Sunset Rooftop Tour of the Seville Cathedral
We absolutely love visiting monuments after-hours, when the crowds are gone, and the Seville Cathedral Rooftop Tour is one of the best evening tours we’ve done. We were there mid-September, which is still summer in Andalusia. I was very glad our visit started at seven because the roofs would have been baking hot during the day.
By purchasing the tour, you also get complimentary entry to the Cathedral during the day of your tour and entry to the Giralda Bell Tower. We visited the Cathedral in the afternoon and I noticed, from inside the cool stone interior, that the roofs were white hot under the Andalusian sun. Its because of this that there are no afternoon tours of the roofs during the hot summer months.
Tip: Buying Tickets for the Seville Cathedral Rooftop Tour
Tickets are €15. When we purchased ours for September, there was only one English tour per day. The groups are small too, so make sure you book online ahead of time.
A ticket gets you the rooftop tour, and general entry to the Cathedral, Giralda Tower and the Church of El Salvador. If your tour is in the evening, after the Cathedral has closed its doors to the general public, you should do the general visit before the rooftop tour.
On top of the tour being excellent and our guide a real storehouse of knowledge about the history and architecture of the church, there is one other great reason why you should do this tour. The views of Seville from the roofs are truly stunning. Also, the small group and contemplative nature of the Cathedral’s roofs provide the perfect backdrop from which to enjoy the views.
The first part of the tour began through the central nave of the Cathedral. We entered through one of the side gates – San Miguel Gate, located on Avenida de la Constitución. It led into the darkened hallway of the church, dramatically lit by one of its rose windows. It was beautiful and eerie being in the empty church, surrounded by its many tall, solemn pillars.
We passed the tomb of Christopher Columbus and made our way to a small door. Our guide told us that the first set of stairs leading to the roofs was behind this door. She also assured us that although there were many steps we had to climb before we reached the highest point of the tour, we would be taking it really easy.
Tip: Climbing the Stairs of the Seville Cathedral
The tour will take you up about 10 stories high, which seems like a lot, but it does so at a very reasonable pace. Anyone who is reasonably healthy can do them easily. The stairways are very narrow though and if you’re too tall or too big, you have to be a little more careful. Needless to say, you are advised to wear comfortable footwear!
Ascending to the Rooftops
We ascended a narrow, stone spiral staircase to one of the mezzanine floors. Here, our guide pointed out a few pieces of “graffitti”. These were simple markings in stone that looked like Celtic runes. There seemed to be something mysterious about them, but our guide told us that they did not hold any religious meaning. Instead, the marks were related to the most earthly of things – getting paid for work.
Many different group of people worked on the Cathedral. They were represented by unions, and each union was represented by a symbol. They marked the stone so that the church knew who did what and would compensate accordingly.
Soon, we ascended through the bottom levels of the church and exited onto the roofs of the Seville Cathedral. Here, on the roofs, was where most of the work for this grand church was done.
The Advancement of Architecture in the Middle Ages
I would say the main focus of the Seville Cathedral Rooftop Tour was on the architecture and engineering of the church. Now, people often think of the Middle Ages as a dark period for the sciences. After all, it was between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Age of Reason, but this is a flawed perspective. All throughout the Middle Ages, engineering got better and better, enabling some wonderful architectural feats that we see in the Seville Cathedral.
At the time, utility and beauty were interwoven in monumental architecture. Take, for example, the pinnacles of the Seville Cathedral. Pinnacles are one of the defining aspects of any Gothic Cathedral. These structures are grand and elaborately decorated, reaching into the heavens, giving the Cathedral an ethereal aspect. However, they have a very practical function – weight bearing.
Combined with flying buttresses (the other defining aspect of every Gothic Cathedral), they ensure that the weight of the Cathedral is evenly distributed. The pinnacles, along with flying buttresses, were architectural innovations that enabled cathedrals to get grander and grander over the last millennium.
How the Seville Cathedral was Built
The most interesting aspect of the Seville Cathedral is its flat roofs. Because it doesn’t rain much in Andalusia, this was possible. Unlike cathedrals further north, the Seville Cathedral did not need sloped roofs to ensure rain water runs off during a storm. Flat roofs, in turn, were great because they made construction of the Cathedral a lot easier.
On the first roof we visited, there were numerous broken pots. Our guide told us that this material filled the floor we stood on. Broken pot pieces were the perfect filler for making flat roofs as they are light and cheap.
The advantage of having flat roofs was that architectural elements could be made on them. This made it a lot easier and faster to build the church, as one no longer had to bring something all the way up from the street level. On the first roof we visited, there were white geometric markings all over the floor. Our guide told us that markings like these were there during the construction of the Cathedral. They served as guides for the builders to lay out structural elements. A closer look revealed curved markings for some of the flying buttresses that surrounded us.
The flying buttress, although an architectural necessity, is also a thing of elegance and beauty. To me, they look like stone rainbows, leaping from the ground to the building. I think the architects of the Seville Cathedral also liked how they looked very much, for they later built structures like the Dome of the Main Sacristy with ornaments that resemble flying buttresses (but without any of their function).
The Renaissance Dome
During the tour, you’ll get to walk around the edges of the Renaissance Dome. The Renaissance Dome covers the Royal Chapel, also know as Capilla Real in Spanish. This part of the tour signals the the halfway mark. When we got here, it was perfect timing as the sun was starting to set, casting a beautiful golden glow over the Giralda Tower. From here, you really notice its Renaissance influence.
It was also here we got to look into one of the main alters of the Cathedral. All over the roofs there are many stone plugs. These plugs cover holes through which heavy objects were lifted to the required height in the interior. For example, there are many ornate heavy altar pieces in the Royal Chapel. In order to lift them up to the requisite height, they were strung up with chains that were lowered down through the holes the plugs cover. Workers would then start lifting the items by pulling up the chains that held them, until they were where they needed to be.
A Walk Along the Central Nave
We ended our Seville Cathedral Rooftop Tour above the central nave. The nave is the most prominent section of any cathedral. It’s the hallway that extends from the entrance to the altar. The nave in the Seville Cathedral is 126 metres long and rises to a height of 37 metres (That’s about ten stories! Did we really climb up all those steps?). This was an interesting location, as, unlike the other sections, it was not covered. Here, you can see the gentle undulation of the Gothic vaults beneath the tiles.
There was something quite exciting about walking along the thin walls that section portions of the roof. I could not resist taking a moment to imagine I was in the Assassin’s Creed video game.
Here, under the rapidly cooling evening air, we enjoyed spectacular views of the sunset over Seville city. This moment really made the tour special. There was something sublime about watching the eternal sun, the colour of the iconic Seville orange, setting over a city that was both contemporary and ancient.
FAQs for the Seville Cathedral Rooftop Tour
The tour takes around 90 minutes. From October to May, tours run from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. In the summer, from June to September, they run in separate morning and evening blocks – from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m..
A ticket is €15 and includes a same-day pass for the Seville Cathedral and the Giralda Tower, and a pass to the Iglesia de El Salvador, which you can visit within three days of your tour date.
The central nave of the Seville Cathedral rises up to 42 meters. That’s about the highest point of the tour, so it’s about 10 to 12 stories.
Absolutely. You can take photographs with a hand held camera. Tripods are not allowed. Also, the use of flash photography is prohibited inside the cathedral.
Children must be 10 years old or more and every two children must be accompanied by at least one adult. Visitors older than 70 must sign release forms taking responsibility of any incident that might happen during their visit.