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General Archive of the Indies

Archive of the Indies

General Archive of the Indies. The archive in Seville keeps all of the important documents regarding the discovery of Americas and the Spanish colonization.

The General Archive of the Indies is housed in one of the most emblematic buildings of Seville and represents a fundamental part of Spanish history. Here, all of the important documents regarding the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent Spanish colonization are stored. Additionally, the building and its contents have been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The archive was created to unify and centralize all of the information regarding the Spanish colonies that at the time was divided among three official archives in Simancas, Cadiz and Seville. The idea to create a central archive came from King Charles III of Spain in 1785.

Currently, the General Archive of the Indies stores more than 43,000 files with more than 80 million pages, 8,000 maps and sketches that narrate the explorations and came from the metropolitan agencies that administered the Spanish colonies.

Origin of the General Archive of the Indies

With the discovery of the Americas, Seville was the Spanish port exclusively dedicated to trade with the colonies. This city exploded commercially and merchants filled the steps surrounding the Seville Cathedral to engage in commerce and even sometimes reached the inside of the building, which bothered the Cathedral Chapter.

The Chapter´s constant complaints about this problem reached the ears of King Philp II of Spain who ordered the construction of a nearby building to house all the merchants called La Lonja (wholesale auction market). The building started in 1584 and La Lonja was opened in 1598. It was designed by an important architect of the time called Juan de Herrera, who also designed the Royal San Lorenzo del Escorial Monastery near Madrid. However, the construction of the building was led by Juan de Mijares. The square building has two levels and a central patio and is made up of rock and red bricks. The principle staircase stands out, made in the 18th century and decorated in marble.

In the 18th century, after a period of commercial decline, the creation of the archive was initiated. King Carlos III of Spain, and advocate of the Enlightenment spirit, decided to gather together all of the archives previously mentioned in order to make it possible to write the history of the conquest and colonization of the Americas. The project was commissioned to the then Secretary of the Indies, José Gálvez y Gallardo, and carried out by Juan Bautista Muñoz, cosmographer of the council of the Indies.

In 1785 the documents about the Americas and Philippine colonies began arriving. Today, these 43,000 files occupy 9 kilometers (5.6 mi) of shelves. Most of the archives came from the agencies in charge of the colonies: the Council of the Indies, the House of Trade, the Consulates in Seville and Cadiz, the Secretaries of the State and of the Indies, the Overseas Chamber of the Court of Auditors and the Royal Company of Havana, among others.

The General Archive of the Indies stores documents of incalculable value, including texts written by the hands of historical figures and conquistadores like Hernán Cortés, Ferdinand Magellan, Francisco Pizarro and Christopher Columbus.