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human progress lesson

Centers of Progress, Pt. 36: Seville

Today we know Seville as the sunny capital of the region of Andalusia, but during the century following the Iberian conquest of America, Seville was one of the most important cities in Europe.

By Sean Kinnard


Centers of Progress

14-part unit
  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 37: Dubrovnik

    Dubrovnik is a beautiful walled city on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, once home to one of the freest and most cosmopolitan societies in Europe and one of the first societies to implement comprehensive public health measures to contain disease.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 36: Seville

    Today we know Seville as the sunny capital of the region of Andalusia, but during the century following the Iberian conquest of America, Seville was one of the most important cities in Europe.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 6: Chichen Itza

    In this lesson, you will learn about Chichen Itza—a sprawling ruined city in the Yucatán Peninsula in modern Mexico—and the oldest continuously played ball sport in the world variously called Pok‐​A‐​Tok, Ulama, or simply, the Ball Game.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 16: Amsterdam

    In this lesson, you’ll learn about how a unique set of cultural values that emphasized openness and tolerance helped lead Amsterdam to the pinnacle of European commercial success during the Dutch Golden Age

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 1: Jericho

    Why did our ancestors turn their backs on a nomadic way of life that was thousands of years old? Why did people begin to live in farming communities about 10,000 years ago? This article answers those questions by discussing the history of Jericho—the world’s oldest city and possibly the birthplace of agriculture.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 35: Agra

    In this lesson, students will learn about the Mughal Empire and its rulers by exploring the theme of monumental architecture. They will also have the opportunity to research other “new wonders of the world” and examine their own beliefs about memorials in contemporary society.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 18: Edinburgh

    In this article, Chelsea Follett describes why the small university city of Edinburgh, Scotland, was such an important intellectual center in the Enlightenment.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 15: Mainz

    In this lesson, students will learn about the city of Mainz, Germany and the man responsible for Europe’s rapid adoption of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg.

  • Your Life in Numbers

    In this lesson, you’ll learn how these measures have changed during your lifetime and compare your results with people in other countries.

  • Centers of Progress, Pt. 10: Chang’an

    In this lesson, you’ll learn how the Silk Road greatly expanded the international flow of goods and ideas and how Chang’an both benefited from and contributed to that exchange.

  • Centers of Progress: Manchester

    In this lesson, you’ll learn about the city of Manchester, England, the first center of textile production in Great Britain as well as how industrialization there helped spark a revolution in living standards over the past 200 years.

  • Your Life in Numbers: Student Work Document

    Interpret interactive, data‐​driven tools, and compare and contrast international results to make inferences and draw conclusions about changes and improvements over time in the quality of life: locally, regionally, and globally, and more.

During the European age of exploration and discovery, perhaps no other city better epitomized the spirit of the times than Seville, Spain. Today we know Seville as the sunny capital of the region of Andalusia. But during the century following the Iberian conquest of America, Seville was one of the most important cities in Europe.


Watch this 6‑minute lighthearted video about a couple’s tour of Seville. It will give you an idea of its location and a general feel for the city.
When you’re done watching, with partners, in small groups, or as a whole class, respond to the following questions:

  • It seems that many shops in Seville are closed on Sunday. Use your background knowledge: What are some of the social and cultural reasons for Sunday being a day off for most people in Seville?
  • How do the couple’s choice of transportation and their predicament in Seville represent current trends in globalization and technology?
  • The architecture of Seville is a syncretic blend of different styles. Which two cultures have had the biggest impact on the buildings and urban design—such as plazas, courtyards, and fountains—of southern Spain?

Questions for Reading, Writing, and Discussion

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

  • The article mentions three UNESCO World Heritage sites, one of which is now called the General Archive of the Indies (formerly the Merchants’ Exchange House). This iconic building symbolizes the economic system that Spain used during its Golden Age. Name that economic system and some of its defining characteristics.
  • In addition to the new kind of ship called the galleon, what other types of navigational technology did Portuguese and Spanish mariners use in their voyages of exploration? Where did much of this technology originate, and which historical and geographical factors allowed Iberians to capitalize on it?
  • Describe the public‐​private arrangement created to fund Magellan’s voyage.
  • In your opinion, what were the most important outcomes of the Spanish expedition that circumnavigated the globe in 1519–1522? Explain at least three outcomes.

Extension Activity/​Homework

  • Compare Seville with another city.
    Follett describes how Seville benefited from being at the center of a global trade network during the 1500s. She also mentions that Islam was outlawed in 1502 and that enslaved Africans could be seen in Seville during the period. These facts show us that although Spain possessed a rich cosmopolitan culture, religious intolerance and extreme human rights abuses also characterized Spanish society at that time.
    Historians caution against judging past societies through the lens of modern values. Nevertheless, it can be useful to compare and contrast the practices of diverse civilizations to see how they dealt with universal problems.
    The Centers of Progress series has profiled several cities during their respective “golden ages.” Choose one of the following cities and read its associated article. Then, complete the table below. Compare your chosen city to Seville for each of the criteria.
    Chang’an (Trade)
    Hangzhou (Paper Money)
    Florence (Art)
    Edinburgh (Scottish Enlightenment)
    Vienna (Music)
    Amsterdam (Openness)
  Seville during the 1500s _​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​during the ________
Religious toleration
Economic freedom
Equality for all people under the law
Respect for the rights of women and ethnic minorities
Representative forms of government

  • Write an essay in response to a prompt.
    Follett writes, “Europe’s great powers competed for mastery of oceanic trade avenues and raced to be the first to discover promising sea routes and uncharted lands.”
    Some historians cite the competitive multistate system of Western Europe as key to those states’ success in the pre‐​modern period. They argue that unified civilizations such as China under the Ming dynasty lacked such competition and thus did not have an incentive to innovate.
    Write a short essay answering the following prompt:
    Describe the extent to which political fragmentation played a role in Western European innovation, exploration, and conquest during 1450–1750.
    Be sure to provide context, include a thesis statement, and cite evidence both from the article and your own background knowledge to back up your claims.
  • Create an architectural photo story.
    Choose one of the three examples of monumental architecture in Seville: the Mudéjarstyle Alcázar royal palace, the Seville Cathedral, or the General Archive of the Indies.
    Create an architectural photo story about one of the three buildings using Google Slides or PowerPoint. Describe the main elements of the building, including its dimensions, its significance to Spanish and world history, unique aspects of its style and construction, and important works of art and historical figures associated with it.
    Imagine that you are telling a story about the building through photography. You may use any source for the images, but you must cite them.