in to help the Taifas, who were also Muslim, keep control of Seville. During this time, the Almohades constructed La Giralda as part of their mosque. La Giralda was made of stone, contained spherical decorations, and no images. They took stone from wherever they could find it. If you walk up to La Giralda you can see Roman tombstones. The Almohades did not care where the material came from, as long as it was sturdy.

In 1248, Seville was reconquested. This reconquest was led by  Fernando III of Castilla, who later became a saint for spreading and protecting Catholicism, even though he killed many Muslims and Jews to do so. During time of the Catholic Reconquest, the Catholics wanted to demonstrate their power over other religions and they did so literally. Destroying La Giralda would have been as difficult as it was to build it at the time, so the Catholics decided to use most of it. In the 14th century, the Catholics added the layer where the church bells are located, over the rest of La Giralda. The bells led to the repurposing of the building. The building would no longer be used as a mosque, but rather as a church. The Catholics also got rid of the spheres. Some say that the spheres fell off due to an earthquake, but other claim that they where thrown off by Catholics. At the very top they also added a cross, a symbol of Christianity. These new symbols were clear signs that the Catholics were “over” the Muslims and had power over them.

After destroying a bit of the original mosque to create a cathedral, the Catholics then decided to add more to the tower itself. Theocentrism was a common belief at the time, indicating that God was the center of the universe. A lot of the construction during this time was to give honor to this ideology and to show the power of Catholicism, specifically the hegemony of Christianity over other religions. This is when the top layer of La Giralda was completed. In this stage we see a lot of imagery, such as angels, because other religions did not support this. This stage of construction completed La Giraldas as we know it today.

The landmark is a visual history book. It teaches us about the impact of colonization, or in this case reconquest, and its cruelty. Most tourists here cannot pass up the picture in front of La Giralda, but few understand the implications of this building. They do not know about the many lives that were lost, so that the tower can look the way it does today. As one partakes in journeys, it is important to remember to be more than a tourist — to be a traveler.

The cathedral that is attached to La Giralda and me, of course!
The view from the top of La Giralda, which overlooks the beautiful city of Seville.