Seville's history is intimately linked to that of the river Guadalquivir because from its most remote past the city has been both a river port and bridge between the Atlantic Ocean and the hinterland of Andalusia, nor should we forget that Seville has always been the crossroads between the North- East and West of the Iberian Peninsula.
Even as far back as the beginnings of the first milenium B.C. the area of Seville was destined to become the great market place of the Guadalquivir Valley. The original Seville was born where the river became no longer navigable for seagoing ships. Archaeological excavations undertaken in La Cuesta del Rosario confirm that the first permanent settlements date back to the 9th century.
For centuries analysts and chroniclers gave the honour of tracing Seville’s limits to that most popular of mythical heroes, Hercules.He marked with 6 columns the spot where Julius Caesar would later found the city of Seville. The illustrious Roman general called the new city Iulia Romula Hispalis: Iulia after himself, Romula in honour of Rome and Hispalis, according to Saint Isidore in his Etymologies, because many of the buildings had wooden piles driven into the ground as foundations. Subsequent historical researches into the founding of Seville have to this day been unable to correct this popular belief in Seville?s mythical origins to such an extent that it is celebrated in a popular verse:
“Raised by Hercules,
Julius Caesar fortified me,
with high walls and towers,
I was conquered for the king
of heaven by Garc? P?rez de Vargas”
So great was the admiration felt by Renaissance Seville towards her mythical founders that their statues, specially sculpted by Diego Pasquera, were placed on two granite pillars with Corinthian capitals in the newly created promenade, Alameda de H?rcules, where they can still be admired. Incidentally, the two columns were removed from the ruins of a Roman temple in calle M?rmoles where two sister columns remain.
In 206 B.C., after defeating the Carthaginians in Ilipa Magna (Alcal? del R?o), Scipio Africanus settled a contingent of veteran soldiers in It?lica just outside Seville. This Roman city is a must for anybody who wants to see for themselves how highly advanced the region surrounding the river Guadalquivir was during the Roman occupation. It?lica, birthplace of the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, reached its apog?e between the second and fourth century A.D. Among its many public buildings the Amphitheatre, with a seating capacity of 25,000, is the jewel in It?lica’s crown. Also of great interest are its porticoed streets which protected the inhabitants from the elements. It?lica offers exceptional examples of domestic architecture such as De Exedra, Los P?jaros or Hylas, three houses which boast splendid mosaics. However, the majority of Italica’s most important archaeological treasures are now in the city of Seville, either in the Archaeological Museum in El Parque de Mar?a Luisa Park or in La Casa de la Condesa de Lebrija mansion in calle Cuna.
Although Hispalis (Roman Seville) was being rebuilt after its being pillaged by the Carthaginians at the end of the third century B.C., the name of Hispalis only appeared for the first time in the official Roman history in 49 B.C., five years before Julius Caesar granted it the status of colony to celebrate his victory over Pompey. Such is the reality behind the myth of Caesar?s founding the city. Even today the outlay of Seville city centres streets belie their Roman origins. What was the Eastern part of Decumanus Maximus is modern-day Calle Aguilas, while the Northern section of Cardus Maximus coincides with Calle Alhondiga. This leads us to conclude that what is today La Plaza del Alfalfa, at the junction of these two streets may possibly have the Imperial Forum while ther nearby Plaza del Salvador was probably the site of the Curia and Basilica.
By the end of Imperial Rome, Hispalis was the eleventh most important city in the Roman world and was even the centre of Christian activity in the Iberian Peninsula, far above its rivals such as M?rida and Astorga. In 287 A.D.. two potter girls, Justa and Rufina achieved martyrdom for their repeated refusal to adore a graven image of the god Salamb?. As joint patron saints of Seville, they have been immortalised by the painters Murillo, whose painting is in the Fine Arts Museum, and Goya, whose canvas hangs in the cathedral. In 411 A.D. Baetis, the Roman province roughly equivalent to Andalusia and Murcia, was conquered by the Silingian Vandals and in 426 Seville was taken by the Vandal king Gonderic who according to popular myth was killed by a thunderbolt after profaning the Basilica which had contained the relics of St. Vincent since the reign of Emperor Constantine I in the previous century. The Barbarian hosts left the province in 429 for Tunisia in search of new conquests and plunder, only to be replaced by the Suevi who also temporarily occupied the city.
The Visigoth occupation of Seville, which roughly coincided with the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-565 A.D.) in Constantinople, had much more far-reaching consequences than those of the Vandals and Suevi. Having originally settled in what is now Galicia, the Visigoths took control of most of Hispania. It is speculated that during this period, Seville was witness to the murder of two kings, Teudis and Teudiselus, but the event which shook the Visigoth world to its foundations was a civil war between two religious factions. Prince Hermenegild, a recent convert to Catholicism, led and uprising against his father Leovigild who, like most Visigoths, was an Arian Christian. After beseiging and taking Seville, Leovigild took his son prisoner in C?rdoba. Hermenegild was banished to Valencia where he was later murdered by order of Leovigild.
The above is what factual history tells us, yet after centuries the myth persists that Hermenegild was imprisoned and murdered in a fortified tower near Puerta de C?rdoba, one of Seville’s city gates, in 584. Indeed a marble plaque on the tower still reminds the passer-by of the myth, the inscription of which in English would be thus: “Venerate all ye who pass this place for it was considerated by the blood of Hermenegild, King”.
With the death of Leovigild, his other son Recared, converted to Catholicism in 589, brought religious and political unity to the Visigoths. Culturally, Seville basked in the intellectual light of Leander (Leandro) and Isidore (Isidoro), bothers, bishops and ultimately saints. Isidore’s “Etymologies” was in its time regarded as the repositary of all the knowledge of Antiquity and Isidore himself was universally celebrated as “Pride of Spain and Doctor of wisdom applauded by all nations”. In fact, one of Seville’s oldest parish churches wich has recently been restored is dedicated to Isidore, while both he and Leander were subjects for several canvasses by Murillo.