14 August 1598: Seville's Casa de la Lonja opens for business

The Archive of the Indies was built as a market.
The Archive of the Indies was built as a market. / SUR
  • The building, which has been known as the General Archive of the Indies since the 18th century, was originally a centre for merchants to trade their goods

Many people will have heard of the Archive of the Indies in Seville city, a very famous building, but perhaps not so many are aware that its history dates back to 1598, during the reign of King Felipe II, when it was built as a market where merchants could exchange their goods. It was known then as the Casa de la Lonja de Mercaderes, and was inaugurated on 14 August.

After Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, Seville was awarded the monopoly on trade and the number of merchants operating in the city increased considerably as a result. As the existing facilities became too small, the traders began using the steps of the cathedral to transact their business because of its proximity to the port, but this had caused conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities and it was decided that they needed premises of their own .

The building, which has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1987, was designed by architect Juan de Herrera and is unsually Italianate in style. The construction started in 1584, and, although it was ready for occupation in 1598, work continued well into the 17th century before the structure was fully complete.

The Casa de la Lonja was two storeys high, built around a large central courtyard of stone with wide proportions, with arches fastened to pillars with half columns.

Within 100 years, Seville port had begun to silt up, trade decreased and the building was barely used and falling into disrepair. In 1785, King Carlos III decided that it should be repaired and used to store all the documentation about the administration of the Spanish colonies which, until then, had been held in Simancas, Cadiz, and elsewhere in Seville, and so it became the General Archive of the Indies.

Today it still contains 43,000 files with about 80 million pages and 8,000 maps and drawings. It is open to the public and is free of charge to visit.