The Archive of the Indies

What to see in seville

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The Archive of the Indies

There is no better place to talk about maritime history than here

It was originally the Lonja de Mercaderes, a place to close deals, make contracts and document them. The General Archive of the Indies was created by King Charles III in the 16th century, specifically in 1785, a task that was continued by his son King Charles IV. The idea was to centralise in one place all the documentation with information about all the Spanish colonies, which until then had been kept in different archives in the cities of Simancas, Cadiz and Seville. 

The idea was to locate this place in Madrid, where the headquarters of the Council of the Indies was already located, but Juan Bautista Muñoz, cosmographer of the Indies, managed to choose Seville as the chosen city. The documentation that was transferred here was of such importance that the shipments of documents that arrived to make up this Archive of the Indies were escorted by the army.

This place was a pioneer in Europe for being a place to gather all the administrative documentation that in this case the Spanish Crown had used to manage the government of the Indies, which included some territories in the Pacific and even in North America.

In total there are 9 kilometres of very important documentation for history, such as the documents that attest to the loading of supplies on the expedition of Magellan and Elcano. A free tour of Seville is a great opportunity to get to know this place.

The oldest surviving documents are those of Columbus, notably the “Capitulaciones de Santa Fe” (Santa Fe Capitulatons), the document signed between Christopher Columbus and the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. This document has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Spain there are 11 documents that have this classification due to their worldwide historical importance, and 4 of them are in this Archive of the Indies. The other 3 are the Treaty of Tordesillas, those of the Japanese embassy that personally visited King Philip III and some vocabularies dating from the 18th century of indigenous languages, some of which have now disappeared.

A unique building

On a free tour Seville you can get to know this place which was built by the royal architect Juan de Herrera, the same one who built the Monastery of El Escorial in Madrid. To complete the work he had other outstanding architects of the time in charge, such as Miguel de Zumárraga, Alonso de Vandelvira and Juan de Minjares.

The archive of the Indies contained all kinds of documentation. Historians are constantly revisiting these documents. Here, for example, researchers are still working on the study of the Atlantic slave trade from Africa at the time. Those captured as slaves were stripped of their freedom and dignity and transported across the Atlantic. Although many of them also formed a community in Seville.

A fruit of the Age of Enlightenment

In the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the study of history became a highly valued science. Archives and their documents began to be reviewed and cared for, giving them the importance and useful value they deserved. The Archive of the Indies is one of the most important documentary collections in Spain, along with the Archive of Simancas, the National Historical Archive, the Archive of the Crown of Aragon and the Historical Archive of the Nobility. A visit is enough to immerse yourself in the dignity of a golden age of the Kingdom of Spain.

The citizens of Seville are hardly aware of the magnitude of what is inside this building. Perhaps partly because they are used to walking past it normally, but more and more people are becoming interested and curious about what these archives contain and the magnificence of the building inside.  

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