Romans, Moors, Christians and

Jews . . .  the history of Seville.

In the valley formed by the river Guadalquivir, one finds the ancient city of Híspalis, known today as Seville.  As you become familiar with the city, its streets and the changing look of its buildings,  you realize that evidence of this city’s history surrounds you everywhere.

Phoenician ships sailed upstream on the rising tide, with their alphabet and a god named  Hercules by the Romans just as the Tartessians had done before them.  All that remains of their refined civilization is a few mythical tales and  twenty-one gold pieces dating from about 600 BC and  known as the Carambolo treasure.

In 206 BC, after years of Carthaginian rule,  the Roman general Scipio Africanus, victorious in the  Battle of Ilipa, founded a settlement called Italica for  his veterans.   Italica, would become the birthplace of emperors Trajan and Hadrian.  It was situated very  near the place where the city of Hispalis would emerge.

Julius Caesar gave Hispalis the new name of Colonia Iulia Romula and made its inhabitants Roman  citizens.  They had little problem learning Latin and assimilating the Roman culture, which influenced the city’s layout and left and indelible mark on its institutions and social organization.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th century, the Visigoths restored Hispalis to its former splendor.  Under their rule, Seville became a royal residence and achieved religious unification.  Regrettably, little remains of this period, except the rich literary testimony of St. Isidore.

In later history, the city was invaded by a people that would occupy it for more than five centuries.  It was a time of great achievement by the Arab people and thus began an era distinguished by religious tolerance and a union between the Moorish and the Hispano-Roman aristocracy.

On the wake of the Christian re-conquest Al-Mutamid, the much-loved poet king of Seville, sought assistance from Almoravids, who betrayed him, only to be forced to surrender to the Almohads.  In the twilight of  Moorish period, king Abu Yusuf Ya´qub laid a pontoon
bridge between Seville and Triana and constructed impressive buildings, such as the new main mosque and the Giralda, its striking minaret.

After two years of patient siege, the city was finally forced to surrender to Ferdinand III in  November 1248.  Only a small population of Mudejars (Moors permitted to stay after the Reconquest) remained alongside Castilian resettlers and a sizeable Jewish colony that settled in the quarters now known as Santa Cruz and San Bartolomé.

Then came the rule of Alfonso X, deservedly known as  Alfonso the Wise and better known for his literary works than as a good ruler. Later came the favorite king of Sevillian legends, Peter I, who is famous for the construction of buildings such as the Alcazar.  A century later Christopher Columbus would conceive his sea-going adventures in Seville at the Monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas.

In the late 15th century and early 16th century, with nearly a half million inhabitants and developed essentially to the city as it is known today, Seville reached its cultural and economic zenith.

Now firmly established as the seat of the court of the Spanish Inquisition and fully christianized, a single event would shake the city to its very foundations.  Seville was granted the monopoly on trade with the Americas by the monarchs.  Around the river, the Cathedral, and the House of Trade throngs of bankers, foreign merchants, craftspeople, friars, and laborer converged thick and fast.  They were as roguish as villains that Cervantes would describe in his immortal Don Quixote, written after his confinement in the Royal Prison of Seville.

Courtyard theatres were set up and in another early cultural development, the Sevillian School of Arts and Letters was established.  The city became the center of a humanist movement inspired by Antonio de Nebrija, author of the first Grammar of the Castilian Language, published in 1492.
The German Jacob Cromberger, created a guild of skilled printers who established themselves in the city.

Seville in the 17th century was effected by a series of national and local events.  These included the transfer of the Indies fleet to Cadiz, the expulsion of the Moriscos (Moors converted to Christianity), and a severe outbreak of the plague that halved the population.

Also at this time, the tobacco industry was established in Seville and important economic, urban planning, and educational reforms were implemented.  Noteworthy artistic and intellectual movements such as the Baroque period, influenced the lasting character of the city.   The 18th century saw the transfer of the House of Trade, which handled all commerce with the Americas, to Cadiz (1717) and the establishment of the court of Philip V in Seville.  Thus began, the city’s close relation with the Bourbon monarchy, which  survives to the present day.

The century of Romanticism opened with the French occupation and another outbreak of the plague   The building of the Bridge of Triana, the first railway, gas lighting, and the birth of the April Fair are some of the positive notes of this century.

During the First Republic of Spain, Seville, previously a stronghold of the Old Regime,
declared itself an independent canton with its own constitution.   The Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, promoted by Alfonso XIII, succeeded in embellishing and restructuring the city, but the Civil war and Franco´s "development" strategy, seriously affected Seville.

In 1980 a movement in favor of autonomy signaled the start of a new stage in the history of Seville and Andalusia by restoring its cosmopolitan ambiance.

Our thanks to Seville on Line for providing this article.