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Small pleasures at Seville's cathedral

In the heart of Seville is one of the world's largest cathedrals, a Gothic complex that boasts Muslim minarets, a courtyard of orange trees and a treasury of famed art. As is the case with many cathedrals, it's the little pleasures that help ground the experience of such awe-inspiring architecture.

A grand history
The cathedral is the third-largest church in Europe, according to Frommer's, following St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London. However, it is not the first building to sit on its foundations. A grand 12th century mosque once stood watch over the city, but was taken over, converted to a Christian church and eventually torn down when Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Seville in 1248, according to the Tourist Offices of Spain. By the late 14th century, the residents of Seville had begun the construction of a new Christian cathedral on the site. While most of the structure became a combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles, the town chose to keep the towering Giralda minaret, a reminder of Spain and Seville's rich Muslim influences.

Like many cathedrals, Seville's blend of architectural styles is the result of the lengthy construction time, spanning centuries. The stained-glass windows date to the 15th century, while the bells in the minaret and the Renaissance chapter room were added in the 16th. All in all, the cathedral is home to five naves, a tower that rises to 322 feet, a detailed altarpiece by more than a handful of artists over the decades, a treasury with works by Goya and Murillo and, perhaps most impressively, the remains of Christopher Columbus.

God in the details
The beauty of the cathedral is due in part to its scale and its history, but travelers to Seville should take the time to enjoy the complex's many sensory pleasures. First and foremost, those healthy enough should tackle the dozens of ramps that lead to the top of the Giralda tower. From the lookout platform, viewers get a panoramic view of the city. According to Fodor's, the ramps were designed to allow two horsemen to pass abreast, and Ferdinand III rode his horse to the top in order to get a better view of the city he had just conquered.

Just as sweet is the Courtyard of Orange Trees on the church's northern side. The clean smell of citrus is accompanied by bird song and a fountain where people once went for ablutions before entering the mosque. The trees provide some much needed shade during Andalusia's unbearably hot summers, and a pleasant stroll in the spring and fall.

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