The House of Trade is one of the places that visitors of the Real Alcázar of Seville know less. When we visit the monument, it is also one of the places that initially do not attract much attention to the visitor at first sight. However, the House of Trade is an institution with an enormous importance for the city of Seville, but interestingly also for the history of the world.
Why is this institution important? When speaking about it, to what we are referring?
The House of Trade was established by the Crown of Castile in 1503 in the port of Seville as a crown agency for the Spanish Empire. The main purpose of the House of Trade was the control and management of the marine transport and trade between the Spanish Empire and its colonies. It was located inside the Real Alcázar, the sevillian Royal Palace.
Part of the ancient building can be visited. The two spaces, preserved today, that keep an important piece of history are the Admiral Hall and the Chapel. To this institution, where characters like Christopher Columbus or Isabel the Catholic passed, came the gold and silver of America, making of this city the heart of trade in the 16th century.
Why did this city become so important?
Firstly we need to talk about the Bulls of Donation, also called Alexandrine bulls, which purported to grant to the Crown of Castile “all islands and mainlands whatsoever, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, that are or may be or may seem to be in the route of navigation or travel towards the west or south, whether they be in western parts or in the regions of the south and east and of India”. In other words, shortly after the discovery of America, these bulls granted to the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon the right to conquer American territories and spread the Catholic faith to the distant colonies of the Spanish Empire. They were issued by the Pope Alexander VI in 1493.
The Crown of Castile chose the harbour of Seville as the seat of trade with America for many reasons. But the main was the Guadalquivir, a navigable river at that time. It allowed that the vessels could be more protected rather than a harbour on the coast, like Cádiz. Moreover, the city had excellent interior connections with the rest of the cities in the kingdom. This way Seville became the harbour and the door of the Indies and the main financial center in Europe. Many merchants and business man saw the business opportunity in the city.
What functions did The House of Trade?
The House of Trade collected all colonial taxes, approved all voyages of exploration and trade, maintaned secret information on trade routes and new discoveries, licensed captains and sailors, and administered commercial law. A 20 per cent tax, the quinto real was levied by the House of Trade on all precious metals entering Seville. This overall trade boom lasted until 1717, when The House of Trade was moved to Cádiz because of sedimentary problems with the river.
The mapmaking entrerprise was a huge undertaking, and critical to the success of the voyages of discovery. The House of Trade had a large number of cartographers and navigators, archivists, administrators and others involved in producing and managing the Padrón Real, which was the official and secret Spanish master map used as a template for the maps present on all Spanish ships during the 16th century. The Padrón Real was constantly improved from its first version in 1507.
We would like to remember the wonderful past of the city of Seville. We will tell you amazing stories kept in the halls of this institution. You can know all this and more in the visit to the Alcazar of Seville.