By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Giralda (Spanish: La Giralda), today the bell-tower of the Seville Cathedral, was originally the minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville (الجامع الكبير في إشبيلية) in al-Andalus. The minaret-tower is 104.1 meters (342 feet) in height and remains one of the most important symbols of the city, as it has been since the Middle Ages. The Giralda was registered in 1987 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Alcázar and the General Archive of the Indies.


The minaret was part of a great mosque reconstruction project, planned to replace the older Mosque of Ibn 'Addabas, built in the 9th century CE under Umayyad rule. Though the mosque was commissioned in 1171 CE by caliph Abu Ya'qub Yusuf, under the supervision of Sevillian architect Ahmad Ibn Baso, the completion was delayed due to several reasons. It took nearly five years and even then the minaret was not built.

The construction of the minaret could not be started until 1184 CE, Aby Ya'qub Yusuf ordered the construction. However, construction halted that same year with the death of the architect and, a month and a half later, the caliph, who died while commanding the Siege of Santarém.

His son, Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, ordered construction on the minaret to continue upon his accession in 1184 CE, but the work stalled again soon after and did not restart until 1188 CE. Ahmad Ibn Baso had begun the base of the tower in cut stone and his work was continued by a Maghrebi Berber architect named 'Ali al-Ghumari, who was responsible for building the main body of the minaret in brick, and completed by Sicilian architect Abu Layth Al-Siqilli, who built the small secondary shaft at the top of the tower.

On 10 March 1198 CE, the tower was completed with the addition of the finial (jāmūr) of four precious metal spheres (either gold or bronze) at the tower's peak to commemorate al-Mansur's victory over Alfonso VIII of Castile, which had taken place four years prior.


circa 1145 CE

Brick Construction
The minaret was built using both local bricks and recycled marble from old Umayyad monuments. The base at street level is a square of 13.6 meters on the side and which sits on a solid foundation which is a bit wider, 15~16 meters and about 5 meters deep. The foundation is built with solid, rectangular stones, some taken and reused from the nearby walls of the former Abbadid palace and from the Roman city walls. The tower consists of two sections: the main shaft and a much smaller second shaft, superimposed on top of it, which is enveloped today by the Renaissance-era belfry. The main shaft is 50.51 meters tall and the second shaft is 14.39 meters tall and has a square base measuring 6.83 meters. The tower contains a series of 35 ramps winding around the perimeter of seven vaulted chambers at the tower's core. These ramps were designed with enough width and height to accommodate "beasts of burden, people, and the custodians," according to one chronicler from the era.

circa 1145 CE

Muslim Era Facade Decorations
The decorated facades and windows on the tower are stepped to match the ramps in order to maximize light to the chambers inside. This exterior brick decoration was mainly done by 'Ali al-Ghumari, who also did repair work on the mosque. The decoration of the façades is divided into three equal vertical zones. The middle zone is occupied by the windows that provide light to the interior ramp passage. These windows vary in form from single horseshoe-arch openings to double-arched openings with polylobed (multifoil) profiles and a central marble column. They are generally framed by an ornate blind arch with marble columns on the sides and arabesque carvings in the spandrels.

The two other vertical zones of the facades feature large panels of sebka motifs, each of which springs from a blind arcade of polylobed arches supported on marble columns. The top of the main shaft is decorated by another blind arcade forming a horizontal band of intersecting polylobed arches. The marble columns used throughout these areas feature spoliated Umayyad-era capitals from the 9th-10th centuries CE in the style of Madinat al-Zahra. Leopoldo Torres Balbás counted 92 such capitals reused in the tower.

The facades of the tower did contain some plaster embellishment, but they were removed during a modern restoration. The top edge of the tower's main shaft was originally crowned by stepped or sawtooth-shaped merlons, as was common with other contemporary minarets in the region.[4] The small secondary shaft at the top of the minaret also features sebka and blind arch decoration, though this is only visible from inside the belfry today.

circa 1145 CE

When the mosque was converted into a cathedral, the minaret was reused as a bell tower. Its structure remained largely the same during this period. The metal spheres that originally topped the tower fell during the 1356 CE earthquake, and the spheres were replaced in 1400 with a cross and bell. The first public striking clock in Spain was added here around the same time.

In the 16th century CE Hernán Ruiz the Younger, who was commissioned to work on cathedral, constructed a new Renaissance-style belfry extension at the top of the tower, which houses the bells today. The new belfry was constructed between 1558 and 1568 CE. It brings the height of the tower to approximately 95 or 96 meters.

It consists of several sections or tiers. The lower section has a square layout with the same width as the main shaft of the tower. It consists of a lantern-like structure with 5 openings on either side in which the bells are hung. The space above these openings features for oculi in addition to a central arch. The top edge of this section is crowned with decorative stone "urns" popularly known as "carambolas". The upper section is narrower and consists of two square sections topped by two round sections of diminishing size. Black tiles are used alongside sculptural details for decoration throughout the belfry. The top of the square sections also features the inscription "TURRIS FORTISSIMA NOMEN DNI PROBERBI8", a reference to a passage of the 18th Proverb: "The name of the Lord is a fortified tower".

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