Seville: cultural and religious syncretism in the soul of Andalusia
In 1990 I was in Seville for a cultural and religious trip. Seville is the symbol of Andalusia and it has remained among my memories especially for the cultural and religious syncretism that you can find walking through its streets. Arabs and Christians spent some time in the city, leaving their own legacy. A material and intangible wealth, which is common heritage of mankind.
The term "syncretism" has a Greek origin. It was used by Plutarch (De frat. am., 19) to describe "Cretan coalition" – Cretans were usually one against the other – in front of a common enemy. The term was later used by Erasmo in his letter to Melanchthon (April 1519) and it became the focus of a humanistic, philosophical and teleological controversy in 1500 and 1600. At that time, "syncretism" was used to refer to different irenic and eclectic attitudes among opposed doctrines which, in some way, managed to merge and mix. From a religious point of view, the word "syncretism" is used to describe a merging of different religious concepts and ideas, or the partial contamination among religions. With the same meaning, the term "syncretism" is used in the cultural, linguistic, literary and architectonic fields.
In Seville, this syncretism can be perceived in each corner of the city. The key symbol of this syncretism is the Cathedral of Seville (Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede de Sevilla), one of the most visited monument of the city. The Cathedral was built were there was an Almohade Mosque. When the Christians arrived in Seville, they destroyed the Mosque in 1433 and they build the Cathedral, which was completed 75 years later. Today, the Cathedral of Seville is the biggest gothic cathedral worldwide, after St. Paul Cathedral (London) and St. Peter Cathedral (Vatican, Rome).
The Cathedral of Seville is located in a monumental compound which was declared as UNESCO heritage. It hosts also Alcazar and the Archive of the Indies. Here it is the first element of religious syncretism: Alcazar. The Cathedral, in fact, lives with the former residence of caliphs (Alcazar), which later became the residence of the kings of Seville. The Arabs built Alcazar during X century. Originally, it was only a fortress, but when Seville became the capital of Taifa Reign, Alcazar was used as the residence of Almohads. When the Christians conquered the city, Alcazar became the residence of Ferdinand II and other Catholic sovereigns, such as Alfonso X and Pedro I, known as El Cruel or El Justiciero. The extraordinary beauty of Alcazar is mainly due to harmony and fusion between different styles. They key symbol of this harmony and fusion is Palacio de Don Pedro, which is located inside Alcazar. Built in 1360 during the reign of Mohammed V, Palacio de Don Pedro is the diamond point of the Arab-Iberian style and a perfect example of syncretism of both Catholic and Islamic elements, with particular reference to the inscriptions on the façade of Patio de la Monteria.
Furthermore, in addition to Alcazar, the eastern side of the Cathedral of Seville hosts another instance of cultural and religious syncretism. In fact, in that area there is Giralda and Patio de los Narajos, a Muslim courtyard. Originally, Giralda was a minaret (XII century), which was later transformed into a campanile in 1402. The campanile is 96 meters high and it is the symbol of Seville. But, most importantly, it is the symbol of the Spanish Islamic architecture thanks to its colours and decorations. Giralda is, in fact, among the world's threes Almohade minarets, along with those located in Marrakech and Rabat.