Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
THE DEATH OF LISBON

FOR SCIENCE and the arts, the modern era began in the cities of northern Italy; for world commerce and high politics, it began in a few cities of Portugal and Spain. With a few daring expeditions, the seafarers of these two countries tore the curtain from far reaches of the world and took possession of oceans and entire continents. All at once, the Mediterranean became a minor theatre, and its metropolitan cities were suddenly located in the "provinces". The new cosmopolitan cities were Lisbon, Seville, and Madrid.

Together with Córdoba and Granada, Seville, which had been founded by the Phoenicians, was among those Spanish cities that enjoyed a brilliant period of architecture, art, and science under Arab sovereignty from the eighth to the twelfth century, while the Christian Occident, just emerging from the chaos of the early Middle Ages, was slowly steering toward the first modern city cultures. The Arabs were driven from Seville in 1248 (from Granada only in 1492), and the great harbour by the Guadalquivir river was, next to the imperial and episcopal city of Toledo, the most important place in the kingdom of Castile.

Seville had its great time in 1509, when it shared with nearby Cádiz the monopoly of trade with the New World. In deference to Columbus' objective when he made his historic voyage, or in the mistaken belief that he had achieved it, the name "India" remained attached to the Spanish colonies in America for quite some time, and thus "India" was made part of the arch-diocese of Seville. With the treasures flowing from the New World to Seville, the cathedral was finished in 1517, one of the largest churches of Christendom. Columbus was buried in this cathedral.

In 1519 the Portuguese Magellan, who was in the service of Spain, left from Seville's harbour, Sanlúcar, on his voyage around the world; on September 8, 1522, the remaining one of his five ships, the Victoria, returned to Seville after having circled the earth. Thus Seville was instrumental in proving that the earth is round.

The beauty of the city, where Islamic and Christian culture and the wealth of Spain and the Americas are still visibly interwoven, is praised in the Spanish verse: "Who has not seen Seville, has missed a miracle."

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