Seville is known to readers as the birthplace of Cervantes' knight, Don Quixote, and to opera-goers as the setting of Mozart's Don Giovanni, Bizet's Carmen, and Rossini's Barber of Seville. But the city is, and has been always, far more than a backdrop for imaginary events. Seville is Spain's leading seaport on the Atlantic, to which it is connected by the Guadalquivir River and by a canal for oceangoing ships. Seville is also an important manufacturing center that produces a variety of goods ranging from armaments to tobacco. Seville was a thriving commercial center even in Moorish times.
The older part of the city with its narrow, winding streets and handsome plazas retains the face of the proud past. The Cathedral—the third largest Christian church in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London—is known for its art treasures. It is also claimed as the burial place of Columbus. The nearby bell tower, which is called the Ciralda, is as familiar a symbol of the city as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris or the Empire State Building of New York City. Other buildings such as Torre del Oro (tower of gold) guarding the river, the Columbus Library with its collection of manuscripts, and the 14th-century Alcazar have given Seville its well-earned reputation for beauty.
Each evening during the Holy Week before Easter, the great cathedral becomes the focus of the processions of hundreds of pasos—floats —carrying magnificently carved religious figures. The pasos are followed by bands of trumpeters and drummers playing music that has been especially composed for the solemn and magnificent ceremonies. Other festivals throughout the year are highlighted by music, dancing, and bullfighting, which for many people are the essence of all that is most beautiful and dramatic in Spanish life.