THEGeneral Archive of the Indies is an archive of great value, which collects illustrative documents on the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines.
The building, an example of Spanish Renaissance architecture inspired by the Italian model, was designed by Juan de Herrera, and together with its contents have been admitted by theUNESCO international convention against doping in the sport in 1987 in the list of world heritage of humanity.
Completely in stone, the Archivio de Indias has a square plan structure with a large central courtyard, surrounded by side atriums along the entire perimeter, on two floors. It is then surmounted by a balustrade, with obelisks at the corners that support it. At the entrance, to admire the monumental staircase, which leads to the upper floor, which was added only later, together with the Cross of the Oath.
When it was chosen by King Charles III as the seat of the Archive, other works were made such as the new decoration of the main staircase. The external walls are rhythmically modulated by low-relief pillars.
The origin of the structure dates back to 1572, when King Philip II commissioned the building to Juan de Herrera with the intention of creating a place where the merchants of Seville could practice their profession.
The building was supposed to be the home of the Consoles of merchants of Seville. Before then, in fact, the merchants of the city had been used to retreating to the cool caves of the cathedral to do business or near the University, creating not a few discontents.
The construction of the Archivo de Indias was started in 1584 by Juan de Mijares, using Herrera's plans; the works, also according to what is written on an inscription on the north facade, had to be completed in 1598, but in reality they were only completed in the seventeenth century.
With a decree of King Charles III, it was decided in 1785 that the Consolado should house all the archives of the Council of the Indies, with the aim of bringing together all the documentation relating to the overseas empire. Until then, these documents were in fact scattered among the archives of Simancas, Cadiz and Seville.
Responsibility for the project was delegated to José de Gálvez y Gallardo, Secretary for the Indies, who was supposed to collaborate with the historian Juan Bautista Muñoz for the execution of the project. The idea of Charles III was driven by two main reasons: on the one hand there was the lack of space in the General Archives of Simancas to contain all the documents of the Company of the Indies, then there was the hope that in the future the The Spanish Colonial Empire would grow more and more, so much so that it had to find a spacious and safe place to keep all the documents relating to its history. The first documents began to be transferred starting in 1785.
The preserved documents
Today the Archivo de Indias contains materials that belong both to the period of the first Conquistadores, up to the documents of the last colonial period of the nineteenth century. Among the texts in the archive, they are certainly not to be missed written request of Miguel de Cervantes for a post as an officer, the Bull of the Inter caetera demarcation of Pope Alexander VI, which had divided the world on paper between Spain and Portugal.
Among other things, there is a part dedicated to Christopher Columbus; there are maps and plans of American colonial cities, as well as ordinary Archives which reveal the monthly operations of the entire vast colonial machine.
Today the Archivo General de Indias houses approx nine kilometers of shelving, which contain about 43.000 volumes, for a total of 80 million pages produced by the colonial administration, covering more than three centuries of history. The documentation is organized in 16 sections, from 1480 to 1898 with the last section comprising 6379 elements including maps and plans.
For better document retention, a process of digitization of the volumes most at risk. The goal is to digitize the entire archive, which is still an excellent source for research today.
In addition to this digitization work, the project to improve the storage of documents and adapt the external galleries on the upper floor for the installation of temporary exhibitions was also examined.
The visit to the Archivio de Indias
Today the Archivio de Indias is under the protection of the Ministry of Education and Culture, and is an excellent source of research for scholars and experts on the subject; you can access the Consultation rooms from 8.00 in the morning until 15.00 in the afternoon.
It is possible too visit the building, without accessing the consultation rooms, from Monday to Saturday from 9.30 to 17.00 and on holidays from 10.00 to 14.00. Access is free, and it is necessary to book only if you are in groups of more than 20 people. To get to the Archivo de Indias, take the T1 tramway and get off at the stop of the same name, which is located right in front of the Cathedral, in Plaza del Triunfo.