Dan Manuel Serradilla Avery
University of St Andrews: Master’s Thesis (2007)
The city of Seville and its port have had a prominent place in the history of early modern Europe and America. This city was not only the Gate of the Indies, but also the Gate of Europe for all the exotic goods and people that arrived in Europe via Sevilleâs port. How this city achieved such a prominent place has traditionally been overshadowed by its post-1492 fame. This thesis demonstrates how, during the two hundred or so years before Columbus, different groups were able to shape this city into a commercial port that had made it the axis between the Mediterraneanâs commercial routes and those of the Atlantic Ocean. Beginning in 1248, with the Christian re-conquest, the monarchs set out to create an independent and powerful municipality, as well as a merchant class with distinctive city quarters and privileges.
In turn, this merchant class affected the policies of both monarchy and city-council. Eventually, the policies of both merchants and the city-council led to the creation of an important exchange port that lay nearly between the two bodies of water. The Castilian monarchs, aware of this, also began the construction of the first Royal Ware houses and Dockyards, as well as determining the location of the Castilian Armada. It was those years between 1248 and 1492 that witnessed the birth of one of the most important naval ports of European history.
‘Seville owes everything to its river.’ The Guadalquivir River runs from east to south west ending in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the Atlantic. Seville is just 144 nautical miles from Algeciras, in the Strait of Gibraltar. An important in-land port, Seville is, geographically, almost between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. After the Arab conquest, the river became known as the Great River or Guadalquivir. The mediaeval writer, Al-Saqundi wrote that this river ‘exceeds all others, with shores that are full of irrigated plots and gardens, of vineyards and poplar trees, which continue without interruption which is not found in any other river.’ Seville grew out of this great plain.
The following study attempts to show how the city of this river, Seville, became an important international port between the years 1248 and 1492, well before Spain’s Golden Age and the arrival of silver from the Americas.